Do you need to learn Spanish before visiting Spanish-speaking countries?
It’s a question we get asked a lot and it is an important one. How much Spanish do you need to know? Will just a few words and phrases be enough? Do you need to study for weeks and weeks before your trip? Can you avoid studying altogether and just get by with English?
In this post, we’ll share our thoughts on the different situations when someone may or may not want to learn Spanish before traveling to a Spanish-speaking country.
When You Don’t Need Spanish
Let’s start with the situations when people probably don’t need to learn Spanish before traveling to a Spanish-speaking country.
For example, say you’re on a cruise ship and are stopping for one or two days in a Spanish-speaking country. In a situation like this, you might not see the need to learn Spanish. Chances are you’re going to visit places that mostly cater to tourists, so you don’t have to worry about speaking another language. Of course, learning a couple of words and phrases will enrich your travels, but it’s not mandatory. You’ll likely be fine with English.
Spanish for Expats
What about expats? Say you want to go to a Spanish-speaking country to retire or work remotely. Is learning Spanish necessary for this?
Well, these days there are expat communities that cater specifically to English speakers. These communities, whether formal or informal, are often slightly separate from the local community in the sense that many businesses in and around them cater to English speakers. In situations like these — whether you’re staying for a few months or a few years — you can likely get by with minimal Spanish.
Of course, the more you learn the deeper your experiences will be. Learning more Spanish will also help if you have to file any paperwork (assuming you’re moving there and not staying just as a tourist) and it will help you make friends and meet people. But if you’re mostly interested in spending time with other expats then learning Spanish is recommended but it isn’t necessarily vital.
Spanish for Vacations
Another reason might be you want to get away on vacation with your friends and not have to worry about speaking another language. These are the trips where you’re staying at a resort and are relatively separate from the local community. If you’re just drinking margaritas by the pool you can likely skip learning more than just a few phrases.
When You Should Learn Spanish
Now, what are some of the reasons people may want — or need — to learn Spanish before they go to a Spanish-speaking country?
First, if you’re an independent traveler who wants to get off the beaten path, learning Spanish is a great tool to help you have deeper, more authentic experiences. Sure, you don’t need to learn Spanish to see the main tourist sites in most countries, but if you want to visit more obscure destinations and escape the basic guidebook and Instagram sites, learning Spanish is a must. It can help you get directions, ask questions, hire a guide or driver, and avoid scams.
Spanish for Navigating Difficult Situations
Which brings us to our next point. Let’s say you are trying to go from point A to point B and are surprised you missed the last bus. What do you do in that situation? How are you going to communicate to ask for help?
In this situation, you’re going to need to be able to ask questions, book new tickets, and solve problems in a foreign language. Sure, there might be someone around to help but you can’t really depend on that. For your own safety and security, learn as much Spanish as you can. You never know when it will come in handy!
Spanish to Avoid Scams
Additionally, there are scammers everywhere in the world — especially in touristy places where foreigners can be easy targets. To avoid falling victim to scams and price gouging, learn some Spanish. It’s your first and best defense against being ripped off or scammed.
For example, one time I was in a situation where a taxi charged me twice the usual fare. Since I spoke Spanish, I was able to talk to the taxi driver. I told him that I’d been here many times before, taking the same route. It’s usually this price. He immediately changed the price back to what they typically charge — all because I knew enough Spanish to question him.
Of course, scams like this are common all around the world — even in the US! However, with just a pinch of language fluency, you can usually avoid being ripped off.
At the end of the day, the longer you plan on spending in a Spanish-speaking country, the more time you should spend learning the language.
Just visiting for a day or two? A few words and phrases are plenty.
Planning to visit for weeks or months at a time? This is when investing in learning the language will pay dividends. From helping you avoid scams to giving you the ability to meet locals, ask questions, and stay safe, learning Spanish is a no-brainer for anyone hoping to really embrace their destination and learn about its nuances.
By learning the language to the best of your ability, you’ll be able to have a much deeper travel experience. Spend time before your trip learning the basics. It’s never been easier to learn a language thanks to apps like italki and Duolingo. Just 15-30 minutes a day can help you understand the basics, adding much more depth to your travels. Locals always appreciate travelers who try to speak their language. It shows you care about their culture and want to learn more about it. That opens a lot of doors that would otherwise be closed.
So, don’t hesitate to put yourself out there and learn some Spanish before your next trip. It’s the best way to improve your travels, boost your safety, and have a more memorable and authentic experience!