Dealing with a Spanish language barrier

Jaime Valencia speaking with student at ABLA Academy Credit: Jaime Valencia

Relocating to a new country is a significant life decision that often brings unexpected excitement and challenges.

For many expatriates and immigrants in Spain, the most common challenge is the language barrier.

Why is Spanish such a challenge?

Jaime Valencia, 41, is a Spanish Integration Mentor and Director of ABLA Academy, whose focus is on empowering expatriates to integrate and enjoy happy lives as permanent residents in Spain.

“I saw an opportunity to help expats learn my language and integrate into my country. I started creating a unique Spanish learning experience completely from scratch,” said Jaime.

In this mission, Jaime has coached over 350 students since 2016. From this experience, he affirms the most common motivational factor for speaking Spanish is the search for respect and belonging. However, the “mindset” can create a significant barrier to that.

“Fears and insecurities arise when they feel embarrassed for speaking like a three-year-old child or frustrated for not being understood. That’s why they need continuous support, motivation […]”

The cost of not knowing the language

Kamilla Ptaszyńska, 30, originally from Poland, decided in 2018 to trade rainy weather for sunny Spain. However, the burden of not being able to speak Spanish made her adaptation harder than expected.

“I regret not learning Spanish earlier. For sure my first months would’ve been much easier,” said Ptaszyńska.

The regret transformed into strength and motivation for the 30-year-old Polish Ptaszyńska. “I managed to learn Spanish level B1 in about 1 year since starting my first job where my main focus was contact with clients,” said Ptaszyńska.

“I didn’t have time to think about the grammar, I just had to try to communicate with Spaniards so they could understand me. And now I can consider my Spanish lever as upper intermediate,” she added.

The language impact on resident’s social life

As Kamilla Ptaszyńska experienced first-hand, the language barrier can significantly affect one’s social life.

“My main challenge was […] trying to overcome my social anxiety and open myself to meet new people and starting from zero. It was very stressful in the beginning,” she said.

The challenges of adapting and connecting with locals can be intimidating. For Jaime, embracing the local language transcends communication; it embodies a commitment to fostering unity and collective progress within Spain.

“Expats who refuse to learn Spanish and exclusively socialise among themselves without integrating into the local community hold back the country’s progress and create unnecessary divides” Jaime highlighted.

On the other hand, according to Jaime, learning Spanish is an achievable possibility by maintaining “your focus on the end goal: who you want to be in Spain and what you aim to achieve in your new life.”

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Written by

Talyta Franca

Talyta Franca, Class 2026, Northwestern University in Qatar.