My Journey with Foreign Languages

2nd Blog: by Irina Varbanova - Thursday, 29 December 2022, 1:57 PM

Since childhood, I have had to adapt to different languages and develop strategies to manage them. Growing up, I attended a bilingual school where I learned French and English and then moved to Germany when I was 10 years old. Since then, I have had to switch between Bulgarian (my native language) with my family and German with my friends, and classmates, and later on in high school as well at the university.

When I first arrived in Liechtenstein, I was surprised to find that the majority of the people I communicated with daily did not speak German, the national language. As a result, we ended up using English as a common language. While switching between languages was not a new experience for me, I did find it difficult at times to find the right words in different situations. This is especially true when you don't use a language regularly, as you tend to forget a lot of collocations or terms. However, I found that with time, I got used to it and the fear of making mistakes started to disappear.

One thing that I have found surprisingly easy is communicating with other non-native speakers of a foreign language. It is often said that non-native speakers tend to understand each other better than natives, as they are more forgiving of mistakes and can better understand the stress of trying to find the right words. In my experience here in Liechtenstein, I am not sure if this is always the case. I have found that German native speakers often have to use a more formal version of the language for me to understand them, particularly if they are from Austria, Switzerland, or Liechtenstein. Also, some Swiss people have preferred speaking in English with me rather than German, as it has been easier for them.

One of the most difficult aspects of communicating with people from different cultures has been understanding that the way they communicate is not always similar to the way I am used to. For example, I have found that some cultures tend to be more indirect and polite in their communication style, while I tend to be more direct. To overcome this difference, I have tried not to take everything too personally and to be easily offended. When I have found it hard to understand someone or have been offended by their communication style, I have found it helpful to ask questions and clarify what they mean.

I believe that the skills and knowledge I have gained through my experiences with foreign languages will be extremely useful to me later on in life. In today's business world, many companies require language skills and the ability to work in an international environment. As someone interested in working in such an environment and ideally traveling a lot for my job, I see the value in having these skills.

Learning and using foreign languages has also affected my self-understanding as a communicator in several ways. By trying to understand my communication partners better and being more open to making mistakes, I have gained a better understanding of myself as well. I have found that, with time, I have become more relaxed about making mistakes and have been able to enjoy my experiences more. By letting go of the fear of making mistakes, I have felt more liberated and able to fully embrace the cultural differences I have encountered.