Pack your bags, do your research on the weather this time of year, make sure you’ve got sunscreen, bug spray, and of course your bathing suit. With all the things that we do to get ready for a trip, or a move, to Latin American, one thing that gets overlooked but makes a huge difference in our experience is speaking Spanish.
While there are many English speakers throughout Latin America, and many friendly locals who will help you out with directions, in the bank, or even at the local pharmacy or clinic, knowing Spanish, even just a little bit, will help make your experience in Latin America that much more meaningful and memorable, not to mention save you some embarrassing and potentially costly mistakes.
Aside from Belize, where English is the official language, Spanish is the official language throughout Latin America. Along the Caribbean coasts of many Central American countries you will find patios, a local dialect based in English, speakers but knowing Spanish is the best way to get around Latin America, especially if you’re planning on living there.
Taking Spanish lessons or classes before moving abroad is a great way to jump-start your move. It will help you get in the mind set of living abroad and get you excited to practice your language skills once you relocate. Start with the basics, numbers especially. Many of your interactions include prices and times and knowing the difference between dos, 2, and doce, 12, can mean the difference in saving money or missing the bus. Also, numbers allow you to tell people your phone number and your address, very important when living in a new place. Basic phrases such as greetings will go a long way in helping you make new friends and give off a great first impression. You’re moving to a new country, with a new culture, and a new way of life, so knowing how to say hello, goodbye, how are you will make you seem interested in this new lifestyle and you’ll find that even if you can’t say more than hello or goodbye you’ll have an easier time making new friends by trying, just a little.
And then there are more serious matters to consider. Beyond knowing if something costs $2 or $12 and getting charged a “gringo tax” you’ll need Spanish is anything ever happens where you need to speak with the police, a doctor, or even a pharmacist. If you’re living abroad eventually something will happen that forces you out of your comfort zone and you’ll need to deal with the situation with whatever language skills you do have. The more Spanish language you know the easier these potentially stressful interactions will be. Luckily, by living abroad you will be immersed in Spanish and the longer you are living in another country the more phrases and words you’ll pick up. Learning a new language is all part of the experience of living abroad so get excited, get learning, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Spanish to your new friends in your new home!