Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity that I advise every single person to take advantage of, but of course, it comes with some challenges. The biggest challenge I have faced while studying in Florence for the semester is the language barrier. I thought that knowing Spanish would make it easier for me to understand and learn Italian, but boy was I wrong.
Yes, most people in Florence (and around the world) know English very well, but it is still harder to communicate with Florentines when English is not their native language and I can barely speak Italian. In most shops and restaurants it is fairly easy to communicate because there is little interaction between you and someone speaking a different language. But there are other situations that are a little trickier. Like when our hot water and heat stopped working, our lovely landlord came to our rescue. At first, he had no clue what we were saying and told us to speak slower. It was hard for him to understand us and harder for us to understand him (and what was wrong with our hot water heater).
While living in this apartment, we knew we were bound to have some problems (a pigeon laying an egg on my windowsill and never leaving, the wifi shutting down, the washer stop working, etc.) and would eventually rely on our landlord to fix these problems. Our landlord has been nothing but nice to us and always fixes any problems that occur, but it just takes a little bit longer than normal because of the language barrier.
There are many ways to deal with this to make interacting with locals a lot easier. I always start by telling them that I only speak a little bit (un po) of Italian. They are pleased when I say this and are very understanding (the Florentines are extremely nice to everyone!) Another thing I do is ask if they understand english, but I make sure to speak slowly because us Americans are known for talking fast. Most Italians do know english, so asking them isn’t always necessary, but I have found that they like being asked because it is seen as the polite thing to do. My last piece of advise for dealing with a language barrier is to try to learn the language. You definitely won’t master it within the short semester, but trying is a lot better than not trying at all. My landlord, local Florentines, and my professors really appreciate when we show them our language skills improving and it means so much to them! Going to a different country where a different language is spoken for over three months is a challenge, but it is so worth it!