The first place I’ve been by myself dealing with everything in another language was Florida, USA, in 2012. Even though I’ve learned English since I was 9 years old, my knowledge was built through theory, music, movies and I’ve never practiced the speaking out of a classroom, which is not the same at all. By the way, I experienced studying in two English language schools at the same time: CCAA (American English) and Cultura Inglesa (British English), so my English is very mixed when I speak it.
The day I arrived I actually didn’t have many problems because the host mom was from Uruguay and she spoke a bit of Portuguese and Spanish and the host dad was American and very patient with my insecurity of speaking the language. But I can tell I was very lucky this time because I went through some hard situations in other countries.
At my school, there were students from South America, Europe, Middle East and some from Asia. Meeting people from many countries makes us end up knowing better about their languages, customs and cultures. As I’ve already studied a bit of Spanish before, I got along with South American students quite easily but I took some time to interact with people who spoke other languages.
In general, I’m a very sociable person and became friends with everyone but I started to feel that I needed to learn more languages in order to open my network and reach other people. The students from Germany, for example, they were very nice but a bit hard to interact with sometimes and so, it induced me to learn other languages than Portuguese and English. So, I decided to make myself a list of languages to learn so that I could feel more secure and get more connection while talking to people from other countries. On my list there was German, Italian, French, Korean and Russian.
When I came back to São Paulo, the first idea was to improve my Spanish, however, after some time I decided to try another language, so I chose French. Firstly, I bought some books and learned how to self-study. After some months, I did a one month intensive course at Alliance Française to check if I learnt it correctly. January of 2013, I took a one month course in Paris to practice the language and I came back on an intermediate level after many situations I’ve been through there. – I will tell you in another post. Nowadays, I’m not fluent but I can survive in French speaking countries, which makes me a lot more secure about solo travelling.
2014, I chose Italian. Again, I studied by myself and took a one month intensive course at CCBI with an Italian teacher from Rome. As he was native and I ran out of money, I didn’t go to Italy to practice but in one month I was almost an intermediate student. Then, I found in me an ease in learning languages. Nowadays, I can read and understand Italian but as I didn’t practice speaking I forgot many words. I still can understand what people talk and I’m able to survive in Italy in case I need it, so it’s fine.
On October 2014, I moved to Belfast in Northern Ireland, for my Graduate Diploma in Management. I selected the city randomly before I decided to leave Brazil for a year. I just needed a low cost living city in the UK and the studies had to be in English.
I grew up studying and listening to American and British English, however, that was the first time I was dealing with a third English accent and it was a bit scary. The first day, I took a taxi from the airport to my accommodation and I didn’t understand almost a single word the driver was saying. If he laughed, I laughed, that was the conversation until we arrive. Now it can be funny but at that time I was freaking out thinking about how would I understand the university classes and lectures. Luckily, the teachers had a mix of British-Irish accent, so I could understand mostly of the things.
I lived in a student’s village and, despite I had my own room and toilet, I had to share a kitchen with 11 people more. Half of my floor mates were northern Irish and the others were from Pakistan, Myanmar, Russia and Georgia, as I remember. The international students usually communicated with each other in English, but when I was by myself in the kitchen with the local students I found very hard to understand the whole conversation. So, in my whole stay, most of all my friends were internationals. Later, I moved to an apartment and lived with a girl from China that was very nice but I almost didn’t see her at home, we had different routines.
2015 arrived and this time I chose Korean language. I’ve already studied a bit in 2010 by myself and with friends, so I knew the alphabet and understood some expressions especially because at that time I was addicted to Korean drama and music, so it was easier.
At Queen’s University of Belfast, where I was studying, they were offering low-priced course of languages for international students and I did not hesitate to apply. However, it was hard to cope with all the studies from the university and the Korean course because there were loads of assignments to deliver.
So, now I can’t speak but I still can read despite I forgot most of the words meanings. I believe that if someday I go to Korea I will at least know how to read addresses or food names. And, in some cases, because of the Korean dramas I still can understand the topic of people’s conversations when I hear someone speaking. This is not a language that I define as being part of my knowledge, but the little I know makes me feel secure when I talk with who speak it.
By the end of 2015, I moved to Sheffield, England, for a BsC Degree in International Business with Spanish at Sheffield Hallam University. As the name of the course says, the classes and lectures were in English and Spanish. So, I went back to improve my Spanish.
However, I got addicted to learning languages and Duolingo, Memrise and Babbel apps were my hobbies all the time. I even paid Babbel and Memrise for many months to learn a bit of German and Russian. Memrise is the best one and I recommend! In the end, I didn’t get fluent in any of both languages but now I know that those languages are not that hard as people say.
Mid of 2016 I moved to Vera, Almería, in Spain for an internship. There, I went through many situations in which I had to speak Spanish, French and English in the same conversation. And I think I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t have this language baggage with me.
End of the year I came back to São Paulo and I stopped learning languages for a while. I was focusing my studies in other areas and that was a hard time for me trying to find a job. Nevertheless, my international friends were and still are in touch, so I still get to practice English, Spanish and French, at least. Until I found a fixed job, I didn’t leave São Paulo.
At the end of 2017, one of my best friends from Pakistan, that I met in Belfast, in 2014, said he was planning to get married, so me and some close friends planned this reunion for more than a year. I didn’t know If I would be able to go because at that time money was a big issue and I wasn’t earning much in my part-time job at that moment, but we kept the dream anyway.
End of December 2018, I received an email saying that I got hired! That was the best New Year celebration and also the best start of a brand new year! Although I still couldn’t confirm my presence at his wedding at that time we kept planning. Mid of the year he defined the dates and it was a 4 days marriage in Pakistan. It was an important day for my friend and also, an unique invitation of lifetime. No one is ever invited for a muslim wedding in Pakistan so easily. I couldn’t miss it. It would be an event so rich of culture and I would be seeing my friends after 4 years!
I didn’t know it was really happening but just in case, I reserved my work holidays to February 2019, on September. I actually wasn’t good managing my finances yet but by November I bought the flight tickets in 10 instalments at a trustworthy travel agency. (Solfesta Turismo)
Mid of February 2019 I took the flight to my new adventure. In Pakistan, most of the time I was with my friends and people who spoke English, but in establishments it was ok to survive with English even though not every one speaks it. I ended up extending my travel to London, Sheffield, Amsterdam and Doha, in Qatar.
In London and Sheffield, I met some old friends, in Amsterdam, I explored around for 2 days and Doha was my 5 days of holidays by myself in a very nice hotel. I came back to São Paulo on the beginning of March. Now, I’m back to São Paulo, trying to pay all the trip with loans and the credit card. Shame on me. But it was a great lesson. Now, I know better how to plan the finances better. Every time I travel is a new lesson of life.
I didn’t tell in this post all the countries I’ve been but learning languages is very essential if you want to feel safe travelling, especially English. In Belgium, for example, it was very useful to speak French when I lost my friend while we were drunk around the city centre. Shame on us. Other places I’ve been and made me continue enjoying languages were Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. After visiting those countries I felt like going back to my German and Russian studies after all the situations I’ve been through there, but for hobby at the moment.
Now, I’m back to improving my Spanish, but this time I want to end up considering myself fluent like English, I still get confused with some similar words in Portuguese. My goal is to not speak “Portunhol” anymore, a mix of both languages. I intend to use Spanish more professionally from now on.
So, in this post I summarised my stories for you to understand why learning languages is essential. It won’t only help you on travels or at work, it’s definitely going to open your mind and open new doors in your life for new horizons, new cultures, new connections. Travelling is just a consequence after you learn more than one language. It brings you new friends and new curiosities of customs and cultures.
A good example is that I was never a big fan of history and geography and now I constantly study the map to see where my friends come from and by consequence I end up getting knowledges about history. Challenge yourself to learn at least one more language. Three languages will always be useful and I guarantee that it’s going to be so useful that your purposes of life can even change for good.
Before I end up this post and before anyone asks, I am a descendant of Japanese born and raised in São Paulo, so my mother tongue is Brazilian Portuguese. Instead of learning Japanese, my parents preferred English as the second language like most Brazilians. So, yes, I’m Brazilian. I know how to read ‘hiragana’ and I understand some expressions in Japanese. I wouldn’t be able to survive in Japan. I tried to learn but it’s a very difficult language to learn when you are raised with latin alphabet.
Therefore, learning languages provided me 8 years of many experiences travelling and living abroad. It’s by no means been an easy journey as it may look like and it’s not every step I took that I loved. There are some hard days while you’re travelling or living by yourself abroad. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I was frustrated in many situations but I wouldn’t make anything different because it all changed my life and I got to know myself better in all the journey.
I’m still on the road to find myself. After living in 5 countries out of Brazil, I learned that we aren’t only one self. The truth is that can reinvent yourself in every new place you go and with each language you learn. Try it!
Hope you’ve enjoyed! – here’s to the next 10 years!