There is no better way to learn a language than to live it, a fact that I know first-hand. Having worked in Latin America with no more than a “Buenos días” or “Cómo estás?” in my pocket when I left, I soon discovered that the best way to learn was to immerse myself as much as possible and to toss any insecurities about my inabilities to speak the language aside right from the get go. Working in the tourism industry, I started with phrases such as: “My guests have a leaky toilet” and soon mastered communicating the basic needs of hotel guests. I learned that making a small effort to communicate in the native tongue went a long way in getting faster and more efficient service. From the basic hotel lingo, I graduated to a more social environment, making friends with the locals who were more than happy to educate a Canadian “gringa” on the street language and local slang. In my experience, Latin people have always been very warm, hospitable and accepting of my attempts to learn the language and I never felt that I was being judged for my lack of ability. On the contrary, I always found that I was more accepted in business, social and all other aspects of my travels for making the effort.
The only thing that I regret in the six years I lived abroad was that I did not pursue a more structured type of language education. Of course there are some very formidable Spanish language schools right here in Canada, but I would think to most like me, education is always so much more interesting and exotic when in a foreign locale, not to mention the benefits of having the unlimited means to practice what you have learned outside of the classroom environment with day-to-day interaction.
Learning Spanish could be very beneficial for you as today more than a third of the world’s population speak Spanish as their native language, which equates to approximately 406 million people. It is second only to Mandarin and is considered one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The importance of the Spanish language cannot be denied and it is definitely growing due in part to the increase of the population, but more significantly to international tourism to Spanish-speaking countries.
Some tourists are content to travel to these countries with no knowledge of the language, but more and more travellers are taking it upon themselves to brush up on a few words before they depart. For some, this may mean downloading a list of helpful phrases or a useful language app, such as Duolingo or Conjuverb. Others may invest in a little more time prior to departure and do an online course of which countless are available—some are even free. For some however, the idea of immersing themselves not only in the language, but in the Spanish culture, has a stronger appeal and is the framework of their actual vacation plans. There are a few things to consider if you are looking to study Spanish abroad. The options range greatly from a couple of hours per day while staying at a 5-star resort to a family stay immersion program of a few weeks to a full-fledged university-level language course.
The level of intensity offered is broad. Depending on the destination, it can be altered to suit the traveller. For those looking to better their Spanish for a specific purpose, many institutions have programs that would be specific to executives, medical professionals, clergy, teachers, teens and families. Most programs offer a homestay option if you would like to immerse yourself in the language by staying with a local family. For those who have more time on their hands and would like to obtain some hands-on work experience in Spanish, a work placement/study program is also an option.
Here are just a few links to the organizations/institutions offering Spanish that will assist you in finding the program that is right for you.