uni.liLIECHTENSTEINStruggling with communication in foreign languages

Struggling with communication in foreign languages

2nd Blog: by Tereza Kubalová - Tuesday, 3 January 2023, 9:00 PM

Since childhood, I have been taught the importance of speaking foreign languages. Growing up, I took part in many opportunities to learn foreign languages, including bilingual kindergarten, where I started my path with English. Honestly, one of the main reasons I chose the University of Liechtenstein was the German language. I had never studied this language at school, but I wanted to learn it to broaden my job opportunities. As a Czech surrounded by German-speaking countries, I realise that being able to speak German is a significant advance in the business field. Since I can not speak German, I have relied on the English language since the beginning of my exchange programme. Even though I had been learning English for many years, I was worried about my ability to keep a reasonable conversation in English. And the fact that I am pretty untalkative, even in my mother tongue, only increased my worry. Soon after I arrived in Liechtenstein, I became aware that the English lessons at school were incomparable to a real conversation outside of school. Since I do not use English regularly in my home country, I have forgotten a lot of terms, idioms and expressions I had learnt. And there were several occasions in Liechtenstein I found it difficult to express myself clearly and use the right words in daily situations, especially at the beginning of my exchange programme. However, over time, I have realised that I can not avoid making mistakes in my everyday speech and the fear and embarrassment of making mistakes started to fade away.

Before I arrived in Liechtenstein, I had heard that the locals had no problem speaking English and that the majority of the local people were fluent in English. It turned out to be true, at least for me, since the locals are highly supportive and patient with non-native German speakers. Despite this fantastic attitude of the locals, I found out very soon after my arrival that some native German-speaking students do not like the idea of having classmates who can not speak German and do not want to respect the fact that not everyone can keep a conversation in German on a high level. Sometimes when I worked in a group with only German-speaking students, I felt not welcomed and included in the group project, as my co-workers tended to speak in German with each other and then summarise to me in English what they had agreed on. So working in a group was sometimes a big challenge for me. On the other hand, most of the German students I have met at the university have a very supportive attitude toward non-German speakers and use English in my presence which makes me feel included. Moreover, some help me improve my German skills and understand the language better as they sometimes patiently communicate with me on an elementary level of German.

Surprisingly I have found out that communicating with other non-native German and English speakers is easier for me, and I feel more confident about my English. I suppose the reason is that non-native speakers tend to forgive more mistakes and understand the difficulty of finding the correct expressions, so I do not feel pressured to speak advanced English or basic German. Nevertheless, one of the most crucial aspects of understanding people from different countries is their cultures, as it influences the way they communicate. As a result, their communication styles are a far cry from how the Czech people communicate. For instance, some cultures incline to be more direct, while I tend to be more indirect and polite. To get over the differences in our communication styles, I have been trying not to take everything too personally and be more patient. I think people need to get used to cultural differences to comprehend each other. I believe many people have considered my communication style awkward as I am a listener, not a speaker. Although sometimes it is hard for me to understand people with dissimilar communication styles, I have realised it is better to ask a question and clarify the meaning of their words than to be quiet and get offended or even hurt by those words.

As time passed, I spoke more and more, and my foreign language skills started slowly improving as I needed to communicate in English and German every day. I have no hesitation in saying that the experience with foreign languages I have gained through the exchange programme will be helpful to me not only in my work but also in my personal life. Today, many business companies require language skills and potential travelling to different countries to deal with business partners. Also, meeting and communicating with people from other countries with no similar cultures have affected a better understanding of myself and others as communicators. As time goes, the fear of feeling embarrassed because of making mistakes has started disappearing, and I have become more relaxed about my communication skills. I hope I will be able to enhance my language skills even more, as I want to continue working on my English and German language skills.