My Language Guilt

I’ve mentioned before my love of travel and I particularly relish the opportunity to travel to new countries when possible (admittedly, this happens with much less frequency than I’d like).

My husband and I just returned from a trip to Portugal.  The country was beautiful.  The people were overwhelmingly generous and welcoming, and everyone spoke English and Portuguese.  This is where my guilt kicks in.

So often when I’ve traveled, I’m amazed at the ability of others (my experience has been almost exclusively with Europeans), to switch seamlessly from their native language into English–or another language.

Many years ago, we had the opportunity to visit Barcelona and we decide to join a cava tasting in our hotel. A few other couples were there as well and as we entered, the instructor asked where we were from. He then proceeded to translate his lesson from Catalan (the language of Barcelona), to Spanish, to French and to English. The cava was divine, but it was his facility with language that really stuck with me.

I took Spanish in high school and to fill my college requirement, and I was ok at it, but far from fluent. When I try to pick up a few words, let’s say in Portuguese, I’m pretty average in my abilities. I can hear the sound differences, but they aren’t necessarily easier for me to mimic or remember.

Shouldn’t I be more competent than this?

I’ve even tried Rosetta Stone which is a great experience in and of itself. My favorite part was completing all the introductory modules and getting to the summary section. Up until then the set-up is similar to ROW/EOW testing–you choose from an array or name a pictured vocabulary word, but the summary section switches to a first person perspective. In mine, I was “walking” down a pretty path when I suddenly realized I was “approaching” a small group of people. I could feel my anxiety shoot up.

“Ack!  They’re going to talk to me!”  If the lesson had allowed me to bow my head and turn around, I certainly would have!

I have a dream that, someday, I’ll be bilingual and Spanish would be my first choice. And you?

I’m curious, who is bilingual and do you use this as part of your clinical practice?  Do you harbor a secret desire to learn another language like I do, and if so, which one?




This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Ann F

    I wholeheartedly agree! As an SLP, I feel like I should be better with foreign languages. I’m terrible! If a speaker has heavily accented English, I struggle. I work in two schools that teach in two languages, one is Hebrew and the other is French. I’ve always been enthralled by French but passed it by in high school because I was told that Spanish would be a more pragmatic choice. Since I have been working in the French school, I have a more intense longing to learn the language even though I can’t really make heads or tails of it! I’m encouraged by your good experience with Rosetta Stone. Maybe….

    1. admin

      This is so reassuring to me! Let me know if/when you delve into French and if you come up with tips to actually keep it going. Kim

  2. Kristin mosman

    I’m visiting England and Scotland as we speak and am so fascinated by all the different accents. I’m playing around with trying to reproduce them.
    Anyway, yes I speak a foreign language- Spanish. I learned it on an 18 month church mission to Chile. It comes in handy quite often in my practice. I am the only Spanish-speaking SLP in the hospital, so I take ALL the Latino patients. They tend to be much more comfy and appy to have at least one fluent practitioner. It gives me a good chance to keep ip my skills…my vocab wanes over the years. For non-Spanish speakers, we have interpreters that come join our SLP sessions, or an interpreter on speaker phone.

    1. admin

      Kristin, Good to hear from you! Wow, an 18mo mission? Must have been amazing! Enjoy your vacation (maybe put down work 😉 Kim

  3. Jenn Alcorn

    I feel just like you! I would love, love, love to be able to speak other languages and am so jealous of your travels! I find language fascinating, but have never had the opportunity to truly learn another. I think speaking Spanish would be most beneficial, but wouldn’t mind learning others. Maybe one day…

    1. admin

      I’m very fortunate because we’ve had the chance to take a couple European trips with my husband’s job. Not many SLP positions offer the same perk 😉 Hey, but if anyone knows of one, please share! Spanish seems the most practical to me as well and since there is a fair amount of Spanish speaking people where I am (although most all speak at least basic English, too), I figure I would get some regular practice if I were to ever seek it out. That said, I can imagine the romance of Italian…especially if I were sitting on the balcony of my villa (sigh). I’ve got some big dreams! Kim

  4. Maggie

    I learned Spanish in college, then studied abroad in Madrid for 6 months. Although living abroad with a host family was not necessarily a positive experience, in retrospect, that 6 months strengthened my Spanish, my drive to success, and my reshaped my mind set.

    Now, I have a slight idea how my kiddos feel when they can’t communicate. I was SO frustrated and upset when I couldn’t get my message across, and I at least knew that I could successfully communicate in English. Many of my kids can’t communicate at all.

    Career wise, learning Spanish was the best decision I have ever made. I use Spanish everyday at work and am so grateful! Learning a language is beyond challenging, but extremely rewarding!

    1. admin

      This is so thrilling to hear! We hosted a French exchange student for several summers. Her English was very good, but you could see how exhausted she was the first week or two from constantly translating what she heard/what she wanted to say. At some point, she would have a really teary day, and go to sleep early. The next day, it was as if her brain had “switched” over and she didn’t need to “think” so much and even dreamed in English sometimes! We still keep in touch with her and her family. Kim

Comments are closed.


The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.