TAPAS, cervaza, que?? Yes… you can get by on a few words but if you really want to soak up Spain it’s time to learn the lingo

While sitting at a street side café in Buenos Aires about ten years ago, a lady approached me and sat down at my table. Being a cheery tourist I didn’t mind the intrusion and actually quite enjoyed the idea of interacting with a local.

The thing was however, I didn’t speak any Spanish – and my elderly new friend didn’t have a word of English.

Perhaps it was the intonation of her voice or her sweeping hand gestures, but by some means I discovered she lived just outside the city, had one son, who was a doctor, and was fond of animals. Not exactly a blockbuster dialogue, but not bad for two people who didn’t speak the other’s tongue.

But the question is – did it really matter that communication was limited to smiles and gesticulation?

That depends.

In terms of a little chit-chat and fun with local people, it’s easy to get by with nods and smiles. But maybe if I had of been able to speak the lingo in Buenos Aires, I’d have found out sooner that my new pal was actually a Jehovah Witness trying her best to convert me!

Generally speaking around the globe, a smile signifies happiness, a tear equals sadness, while a fist in the air means you’d better run! Therefore… it is possible to travel, interact and have a wonderful time with people without necessarily speaking the same language, but at the same time, being able to communicate properly allows you explore deeper into a foreign culture.

Just over a year ago when I first arrived in Cordoda I had barely a word of Spanish. I would sit down with Spanish family and friends smiling away like an idiot, because it was my only way of communicating. And it was really frustrating.

My Spanish has now improved and I really enjoy trying to chat in the native language. It’s made a big difference in terms of my relationship with my in-laws and it’s much more fun to be able to participate in conversations.

It’s definitely tricky picking up a new language as an adult, but if you want to do more than just smile at your Spanish friends, it’s best to learn the local lingo!

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  1. Good tips Paul. I have found that watching TV does help a lot. Although there is only so much I can take of those popular gossip programmes on everyday, where men and women sit around b*tching and speculating about the lives of others. As in 5 minutes! My other half is Spanish.. but he speaks English perfectly, which hinders my Spanish learning a lot. but sure, it takes time…

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