Happy Abroad: for everyone who wants to live happily abroad!

Posts tagged ‘travel’

How to speak a foreigner language and not sound like a foreigner?

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2125Accent. Lately it has become one of my challenges Nr.1. For some time I have tried to ignore it. But now I have decided to explore, what I can do to improve the situation. Where is the problem you might ask? Well, I speak 5 languages and am learning another 2 and in ALL languages (including my native) I speak with an accent.

Where from did it come? I studied in High School in Russian with some subjects in Latvian, then University was in Latvian-English, the last year of university I studied in Germany, in German. Then I moved to the UK and used English and Russian at work. When I did my Masters in UK and in Italy, the studies were in English and Italian. Now I live inRome and use Italian, English, Russian at work. So the last 10 years of my life I constantly had to use different languages every day.

The first issue arose after I finished Bachelors – I realised that I started speaking Russian, my native language, with an accent. Most likely it was because I have not used it a lot in everyday life. Now, when I come back to Latvia, people tend to think that I am a foreigner who managed to learn very well Latvian and Russian.

The easiest solution which you can find is “look at the locals and try to imitate their sounds, how they speak”. Well, in Italy I lived in Siena and Rome, and in these two places people speak very different language. Actually now I realised that the more you move, the more difficult it is to start speaking “without an accent”, as accent ALWAYS existas, and “speaking without an accent” means only that you speak like locals, but if you change towns, the accent might change.  Here, in Rome, I have Italian, American, English, German, Arabic and other friends and it is normal for me to speak 3-4 languages a day. So is it actually possible for me to speak without an accent?

One friend of mine, an opera singer, manages to speak without an accent even without mastering too much the language. Well, it is her gift “to hear the language”. But I think we could learn it, too, like learning the music sounds.

While trying to find more information on the web on how to get rid of an accent, I found this very interesting article, written by  Anthea Fraser Gupta “Ask the Linguist FAQ: Accents”, you can find it here. They offer some obvious, but at the same time the most practical tips on how to speak with a particular accent:

  • “Identify the accent you want to speak.
  • Expose yourself to the accent you want as much as possible.
  • Try to get some friends who speak with the accent you want.
  • Try to make sure you are not mixing with people who will criticise you for changing your accent.”

Hmmm I think in my case it is hard to achieve even one of these points. My main goal is to speak a language and not sound like foreigner. However I guess for Americans even British English might sound like strange…  What concerns exposure – I have so many different friends, that it is hardly possible to separate the groups and mix with one and ignore all others. So I guess in my case I better use an advice of Suzette Hayden Elgin and practice speaking without a “foreigner” accent, using audio recordings (the description of this technique I found in the article mentioned above).

Other interesting tips I found were:

  • Find which muscles are used in language you want to improve and exercise these muscles
  • Observe how native speaker speaks your own language – if person speaks with a strong accent, his/her mistakes in pronunciation will show you the main differences in your languages, which you can use to master your pronunciation and improve your accent.

More information on this method, you can find in the article “Secrets of Speaking with a Genuine Accent” by Owen Lee here.

Good luck! And let’s share our progress or may be other issues or tips on accent in the comments 🙂

P.S. If you liked this article, share it with your friends! That’s so easy, but at the same time could be helpful to others!


New: online course “Happy Abroad”

I am excited to announce the launch of the new on-line course “Happy Abroad”, and you know what? You are one of the first ones to know about it!

When: course starts on 26thApril

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=659How much: it is a pilot course, therefore it is FREE, but hurry up, places are limited!
How to join: write to newabroad@gmail.com, explaining in 2-3 sentences why you would like to take part.
Contents: the course consists of 10 lessons. Each lesson is devoted to a particular issue on life abroad. Every week you will receive one lesson with an explanation and a practical exercise. Here is the example of some of the topics covered:

  • Planning and preparation.
  • How to find work abroad and integrate successfully into team at work.
  • How to find new friends in new place.

Should I join? Life abroad in general is a valuable experience, but it is up to you whether you will use 5% or 100% of its value. The course “Happy Abroad” will show you how to use your experience up to maximum, it will help you to discover all beauties of the life abroad and will prepare you for possible challenges.
Questions? If you have any questions, feel free to write to newabroad@gmail.com

Erasmus experience: is it only about getting drunk?

Quite many years have passed since I have done my Erasmus (Erasmus is an International exchange programme for students in Europe), and now I have decided to share some thoughts about it. Why now? Because after these years I feel that I can share and evaluate much better than at time when I finished it. Erasmus logo, taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus_Programme

I did my Erasmus in Trier, Germany. I had to undergo a competition and I was among a few ones, who got the places in this exchange programme. It was not an easy process:I had to write an application, explaining why I want to do this experience, how am I going to compensate the courses I miss at my university, I had to undergo the interview and after a tough selection process I secured my place to study at the University of Trier for one semester. I had a feeling similar to what you feel when you buy your first car: great excitement, butterflies in your stomach….Mmm…

The first day was probably the most difficult one. I arrived to the main train station and was not sure where to go, which bus to take. I did not want to spend money for taxi, so after some attempts to find the right bus, I decided to walk, as the distance seemed to be not too long – ca. 1,5km. It did not help that people I asked showed me different roads, so in the end, when I arrived to my residence I was quite exhausted, as obviously I took the longest way possible.

Ok, what about the Erasmus experience? Was it only about getting drunk? Well, it definitely was not my case. I do not drink alcohol, so it never was my goal. Having fun? Partially yes, but again, it was not my primary objective. You might be surprised, but Erasmus students do study. Of course, it depends on the particular course, university etc, as requirements differ, but in my case  we studied quite hard.

Is it difficult to study? Many say that Erasmus students get more privileges than local ones and for them it is easier to study, pass exams etc. You might see it as unfair. And it is unfair if you get “pass” just because you are exchange student and professors do not take you seriously. However it is not always like that. Our professors, for example, closed their eyes when we spoke in German with mistakes, however we had to give the correct answer to the questions of the exams, otherwise we could fail. My roommate inItaly, a girl fromPortugal who did Erasmus inSiena, also had to study hard to pass her exams.

What did I gain? Now, looking back, I can say that my gains are probably different from the ones I expected, but I am still very happy about them:

  • Fell in love with latino dances, learnt to dance salsa.
  • Improved my German. Living inItalyit might be not the most useful language, but it does help me to communicate with my brother.
  • A friend, with whom I used to share a table during French clases (I still do not speak French tough); we write to each other very very long letters 2-3 times a year.
  • Realized thatGermanyis not the country where I would like to live all my life.
  • Took part in the Language exchange and got idea to organize similar events in my country.
  • Understood that sometimes people can hurt you, but this experience is given only to make us stronger.
  • Learnt how to cook using limited amount of appliances and space.
  • Realized for the first time, that the universities inWestern Europemight be better in some aspects (such as library facilities etc), but they are not the best in everything.

Thus, I had a very valuable experience. It was not always full of excitement and fun, there were also tough, and sad moments, tears, but overall it definitely was worth it! I would like to thank all people who were part of this experience, the EU for giving this chance via Erasmus programme, and last, but not least my family and friends for the support!

Vaccine for foreigner girls in Italy: Part I, Strategies

So you are a female and new to Italy, right? How long you have been already staying on Italian land? Couple of hours? Days? Weeks? I think it is enough some hours, if not minutes, well, maximum one day to get first portion of the attention from Italian men. Have you already received your portion? It made you smile, right? Or may be you got angry? Or confused? In any case, it seldom leaves you indifferent.

Why do I write this article? To help to foreigner girls- newcomers to Italy to get used to the local “unspoken” rules as fast as possible, and to help them to avoid negative experiences. And my dear men, I am not a feminist and neither I am lesbian, before you ask 🙂 If you are reading this article and found there some tricks which you tend to use – then may be it’s time to stop and think, and may be to check your tactics and become more honest, what do you think?

Here are the seven main strategies the men in Italy tend to use:

1. “Sei belissima!” [you are very beautiful] The most common phrase. You will hear it almost as often as “ciao”. After a while you get used to it. No matter whether you consider yourself pretty or not, whether you put make-up or not etc, you will hear this phrase time to time, just because you are a female. Just learn to react to this calmly.

2. Directions, time, help. Often you can be stopped on a street by a man asking you for a specific street, time or other kind of help. It is actually hardly possible to know in advance whether this person really needs help or is just trying to hit on you. After you helped out (showed the street, told the time etc.), there are two options: person thanks and goes further (less likely). Or he will try to continue the conversation by asking personal questions (more likely).

3. “Parli bene Italiano!” [you speak Italian very well]. It does not matter what is your level of Italian, whether you are complete beginner or fluent in this language, you will definitely hear these words. Well, it is a nice compliment if your Italian is actually quite good and you had a discussion with the person. But usually happens the following: a man sees a girl walking on a street, and starts conversation:

Man: Ciao! / Buongiorno/ Buonasera (depends on situation)
Girl: Ciao
Man: Sono Marco/Francesco/etc. Come ti chiami? Or come stai? (or some other very simple question)
Girl: gives the response
Man: Di dove sei?
Girl: Gives name of her country
Man: Wow! Ma parli bene italiano!
– well even if this girl is really fluent in Italian, it is clear that you might need some more sentences to understand the actual level.

4. Actress. “Hmmm I think I have seen you somewhere…ah, yes, that movie/show etc.” and then comes the name of an actress. Most of the girls would like to be similar to a beautiful actress or a singer, so often this trick works well.

Here I can tell you funny story: there was one man, who told me the same story – that he thought that I am an Italian actress, TWICE, in the same place – in a bookstore at Termini. 🙂 It was completely wrong tactic for me, as I do not know any actresses at all.

5. “We have met somewhere”. This is similar to the actress trick. Man comes and tells you that you have met somewhere, could even provide the name of “a friend” (there is quite a big likelihood that you know someone called Maria or Alessandro). You try to remember where you could have met, when in reality you have never met before.

But be careful, sometimes, in an international circle, you really could have met the person previously, even in different town/country,

6. Tandem. “Could you, please, teach me your language?” Men will try their best to find an excuse to see you again. As an option, it could be an excuse to learn your language. Works especially well if you are native English/French/Spanish speaker.

7. “Sei italiana?” Usually foreign girls in Italy see this as a compliment, as they think that it means that they have integrated into society so well, and that they now look/behave like Italian women. Be careful here, this question has nothing to do with your look, especially if you are tall blond girl with blue eyes 🙂

To sum up, men in Italy are using tactic of compliments. Why? Because it makes the person forthcoming, wanting to continue the discussion. This is neither negative nor positive, just be aware of it 😉 Compliments are nice and positive if they are appropriate. So before melting like an ice-cream after being praised, think twice whether what they actually say is the truth and think what are their the real intentions.

For men the most important rule is to make you talking. So if you do not like the person and do not want to talk, just do not answer. Yes, be silent. Even the negative response will make them to continue the conversation.

To conclude, I should tell, there is nothing bad in meeting new persons, including men in Italy. They are actually quite nice and can be very helpful. But it is always better to control the situation and to know the water in which you are going to get in. Good luck!

I would like to thank all my friends whose experience and interview answers helped me in writing this article! If you know some other tricks, please share them in the comments 🙂