No hablas espanol? Go to those countries anyway
Me gusta tu gato! De donde al bano? Buenos noches!
That’s about the extent of my Spanish speaking skills. I know how to utter complete nonsense and also know a few necessary phrases. To be honest, the last one is a toss-up for me. I’m not sure if “buenos noches” means goodnight or good day… but this helps me illustrate my point. For years, I’ve hesitated traveling to countries where I’m not fluent in the language. Now, looking back, I should never have let that stop me.
According to Duolingo, I’m 8 percent fluent in Spanish. “What a joke!” I scoffed at the score illuminated on my screen. This is what taking six-plus years of grueling Spanish class has taught me, apparently. Yet, I was still optimistic as I boarded my plane to Puerto Rico to embark on my first solo, international excursion. Turns out, I could scrape by with my Spanish, but definitely had a hard time talking to the locals!
I spent two weeks trying to scrape by with Spanglish. Sometimes the locals pitied me and would speak to me in English. Other times, I was forced to try to piece together a coherent sentence. It was so rewarding having a local answer my question in Spanish and I knew the exact translation. By speaking to them in their native tongue, I felt like I embraced their culture more.
But, I’ll never let not being fluent in another language discourage me from traveling to a secluded, tropical, coastal town, to the heart of a foreign metropolis or anywhere in between.
Now, I’ll travel to a country where I have never uttered more than five syllables of the language. For me, there is something so mystical and exhilarating about hearing people speak in their native tongue. I’m envious of them! There syllables and phrases dancing around in their mouths and paint beautiful symphonies — ones that would make Bach jealous. Hearing a foreign language emphasizes that fact that I’m experiencing a new culture and way of life.
Now, there’s been times when I’ve felt alienated and even stressed that I haven’t known the native language of the country. (Let’s recall that time in Puerto Rico where I got yelled at in Spanish about how to navigate into a cramped parking space! You can read about the entire ordeal in this journal entry.) But that’s part of the learning process. Learning how to muddle your way through asking for directions and ordering food is just another joy of traveling abroad. It’s those silly moments that you look back and laugh on.
Luckily, I can make up for lost time. I’m only 24 years old and have plenty to time to embark to those countries where I’m not fluent in German, French, Arabic or anything else. But heck, I’m going.