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Lost in Translation: Scaling the Language Barrier

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Notre Dame chapter.

Most people say studying abroad is the best semester (or year) of their lives. So far, I would tend to agree with these people. I’ve only been in Bologna, Italy for about twelve days but I am already in love with the city and the country and the food! However, there is one major drawback to studying and living in a foreign country, of which I am all too aware: the language barrier. The point of the program I am participating in is to help American students become fluent in the Italian language through total immersion. This includes classes in Italian, finding an apartment in a new Italian city, and meeting people who do not speak English (or at least not as their first language). So a little bit intimidating for someone whose language skills are not quite up to snuff… I mean, I have been taking Italian for a while now and I may have declared it as one of my (too many) majors, but theory is much different than practice.

Something I never thought of before I came to Italy was how my colloquialisms and terminologies from Chicago would translate into the Italian language. Update: they do not. And I do not know the appropriate, corresponding phrases to drive home all of my witty and satirical puns. Ergo, my friends and I have ended up in quite a few awkward situations involving locals and our subpar Italian skills. No worries though because I’ll be fluent by the end of May, right? Speriamo. (Hopefully.)

Additionally, things that might seem aggressive or overwhelming in America are apparently commonalities here in Italy. For example, every warning I received before leaving the country about being a blonde girl around Italian men has rung true – they really like blondes. But not just blondes, American women in general. But not just American women, all women. Men in this country are an entirely different breed. They don’t care what I look like, what language I speak, or how many times I say no. Italian men are persistent and stubborn. They go after whatever moves and catches their eyes; therefore, dancing at clubs and bars is dangerous. As is walking to the bathroom or turning around for a second. Yet, I cannot stereotype ALL Italian men in this way. I have met plenty of really awesome Italian guys who are totally willing to help me work on my Italian – and nothing else.

All in all, the language barrier can be overcome. English and the Romance languages aren’t too far from each other; many words are fairly easy to translate. Learning a new language is difficult in any context – add on having to begin classes right away in that language and apartment hunting, the stress is tangible. But giving up is not the answer! All it takes is time and dedication… and maybe a skilled bilingual roommate or two willing to proofread all school assignments. I certainly am not going to let a few miscommunications get between me and experiencing a new culture to it’s fullest! Arrivederci! 

For more of my study abroad adventures, follow my blog


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Photos provided by author

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Sara Spitt

Notre Dame

Meet HCND's current Campus Coordinator and Editor-in-Chief! Originally from outside of Chicago, Sara is a Senior Peace Studies, Theology, and Italian major at Notre Dame (yes, that is three majors; no, she doesn't have any free time). When she isn't painting her nails, Sara enjoys cooking vegetarian friendly dishes, taking pictures for The Dome yearbook, and reading for fun. Sara began writing for Her Campus Notre Dame in May of 2013 and quickly fell in love with the site and it's staff! After writing for the inagural editorial staff (shout-out to AnnaLee, Katie, and Lex!) for a semester, Sara decided to branch out and become an editor. She particularly enjoys doing interviews and sharing travel expereinces, as well as connecting with the HCND reader network through thought-provoking social commentaries. If you like what you read from her on a weekly basis, this self-proclaimed "Queen of Social Media" has several accounts for you to follow - twitter, instagram (@saraspit22), tumblr, and a blog!