Do I need to learn Spanish to visit South America?

Do I Need to Learn Spanish to Visit South America?

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Do I need to learn Spanish to visit South America?

Lost in Translation?

In planning your trip to South America, the question will arise whether or not to learn Spanish before you go. A trip to South America is a cultural explosion and it’s even better if you speak Spanish (or Portuguese, if you are heading to Brazil). Knowing the host language goes a long way when you’re traveling. While, it’s easier to surround ourselves with the comfort of English speaking travelers, I can guarantee you will have more fun if you can interact with a little local language.

If you wonder whether learning Spanish before you go is worthwhile… here’s some trivia tidbits:

Spanish ranks as the world’s No. 2 language in terms of how many people speak it as their first language. Slightly ahead of English but far behind Chinese. So there are many more continents you can visit to speak the Spanish Language.
Spanish is spoken in over 40 countries;
Spanish has adopted hundreds of English words related to technology and culture so you won’t have to learn those!

As with most adults wanting to learn another language, the key is to immerse yourself in not only the language but the culture too. I decided to go the full hog and booked myself in for a Home Stay in Antigua, Guatemala. Lessons every morning for 5 days for two weeks. The family were lovely, didn’t speak a word of English so mealtimes were entertaining with my broken Spanish and the flapping hand gestures, especially when I tried to tell my host parent that the liver, potatoes and frijoles (beans) were delicious… body language and my facial expressions probably gave it away that I was not quite being truthful.

By understanding even the most basic words of this beautiful language you will enjoy your visit so much more! Your experiences will change if you can actually communicate with people.

You don’t need to be fluent before you embark on your adventure and if you can’t hold a conversation it isn’t a reason to not go! You only need the basics to get around and you’ll be amazed at what you learn as you start traveling. Generally we learn faster by practicing every day and once you get to South America, that’s exactly what you will do!

Before you go

  • Phrasebooks make good reading in your downtime while travelling, in cafes etc
  • Podcasts – many people retain the pronunciation of words better if they hear them
  • Learn the basics first, numbers, greetings, money etc
  • Learn how to say your Country – everyone always asks where you are from
  • “I don’t understand” is one of the most common you will use – Lo siento, no entiendo!
  • Remember to learn your manners
    Hola habla espanolHello – hola
    Please – por favor
    Thank you – gracias
    I’m sorry – lo siento


Fun ways to practice your Spanish when you get there!

  • Tell your guide you want to practice your Spanish.
  • Ask questions about the souvenirs or local products you are buying, learn the history from the language of the locals
  • Kids! Young kids are the best to practice on, it’s ok if they laugh and you don’t care if what you are saying is completely wrong!
  • Ask for directions even if you know where you are going. Locals are more willing to have a chit chat if you ask for directions!
  • Take advantage of any travel you do by bus, train or waiting in terminals to chat to the people around you.
  • If you have time take Spanish lessons in your country of choice. Immersing yourself in Spanish lessons in the host country means you get a local Spanish teacher and will be able to reinforce the learning the minute you leave the lesson.
  • If you are in Argentina and a local offers you mate tea to drink, take the time to sit down, chit chat and have some tea.
  • Don’t be nervous, you can do it! Give it a go, be patient and always smile even if you don’t understand!

As always, safe and happy travels ~ Nicola