Balance,  Thriving

Living in Spanish is Tiring

Dear Matt,

Last week we posted an interview we did with Psychologist and Expat Coach Gabriela Encina (read it here) and one of the things we talked about was how people always expect life abroad to be “wonderful,” “amazing,” and, even, “perfect.” However, all of us who have had true living abroad experiences know that in addition to all of the beautiful moments, there are difficult moments as well. One of the things that you might find difficult during your time living abroad is just how tiring it can be to live in another language.

Now, this might not seem like a big deal as everyone gets tired in their day-to-day life sometimes, but we think this is an important topic as you might not notice it is happening and maybe just feel frustrated that you are tired. We think it is important, however, to pay attention to these feelings because living, working, studying, or even traveling in a foreign culture is tiring itself. Even things as simple as setting up a phone number can be difficult if you don’t understand your options and the way of doing things. And when you add on having to do normal or everyday activities in your non-native language, it will probably be more tiring to carry out simple tasks that you previously thought.

That is why we want to share with you today why we think it is normal to feel more tired when you are living abroad and having to function in Spanish.


Your brain has to work overtime: Studying

It might seem obvious but we don’t give much recognition to how difficult it is to study in a foreign language. Even the basics such as being able to identify what is important during lectures and taking notes that will help you later on in the class can be hard. Students who may have gotten good grades back home may now find themselves in a situation where, sometimes, they are just happy to pass the test. And, sometimes, you might find that you are overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you have to do that you cannot do a normal course load.

Over time, and with lots of practice, all of these things will become easier as you start to integrate more into the life of a student. However, make sure that you are patient with yourself and ask for help when you need it. These are some of the ways we’ve found to be kind to ourselves while studying abroad:

  1. Ask to share someone’s notes. While not everyone will share his or her notes, at least a couple people in class will be willing to lend you a hand.

  2. Working and studying with native speakers (or people who have been in the environment for awhile) can help you identify what is important.

  3. Take advantage of the siesta. After all, your brain is working overtime just to do normal activities, so take naps when you need to!

You can read more about Claudia’s journey studying all of her classes in Spanish here.


Your brain has to work overtime: Working

Just like when you are studying, if you find yourself working in your non-native language, you will probably discover that it is more tiring than in your native language. Especially at the beginning, you might find yourself wondering why it takes so long to complete simple tasks or frustrated that you are leaving work exhausted. If this something you are feeling, try to remember that while these tasks seem simple, by doing them in another language you are having to retrain yourself in the basics.

For example, you might take 5 minutes to write an email in English but antagonize over it for a good fifteen minutes when you write it in Spanish (check this post for our tips for writing emails in Spanish). You will first worry about the grammar and wonder if what you say makes sense but you will probably also be thinking about whether or not you are being culturally correct in how you say things (if you don’t believe there is a difference, check out our cultural competences series). This can feel incredibly frustrating as easy tasks begin to take up most of your time and energy but do not despair, it will get easier.

As you practice or spend more time doing these tasks, you will find that the fatigue diminishes. This is because you are becoming more comfortable with what you are doing and more experienced in how to do it in Spanish. Many of the things that used to be automatic in your native language will become more and more automatic in your new language as well. However, keep in mind, you will probably always find that it will take more energy to do things in a non-native language than your own.


Your brain has to work overtime: Creating Relationships

While it makes sense that when studying and working your brain requires more energy just to get through the everyday things, you may be surprised to find that your social life will be tiring as well. At first you will probably be really excited to practice your language learning skills with natives by doing things such as language exchanges or intercambios. These sessions will be really convenient at the beginning not only because you are able to practice another language but also because they will be set amounts of time. You might meet for thirty minutes or two hours, but you know how long it will be.

Once you move past these structured exchanges into friendships and, soon, groups of friends, you will find that you cannot calculate how long you will hang out or how many people will be speaking in Spanish. While these group meetings will be really fun, at the beginning, they are bound to tire you more than if you are spending time speaking one-on-one because of the energy and the layers of voices talking over and around each other. Even when you can participate in these exchanges without a problem in terms of language speaking, you will still find that it can make you mentally tired.


How to deal with being tired in Spanish?

We believe that it is perfectly normal to get tired when you are living in another language but we also recognize that this can be really frustrating when you don’t have as much energy as you want to have. Our first tip is to understand that what you are living through is perfectly normal. By allowing yourself to feel like your experience is normal, you are going to give yourself more space to slowly progress at your own rate. And that is our second tip—be patient and give yourself time to adapt to every improvement you make. Remember, you are already doing something amazing just by living abroad.

Another thing we always remember is that, no matter how long we seem to be living in this foreign language, there are always days when we feel like we cannot properly communicate. Or there are moments when oura brain feels tired and our sentences just come out funny. This is also perfectly normal and we recommend giving yourself time and space to relax and figure out how to improve at your own rate. That is the beautiful thing about living abroad, you will always have tomorrow to improve your skills and try again.

Do you find that you get tired and frustrated that you are tired when you are spending lots of time in a foreign language?

How do you deal with this?


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