Spanish Lessons For The Road

Image via Brahmaloka or Bust.

Click through to read “The Yoga of Learning a Language” on Brahmaloka Or Bust.

Here’s a dirty little secret – I don’t speak a second language. It’s a shameful thing to admit, but thus far it hasn’t terribly affected my ability to travel and explore other countries on my own. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in places where people don’t speak English, and aside from a few rough moments (like trying to get my hair styled in a tiny Croatian town, or trying to find the nearest train station in Bratislava), I’ve been pretty lucky. There was the run-in with the knife-wielding, potentially deranged guy in Paris, but that was less about not speaking French than not spotting the nuances of insanity right off the bat.

This moderate success at travel in the past is probably why I’m being kind of lazy about learning Spanish in preparation for my pilgrimage. Well, that and the knowledge that lots of other pilgrims travel without a great command of Spanish and live to tell the tale. There will be thousands (or at least hundreds) of other people on The Camino when I walk it, after all, and I’m bound to meet other people who speak English. There’s a saying that The Camino will provide; I’m just hoping it provides me with a translator.

But therein lies the rub. If I fail to learn at least a little bit of some other language (aside from the minimal German I currently own, which mostly boils down to ordering beer and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” – all extremely useful, but not so much in Spain), I’m going to be just one more jerk American who can’t be bothered to be a world citizen. I really don’t want to be that person. That person sucks.

I’ve just never been that good at languages, though. I took Spanish all through high school and have no recollection of more than the very basics like “water” and “bathroom” (as well as, oddly, how to order fish at a restaurant). In college, I took Latin and all but failed out every semester. The primary reason that I didn’t move further with my studies in medieval history after undergrad was that I’d have to learn Italian, German, and French to even apply to grad school, which for me, both then and now, is a completely incomprehensible goal.

I will admit that the one language I’d desperately love to learn is Italian. I adore Italy. It’s not a romantic thing – though it is an undeniably romantic place. It’s the fashion, the architecture, the lifestyle, and those beautiful Italian men, so quick to flirt, so deliciously unreliable. (OK, so maybe it’s just a little bit about the romance.) Since I plan to make a quick pit stop in Umbria before heading off to Spain, maybe I should learn Italian, too…

In all seriousness, though, I’ve been studying a little bit of Spanish and German over the last couple of months using a great free website/app called Duolingo. If you haven’t tried it out yet, I’d definitely recommend signing up now. It’s a fun way to pick up some vocabulary and test out your skill in both reading and speaking other languages. But I’m not convinced that I’ll become adept at conversational Spanish with solo online study, so I’ll probably end up joining a Meetup group to chat en español over coffee.

Did you walk the Camino without learning Spanish first? Weigh in here on how it worked out for you!

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6 thoughts on “Spanish Lessons For The Road

  1. It’s a very good idea.

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