Learning a language is a huge endeavor. After three months of living in South America, I admit, I am just tipping the iceberg between knowing enough to “get around” and feeling comfortable enough to have a slightly in-depth conversation with the locals. I can guarantee, however, that learning Spanish has enriched my overall quality of life.
I believe that it is imperative to understand a few basic phrases, if not more, especially when traveling to the following three countries:
Landlocked, Bolivia has the highest proportion of indigenous people compared to any other country in South America. And although this make for a relatively diverse exchange of languages, most of the country speaks Spanish and the smaller tribes that don’t consider Spanish as their first language have learned Spanish fluently in order to interact, sell, and cater to the tourists. Out of all the places I have visited in Bolivia, both small villages and large metropolis cities, the people speak very little English, if any at all. Therefore, understanding and speaking a little Spanish in this part of South America is essential. The locals who facilitate city tours, jungle tours, and general hospitality (even in high-end hotels) generally speak only Spanish. If you want to get the most our of your stay in Bolivia, learn numbers, directions, and peruse through a “making friends” section of any reputable guidebook for general etiquette phrases on how to speak to friends or a stranger.
This coastal country that sits on the north west side of South America has everything to offer from bustling Spanish colonial cities to laid-back beaches that boast some of the best playas in the world. But to fully engage and navigate the natural diversity of all its hidden little niches, understanding and speaking Spanish is a must. Most of the countries highlights such as Quito, Montecristi, and of course the Galapagos Islands, have English-led tour groups that cater to tourists. Yes, if you are traveling for a short time and don’t have time to learn a little bit of Spanish before hand, English tour groups can be convenient but expensive. If you are traveling to the remote beaches such as Conoa and San Vicente, prepare to brush up on your Spanish as seeing “the sites” and interacting with the locals becomes a lot less stressful when you understand the local language.
Although this country has received some flak lately for being one of the most dangerous countries in South America, it really is a marvel to explore. Places such as Archipielago Los Roques, a group of sandy islets that lie in crystal clear waters just 150km north of the hectic city of Caracas will tickle your island fever and need for some serious rejuvenation. Here you will find tranquil waters inhabited by eclectic sea life such as Pelicans and fresh-water lobsters . There are many other serene and pristine gems like this in Venezuela, but mass tourism is limited (which I think is a good thing) and English speakers are a dime a dozen. If you are planning to explore this off the beaten track country, make sure you understand more then just “basic” Spanish before taking off.
What phrases do you know in Spanish and are you eager to learn more?