B is for Belgium… and Breaking the Language Barrier


by Celia Thomas, Teach in a Homestay participant in Belgium

I have been learning German for close to 2 years. When my mom found Greenheart Travel, I was so excited because I could possibly get a chance to further my German progress with one of their Language Schools. When that wasn’t an option, I figured tutoring in a homestay in Belgium (in which German is one of the national languages), was the next best thing.

But then I found out I would be living with a French-speaking couple, in Wallonia (the French-speaking region), not far from Brussels, (the mostly French- and sometimes Dutch-speaking capitol) I was overwhelmed with anxiousness. Don’t get me wrong, Belgium is a wonderful country and my host family is fantastic, but I was not prepared to thrust myself into an entirely different language.

Luckily, I didn’t have to; my host parents have near-perfect English. I keep telling them how well they speak, yet they still ask for criticisms. We discuss everything from politics to our favorite animals over some of Belgium’s vast array of beer options. We make jokes as we tour chocolate shops and museums. We take turns guessing how the movies we watch will end. They are as interested in Americans and their culture as I am in Belgium. They want to show me both the pros and cons of their country, and are eager for me to see Belgian life at its core. Really, not just Belgian life, but Europe in general; they have already taken me to Germany (where, thankfully, I did get to practice my German), and we plan to visit Paris, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, and Lisbon in the future.

And all this time, language hasn’t been a problem. When they talk to locals, they are sure to fill me in and translate for me if needed. I even spent time with their 3-year old granddaughter; we couldn’t communicate with words, but did just find with smiles and giggles. The whole time leading up to my trip here, I was worried about the language barrier. I was too focused on what I was supposed to teach them and how I was going to learn myself. Would I be able to communicate? Would I be understood? A week into my month-long stay, my answer is this: it doesn’t really matter. Speech is just one of the ways people can communicate, but we also have actions, food, music, facial expressions, and especially laughter.

So my advice to you is this: if you want to learn Korean, go to Nigeria, and if you want to practice Portuguese, go to Norway. Don’t get caught up in the “what if’s” and “how’s,” just go with the flow and you’ll learn what you need to and more.

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