I am a high school Spanish teacher, fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, and have taught English abroad for five years. Believe me….language is important. When I went to Ecuador last year I talked to cab drivers, street vendors, hostel staff, waitresses, farmers, you name it. I was able to learn so much more about the country’s history, culture, traditions, sports, and people because I speak Spanish.
Yes, English is the “world language” and in much of Europe, many big cities and in touristy places often locals will speak English. What happens when you are in a small town, not in a touristy spot, on in a country where many people don’t speak English?
You can get by on gestures and translating on your phone needed phrases, but how much different is your experience when you can really communicate?
Realize that your experience in a country will be very different depending on how much of the language that you know!
It’s important to think about what level you want to be at before you start traveling, studying, or living in another country.
The bare basics for a short trip in a country
Memorize 5-10 basic words and phrases such as Hello, thank you, goodbye, how much, where, and how are you?
Learn words and phrases that are specific for topics you want to talk about. Do you really want to order at restaurants, talk about sports, or ask questions about transportation. Before your trip start making a list of vocab and full phrases that you will actually use!
Being able to have a conversation. This is the real first goal for any language speaker.
- Find someone that speaks Spanish and practice with them, or even better someone who is learning English and talk/practice 50% of the time in Spanish and the other 50% in English.
- Go to a meet up group near you! https://www.meetup.com/topics/spanish/
- Do some conversation classes online! http://www.verbalplanet.com/ or https://www.livelingua.com/
- Use Duolingo https://www.duolingo.com/
- Sign up for a language class in your city
- Take a week or several weeks of language class in countries like Mexico, Guatemala, or Peru! There are thousands of inexpensive language schools around the world!
Picking a language
Several years ago before I journeyed abroad for the first time to look for a job, I looked at a world map and asked myself, “Where should I go and what language will they speak there?” Living in the U.S. I glanced at a map and saw that nearly every country south of me spoke Spanish. With 20 nations speaking the same language, I decided to start out in Mexico, fell in love with the country and stayed there for nearly two years.
Consider several things when choosing the language you want to focus on.
- Is it spoken in several countries I may go to? http://tinyurl.com/j4vqyyl
- Is this an easier, medium, or very difficult language to learn? http://tinyurl.com/27huflb
- Do I have a way of keeping this language up at home via friends, TV, the internet, etc.?
Growing up in the United States Spanish is a great choice for many people given that a large percentage of our country speaks Spanish. Many Americans visit Mexico and other Latin American countries or have family members that speak Spanish. Many jobs will favor those who are bilingual over those who just speak English. Whatever language you chose, dive into it and find a practical use for it!