Why I Want to Learn Spanish

I’ve become obsessed with learning Spanish recently.  This is partly due to the fact that my last three trips have been to Spanish speaking countries (Colombia, Mexico and the US territory of Puerto Rico) and partly due to my job.  I work in the International terminal at the airport, so least once per day I encounter some lost non-English speaker looking for Taca or Mexicana Airlines and wondering if I abla espanol?  With each encounter all I can do is shake my head and then inwardly scold myself for not having studied a language I can actually use outside of Berlin or a small Asian island half way across the world.

Most Americans can boast to speaking at the very least, ‘high school Spanish’ but I don’t even have that.  I studied Japanese in elementary school and German in college, so unfortunately my Spanish is limited to a very unuseful assortment of commercial catchphrases and film and television quotes that I picked up over the years.  My childhood Spanish instructors were the Terminator (Hasta La Vista, Baby) and a talking Chiquaqua (Yo qui ero Taco Bell).   I may not speak high school Spanish but my movie Spanish is damn near passable.

But it doesn’t get me very far, which became especially apparent when I went to Colombia, a country known more for it’s kidnappings and drug cartels than it’s tourism and abundance of English speakers.  I loved Colombia and found it to be surprisingly safe, but traveling anywhere was confusing as Hell.  No one spoke English.  No one.  Which is something that my travel buddy and I probably should of realized before we booked our tickets to Bogota, but to be perfectly honest, we really thought that we’d come fully prepared.  We had a Spanish dictionary (which I inconveniently misplaced the first day of the trip but that’s beside the point), and we’d memorized a few important phrases that we figured we’d make use of at some point during the trip.  Phrases like “Donde esta Shakira?” and “No mas Cocaine, por favor.”  You know, useful things like that.

Funnily enough though, for a country that supposedly spawned the International singing sensation slash She-Wolf extraordinaire, no one seemed to know where she was.  Or even care.  Some I suspect, had never even heard of her and those who had, flat-out refused to play her music.

Like the DJ at the discoteca we visited, for example.  My friend and I had spent the evening half-heartedly dancing to the Black-Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga before I finally worked up the courage to approach the DJ booth.  I don’t normally listen to Shakira, but we were in Colombia.  A visit to Colombia without singing along to the ingenious lyrical masterpiece that is Hips Don’t Lie is like a trip to Puerto Rico without the wise words of Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vita Loca.  It just isn’t done.

“Hola!”  I hollered to the DJ. She turned and looked at me and her face registered surprise.  It was my birthday and in honor of our celebration, the club had presented me with a sash and crown which I figured couldn’t hurt my cause but probably made the DJ think I was Livin’ La Viva Loca…and not in a good way.

“Shakira?” I inquired hesitantly.  I pointed at the stereo.  She looked confused, frowned and then said a whole lotta something that I didn’t understand.

“Que? Shakira, Shakira!  Hips don’t lie, por favor. Si…” I stuttered, pointing again at the stereo.

And then it was her turn to point to the stereo and say something equally incomprehensible.

And so our conversation continued, with her sounding like a broken record and me stretching the limits of my Movie Spanish with “Andale!  Ariba!” (Speedy Gonzoles from Looney Toons) until I eventually wandered back to my table in defeat.

It’s for this reason and more that I think I want to let go of my “everybody-speaks-Spanish-so-I’m-going-to-be-different-and-learn-a-language-I’ll-never-use-and-eventually-forget” mentality and enroll myself into Espanol 101.  But not at the community college but somewhere exotic and cool.

I’m thinking Guatemala…

Antigua Relexion by Freddy Murphy

Cerro de la Cruz by Freddy Murphy

Joy Time by Freddy Murphy

I’m going to be laid off from the airline soon and I figure rather than waste away unemployed in the US…I might as well go to Central America where I can waste away unemployed for a lot less money…and gain a resume-building language in the process.

So.  What do you think?  Am I crazy?

Before answering that, check out these articles:

Cheapest Places to Live: Guatemala

The Cheapest Places to Live in the World:  $500 a month

Young Americans going abroad to teach

18 Most Scenic Places for Teaching English Overseas

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Related posts:

  1. Spanish Schools in Guatemala
  2. My Spanish Teacher
  3. 9 Quotes about Struggling to Learn a Foreign Language
  4. Phrases You Won’t Find in Your Spanish Phrase Book
  5. Inexpensive Japanese Language School in Tokyo

Comments ( 13 )

  1. Rachael

    I love Spanish and all of the travel opportunities it presents. So, the DJ never played Shakira? Boo :( I'm a Spanish teacher but for my 2nd job I answer phones and handle all of the Spanish callers. My co-workers give me ANYONE who speaks anything but English...which is kind of insane haha. Sometimes I get people speaking all kinds of languages that I can't even make a single word out of. I have a minor in French but I'm not very conversational so when I get French caller I wish I could help them more and I want to learn more French...kind of how you want to learn Spanish. Go for it...and then let's travel somewhere...i'll be your back up :)

  2. Leia

    I learnt basic spanish because I'd some ideas about going to Barcelona to work. And because I love everything spanish... the music, the guitar, the dance, the language. But I'm told it is much different living in a spanish speaking country and learning the language. A friend of mine lived in Peru for 6 months on an exchange program. he speaks great spanish. And 4 other languages cuz he's lived in all those countries.

  3. Ekua

    I don't think it's crazy, but of course my opinion is due to my own chronic travel needs ;) You should definitely go for it!

  4. mars

    Why not base yourself further south? Argentina?

  5. Edd

    I'm still holding on to the 'everybody-speaks-spanish-so-I'm-gonna-learn-a-foreign-language-I'll-eventually-forget' mentality :), I like being a risk taker. I've taken Spanish, and it was really fun, but then when I got to high school I discovered the marvelous world of French, and I'm partially learning Korean (i'll master it someday) and thinking of someday exploring my interests in German, Japanese, and Swahili. I'm in love w/ French and think it's 100x better than Spanish was, and I plan to use it so I definitely won't forget it! People always tell me that 'ehh, spanish is a rapidly growing langauge in America, so you should learn that instead." It's nice that you're thinking of moving abroad...and I think it's time you travel with the winds to a new place. Guatemala looks awesome, but I read that article and Thailand, Cambodia, Phillipines, and Belize look a lot nicer to me. idk, but I think I have a personal bias against going to South America (besides Brazil & Argentina) >_< . it's sad, and I pray that I overcome it sooner or later.

  6. Jen

    I think it's a great idea! There's no better way to learn a language than to immerse yourself in it! Good luck.

  7. Jorge

    As a Spanish(Mexican) native speaker this post cracked me up specially the Speedy Gonzalez part, too bad the DJ didn't play Shakira for you. "Suerte" in your journey for learning Spanish.

  8. Re

    Sorry I haven't responded to these comments until now...Life has been crazy busy. I actually worked seven days in a row last week. But anyways, as always...I appreciate your comments! That's awesome that you guys all love learning languages as much as I do. Like ya'll, I definitely want to learn French someday, as well. One of my friends keeps pestering me to move to Montreal to stay with him and study French...and that sounds totally, incredibly tempting. But I just don't know that I can afford to do that. I'm still relatively broke at the moment. So my desire to learn Spanish now (instead of French or Russian or any of the other languages I've been dying to learn) is partially an economical one. Where else in the World can I live in a homestay, be fed three meals a day and receive four hours of daily, private language instruction for under 100 bucks a week ...besides Central or South America?

  9. Re

    @ Edd...wow, you're ambitious! Why Swahili, by the way? And are you studying Korean right now because you live in South Korea...or just because you find it interesting?

  10. Leia

    If you want to learn any of the Indian languages... India :-) Or Africa... if you want to learn Swahili or something like that...

  11. Edd

    Why Swahili? Because I'm really interested in visiting Tanzania (Mt. Kilimanjaro here I come!), most of Africa too really, and it just looks and sounds like such an interesting language. Jambo, ninashukuru, uhuru, nzuri, asante, ninyifurahi, etc. etc. might give the cat I've always wanted a swahili name, or maybe just some random word from Swahili. Nah I'm not in in SK at the moment, but I'm hoping to get there, even for a short stay, in the next year or two. I don't know what it was that sparked my interest in Korean, maybe cause I know a lot of Koreans. I gurantee you 100% that you would have learned Korean faster than Japanese if you had taught in SK instead. You can literally learn Hangul in one day, or a week tops. The hard part is pronunciation. I swear I sound like I'm just shouting out random baby-like sounds when I speak Korean.

  12. Re

    Wow, how are you finding all the time to do this? Sometimes there's so many things I want to do or see in my life but I just feel so rushed; like I have absolutely zero time to do them all. I liked South Korea but I don't think I could live there for the length of time it would take to speak Korean fluently. SK seemed sort of dark and dreary and depressing...But maybe I think that because I visited in the dead of winter. But yeah, if I had a million dollars, one of the things I'd do is move to France for six months and just study French full-time and then move to Spain and do the same thing with Spanish.

  13. John

    Have you considered coming to El Salvador? It´s a nice place too and it´s full with job opportunities for english speaking people. We have beautiful beaches and mountains, and salvadoreans are very warm people... just consider it!!!

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