How ChatGPT Helps Me Navigate Language Barriers Abroad

Navigating language barriers as an expat in France can be a challenge, even with a solid grasp of French. This article explores how ChatGPT has become an essential tool for deciphering complex French texts, understanding cultural nuances, and handling everyday communication with humor and ease. From hilarious language mishaps to decoding bureaucratic jargon, ChatGPT proves to be a helpful companion in mastering life abroad.

Gal Szmelcman Sela

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Smoozitive Magazine/Just Living/How ChatGPT Helps Me Navigate Language Barriers Abroad

Bonjour! Parlez-vous Français? Or should I use 'Tu'? Believe me, the French language is a beautiful, melodic symphony of words that can simultaneously enchant and confuse even the most seasoned expat. Life abroad has shown me just how intricate and perplexing language barriers can be, despite my prior familiarity with French.

When I moved back to France in 2020, I thought I had a pretty solid grasp of the language. After all, I grew up here when I was younger, and French has been playing in my ears since I was a child.

But let me tell you, reading French banking or legal letters is a whole different ball game. It's like my brain decided to play hide and seek with every French word I thought I knew. I can read the words, but no idea what they mean.

And don't get me started on trying to have a conversation with a local. Between their crazy idea to swap syllables and say them in reverse order (it's called 'Verlan') or the fact that they use English words with a massive French accent in the middle of a French sentence. So confusing.

There are some fun moments though; moments of hilarious language mistakes. For example, a couple of years ago, I wanted to tell a friend that I'm here for her, and supporting her in her choices - just to realize that 'supporting someone' in French has a whole other meaning - one that says 'put up with someone' in a not so positive way.

Or the time I said to a man I dated I found him beautiful, but I used the wrong adjective, a feminine one, and he burst out laughing. Ok I did too after I realized what I said. But on the spot, those moments are like 'common... why you're making it so complicated?'

Better laugh about it

I strongly believe that humor is an excellent and effective approach when it comes to learning languages, as well as in many other aspects of life. This is probably why I enjoy so much funny persons such as Alex & Tom aka AT Frenchies, whose short Instagram videos never fail to bring a smile to my face.

Paul Taylor is another great example, who crack me up with his series of videos that humorously highlight the ways in which French individuals often misuse English words. The joy that these videos bring me is truly unparalleled, I highly recommend you check them out, especially at the end of a not-so-great day. I always find myself laughing uncontrollably while watching them.

Leveraging AI for Language Assistance

Coming back to those more professional moments - those official letters, contracts, emails from the accountant, prefecture or simply the electric bills ... 'why so complicated?'. It's like they are trying on purpose to make it not understandable, right?!

Thankfully, in this digital age, we have a secret weapon: ChatGPT. Yes, you heard me right. This became my wing-man, or woman, not sure. But one thing is sure - it makes my life so much easier and dealing with those living abroad challenges such as foreign language more effectively.​

With a few taps on my phone, I can ask, politely of course, (I don't know about you, but I always add please, and thank you to my prompts. We never know how things will evolve with those machine learning, better be on the safe side), for help to decode the mysteries of French vocabulary or even craft a great professional email within seconds.

It's not just about translating words; it's about understanding the nuances and cultural quirks that make language truly come alive. ChatGPT doesn't just give me a word-for-word translation—it's like having a savvy local friend whispering in my ear, guiding me through the linguistic maze and actually explaining me what the hell did they mean.

It's not just about translating words; it's about understanding the nuances and cultural quirks that make language truly come alive.

ChatGPT doesn't just give me a word-for-word translation—it's like having a savvy local friend whispering in my ear, guiding me through the linguistic maze and actually explaining me what the hell did they mean.

So how exactly does ChatGPT work its magic?

It's simple, really. Just type in your query, hit enter, and voilà! Within seconds, you're greeted with a clear, concise response in the language of your choice. Whether I'm drafting emails, deciphering legal jargon, or even composing fun messages on a dating app (hey, a girl's gotta keep the romance alive), ChatGPT has my back.

Take this morning, for example. Bleary-eyed and caffeine-deprived, I opened an email from my accountant, only to be greeted by a wall of French text that might as well have been written in hieroglyphics. There were some words I knew, combined with a mix of acronyms I never heard of, all in a very 'high-level' French, a quick panic moment set in as I scanned the email, trying to make sense of it all. But then, a lightbulb moment: ChatGPT to the rescue!

With a few quick clicks, I copied and pasted the text into ChatGPT, said please, and hit enter. And just like that, the fog lifted. It explained to me exactly what my accountant wanted me to do, why she asked me for this, and what all those acronyms actually mean. Amazing!!!

Funny enough, I sometimes use it for English as well. Seriously, sometimes those legal sentences feel like they do it on purpose so you don't get what they mean.

Living abroad isn't always easy, but when we find ways to simplify our day-to-day - we make it better for ourselves. So there you have it: my secret weapon for conquering language barriers abroad - ChatGPT (but be polite, ok?).

Just use it for the most random stuff like a WhatsApp text, decoding letters from your doctor or bank, writing emails, or even translating an article. It might not be 100% accurate (hey, it's learning from humans, and we make mistakes, so does it haha), but it will definitely help you out in most cases. And who knows, you might even pick up a few new phrases to impress your friends and colleagues.

As for me, I'll continue my love affair with the French language, armed with my trusty sidekick by my side. Because in the end, it's not just about mastering the words—it's about embracing the beauty of communication in all its messy, glorious forms. Et voilà, c'est la vie à la française!

Gal Sela-Szmelcman founder of Smoozitive & creator of SYLA app

Written by Gal Sela-Szmelcman

Founder of Smoozitive and creator of SYLA app - the #1 app for those living abroad. Gal is a positive psychology coach, expert in cultivating a positive mindset and uplifting others. She has been an expat since a young age, and relocated over 8 times. Her most recent move to France in 2020 provided an opportunity to focus her work on those living abroad, as she understands the challenges they face.

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