Not speaking the language of the city that you live

It is not easy to go to a new place where you don’t speak the language and having to start your life there. Brussels is a very multilingual city and English is pretty natural. But is not the cultural language. Not what most people will speak in a day to day basis. And not knowing the language, French or Dutch, can be really frustrating.

Same goes if you are looking for a student job or plan to take a course somewhere. It’s not easy. You kind of have to guess what people are saying, and make the most out of it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in an international master’s program in an international university and city. So I even get to attend English-speaking yoga and pilates class.

But still, it’s not comfortable to live in a place where you don’t know the language at all. You feel like an outsider, and it’s harder than ever to integrate.

My advice for my younger self would be:

Hey, Yasmim, English is important, you should understand it, but other languages are important too because well, who knows, maybe you’re going to be spending some time in Germany, Austria and Belgium.

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of going to the U.S. (blame the movies). So English was the only thing in my mind. Mastering it, speaking without much of a foreign accent, so I could finally go live there for a while.

And I did, with 20 years old, I studied abroad in the USA for an entire year. And boy, that felt good. It felt like I was finally where I was supposed to be. It felt super liberating, and I grew more in one year than I have grown my entire life.

Little did I know that chance (or fate, if you believe in it) would have taken me to a German-speaking country not once, but twice! Damn, how much I do regret not speaking the language. Germany and Austria are fantastic countries. I grew to love their language as well. I find it pretty cool. I absolutely love the sound.

But truth be told, I have stayed in my English comfort zone. In the university, in restaurants and banks, people speak English. So I’ve felt that I didn’t actually need it. It was not urgent, I would get along pretty okay. So my German is A1 to the most. Das ist schlecht!!!

From the cute to the crazy city

My semester in Salzburg has passed and I’m in Bruxelles now. Crazy city. Busy, serious, diverse. I’m feeling that awkwardness again, of not knowing the language(s) and at the same time, using English for every little thing.

And so I have to stop and consider this comfort zone I’m in. Yes, everybody speaks English, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and learn some French. Knowing a language is liberating because a brand new world opens up for you.

Of course, it’s not easy to learn a language, especially the older you get. But it only gets a commitment to turn wishes into actions, that’s what I try to tell myself. And that’s why I’ve been studying French on my own, and taking some online classes every morning. I want to enjoy the opportunity of living in a French-speaking city so I can learn on the way.

So no matter where you are right now. If you plan to study abroad someday, make the effort to learn the language of the country you want to go. But don’t stop there, don’t make my mistake!

Learn some other languages too, just for fun. You don’t have to pay thousands to learn a new language. Buy a book, subscribe for an online language platform, one that will allow you to be guided somehow, and do it.

Study a bit every day, start a journal and write in your targeted language, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. And just have fun with it. Learning a language takes time, so it’s better to enjoy your time doing it. See it as discovering a new world, with its own set of rules and senseless things. Check out movies and singers, artists, books. Anything that will keep your interest alive.