Understanding Español: Where and How to Learn

Three hundred million, almost five percent of the world's population, speak Spanish.

Photo © iStock/fotoVoyager

One two, miss a few, 99, trescientos millones. That’s the number of people who hable Spanish: Three hundred million, almost five percent of the world population. While the suits are battling Mandarin, travelers of every strain are turning in droves to the allure of the Spanish (or Castilian) lingo.

Bueno for them. My first attempt was far from poetic. I was crammed into a Barcelona bar watching England prepare for a penalty shootout against Euro 2004 hosts, Portugal. My pint was empty and panic was setting in. The barman caught my gaze for what must have been a millisecond, and the crowd went quiet. “Uno pint of lager por favor!” Moments later he handed me a beer; the one that would eventually console me following England’s defeat.

Where Does One Speak Spanish?

Learning Spanish has equally great rewards for travelers. Just look at the roll call of Spanish speaking countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia*, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador*, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras*, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela*. It’s like the who’s who of backpacking. It’s the Westside Story’s Sharks to the Jets. A set of dark silk, draped across some of the raunchiest destinations on earth.

The World Nomads Spanish language guide will help, with muchos, muchos phrases they’re incredibly useful — my only criticism is that if you pull out your iPhone or iPod Touch to tell a Bolivian farmer that you “have a cold” (tengo un resfriado), he’s likely to be rendered speechless by its otherworldliness compared to his disobedient alpaca. If you’re looking for somewhere to test it out, I know at least one Shark that is vying for your pesos.

Where to Learn Spanish

Just being in Argentina — or any of the twenty-one Spanish speaking countries — will bring out the español in you, however if you’re wondering where else to turn to learn the lingo, you’re not short of options. Not only is Spanish one of the most widely spoken languages, it’s also one of the most popular to learn so there’s a wealth of material on offer. I took night classes for a year while working full time in the UK. Although the content was relevant, I found you have to be prepared to do your homework — literally. I didn’t have the energy to drive straight from the office to the classroom, and my brain didn’t have the willpower to make it stick.

These days, I’d be more inclined to load up my iPhone with one of the multitude of polite sounding e-teachers. Also, I’d check the local community sites and forums. Many Spanish speakers would love to learn your language, so drop them a line and buddy up. If you’re watching Pulp Fiction for the umpteenth time, turn on the Spanish subtitles or better still watch it in its original language; Una Palabra Tuya (One Word from You), El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth), Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too) and Diarios de motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries) are just a few of the superb Spanish language films available. Perhaps you know some more?

Why Should You Learn Spanish?

The benefits of learning Spanish are numerous. You’ll open doors at every level; on a professional level you’ll give yourself a potentially vital edge in many industries. On a social level, not only will speaking Spanish enhance your time in the Spanish quarters but it will open up a whole new world back in your hometown.

The former Spanish colonies are rich in creative history. Famous for late nights, light feet and aromatic romance. The ability to converse in the origin language of everything from the tango and salsa to tapas and mojitos will gift you a channel to the Hispanics of old.

Whichever way you choose to absorb a little Spanish, never lose sight of the reasons you’re doing it. While you’ll be unleashing a cultural rush, it’s one you’ll never be able to contain, or conquer. Buena suerte!

*Some of these Sharks should be approached with caution.

Learn the Local Lingo

For those of you wishing to learn some Spanish lingo, World Nomads has created a number of language guides to help you.

Behind the Backpack

Written by the footloose Englishman, Ant; World Nomads very own guest blogger and the solo scribe of the charismatic travel blog Trail of Ants.com. Ant's currently drenching a thirst for travel during his third year of dragging a smudged and odorous backpack around the world.

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