Is it pointless if i dont speak spanish??

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Is it pointless if i dont speak spanish??

  • 1
  • 2
Last Post
1. Posted by Loulabella (Budding Member 37 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

I'm currently considering taking next year off work and doing a big trip of soutb america - but i dont speak spanish. Is it a waste to spend so much time and money going to a continent where almost everyone (except brazil i realise) speaks one language and i dont?? Has anyone done this?? did they think it was a worth while experience?? or am i better off to leave the trip until i have had time to go and do a language course and be fairly confident speaking spanish?? i met a girl at the airport while i was on a stop-over the other week who had just come from south america and she told me that if i go there and i cant speak spanish then i am just another "gringa"(or was it gringo?? see i cant speak spanish) was she just on an ego trip over her newly aquired lingual skills or should i reconsider my travel plans??

2. Posted by bentivogli (Respected Member 2398 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

No; it is still worthwhile, but you'll make life hard on yourself. And even íf you speak spanish, you'll still be considered a gringo. For a lot of (mainly political) reasons, most southamericans, especially the poorer ones, are not that fond of westerners, but as a tourist they will treat you courteously, and they will much appreciate any attempt you make at understanding them.

Why not take a crash course on spanish in your home country, and then some conversation lessons in your city of arrival?


3. Posted by Isadora (Travel Guru 13926 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

It's never pointless to travel even when language skills are a barrier. There are several members traveling South America who don't speak Spanish and are having a wonderful time.

I do agree with Niels about taking a quick course, if possible. Before our visit to Panama, I bought a Spanish course CD set and would just listen to them throughtout the day. It didn't teach me enough to speak the language, but did teach me quite a bit. Also realize that you will be meeting people all along your way who do speak Spanish and will be able to help you out. I stuck my foot in my mouth more often than not trying to communicate but it made the Panamanians laugh and we usually came to an understanding one way or another. (I drew a lot of pictures and pretended I was playing Charades with hand gestures.) Always be willing to laugh at yourself and the fact that you are trying to speak the language does help. Just by being there, you will learn Spanish through cultural immersion. There are also courses offered in every country and many members have taken advantage of them successfully.

Plan your trip and have a good time. ;)

(My husband does speak Spanish, though he says at a child's level - all present tense. He would tell me things to say... Most of the time it was something about being a crazy blonde lady who couldn't speak the language. It entertained quite a few.)

4. Posted by Loulabella (Budding Member 37 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

thanks for the speedy response,as much as i would like to go asap i think it is probably wise for me to learn spanish first, my boyfried speaks decent spanish but i don't like to feel like he is "carrying me"on our trips (although it is a bit difficult when he speaks about 5 languages and i only speak 2) and thank you for reminding me that no matter what i do i am a gringo, so it isnt really a reason to stay home. do the people have a particular resentment towards people who speak english or just to all westerners in general?? I have noticed in a few countries i have been that a few people think that if u speak english as a mother language then u must be an a**hole, will i get as bad a reception if i switch to swiss german or german? How much does the spanish spoken differ from country to country?? if i learn spanish in argentina will i understand in bolivia??

5. Posted by bentivogli (Respected Member 2398 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

It is my experience that especially Bolivians and Argentinians aren't very friendly towards anything American, so as a speaker of Australian English, you might have a slightly more difficult job breaking the ice than if you were British and speaking RP. In general, Southamericans of European descent seem to have a fascinating love-hatred relationship with westerners; the poorer classes just tend to collapse the entire western world into a single picture of American neocolonialism, much of the kind Chavez is painting his people. At the same time, if they find out that white individuals came all the way to their continent just to meet with them, and took the trouble of learning (some of) their language, all initial hostility that may exist magically melts away.

The Spanishes of SA are mutually very different, but on the whole easier to comprehend than European Spanish (Castilian). An exception to the untrained ear would be Chilean, which is, to say the least, an interesting dialect. Ecuadorian spanish is renowned for its clarity; that's why many people opt for Ecuador to take classes.

6. Posted by attaque46 (Budding Member 16 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

I could also add a positive experience on this topic:
Last year I travelled for 6 months through South America
I went there not speaking a single word
& understanding just the basics,
recognizing internationalisms here and there, "talking" with my hands all the time (which is not frowned upon, quite the contrary :)), and so on...

I actually picked up quite a vocabulary after couple of months,
& not only that, but also certain regional accents and intonations, which was very helpful.

Unless you intentionally decide not to communicate or have anything to do with people around you (which is out of the question, I should hope, for any normal person), you shall pick up certain words and phrases which will get you by in a matter of days or weeks.
Before you go there memorize some basics like "please", "how much is that", "where is the toilet" & so on, just to get you going, and you'll only improve from that point on..

After a couple of months I was so happy and confident that I "learned" (well, to a certain degree) a new language, that I communicated in Spanish all the time.

I was so into the whole thing, that I actually "forgot" some of my English for a while, and was on a couple of occasions speaking part-English, part-castillano even with fellow-travellers from Europe and US

so - this travel is definitely not pointless -
- just don't be inhibited,
- don't desperately try to speak English or
be constantly asking "Does someone speak english here?" -

When you find yourself in a situation where no one speaks a word of english - use single spanish words accompanied by gestures :
the majority of people down there is beautiful and hospitable - your good intention will mean a lot, and they'll help you out.

Oh, how I envy you right now :)


7. Posted by attaque46 (Budding Member 16 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

Just a quick security-related add-on:
There are some (not extreme, mainly verbal) hostilities towards westerners, but in my experience, almost solely towards Americans, that being - the Americans who LOOK & BEHAVE like caricatures of your typical American abroad; loud, obnoxious, with baseball caps and expensive cameras, behaving condescending, like they owned the place, or like beserked college-kids on spring break - I actually saw a number of those, but this sort is hopeless anyway.

If you plan to travel a lot,just don't be that obvious, and you'll be just fine - travelling and behaving like a normal person (with a normal degree of caution, of course), in all 6 months I had no negative experience whatsoever..

[ Edit: Edited at Nov 7, 2006 5:34 PM by attaque46 ]

8. Posted by aharrold45 (Travel Guru 1281 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

I went not knowing a single word of Spanish. It was fairly difficult at first especially trying to find some place, but after a while you'll learn some basic words which will make life a little easier, because if you know uno (one), dos (two), thrice (three), quatro (four), billetto (ticket) and gracias (thank you) well those words will get you quite a long way when you just speak as simple English as possible. You just look for what it is you are wanting, and if it doesn't have a sign you can just point. When it comes to buying bus tickets you may need to look for the Spanish way of saying the word and write it on a piece of paper. It is easy enough to get around doing that, but it is very hard to understand more than a word or two of what is being said when someone talks back to you. It is not at all pointless in going. Wasting your life away at home day after day is pointless, when you can be out there experiencing this amazing planet that we all live on.

9. Posted by hahaha2000 (Budding Member 13 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

u can use gestures haha

point places on the map would be sufficient i think, but you have make them to point on the map as well...ummm still you have to know the basic spanish i's not hard to learn...

i think you only have to memorize a few sentences like

"indique el lugar en el mapa, por favor" - show me the place on map

"puedes me ayundar? can u help me?

better not to use this one: "can you speak english?"---------i heard people saying this everywhere, honestly this is silly and not very polite.

you would be so much better off to take a basic course in any language school, and it is respectful you speak their language.

she sed u were "gringo", because you are. nothing strange, dont take it seriously.

[ Edit: Edited at Nov 12, 2006 1:43 AM by hahaha2000 ]

10. Posted by djiboutici (Full Member 465 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

I truly think that you'll be just fine,imagine if people didn't leave their countries just because they wanted to visit a country totally different from theirs and the language was a foreign one.Nobody would travel,i mean there are only so many countries where you can the English Language.I think to interact with people from other countries is really to travel and meet new cultures,new scenery,new food...You have to be able to help yourself if you want others to assist you in what you want to achieve in life so like mentioned earlier try and take a quick spanish course and you'll do just fine.All the best in your trip...Happy Travels...