5 Reasons to Learn Spanish Before Visiting South America

As much as I love to travel, I am not particularly skilled at picking up foreign languages. Until visiting South America, I’d usually been lucky enough to encounter people who spoke English or at the very least find signs in English. My luck did not accompany me to South America. The majority of tourists were either from neighbouring South American countries or they were Americans who had taken some amount of Spanish in high school.  I went to South America naive enough to believe that if I could manage in countries like Japan and Bangladesh, this was going to be a cakewalk. Needless to say, I was wrong. 

Based on my personal experiences, here are 5 good reasons to learn Spanish beforehand.


Reason #1 If your luck is anything like mine, a stranger will start to scratch your shoulder while you are crossing a street. No, he will not be smiling. If you speak Spanish you can ask him what the hell he thinks he is doing and to get his grubby fingers off you.

Reason #2 Just like in other parts of the world, children in South America do strange things. Some South American children think it’s perfectly fine to bury their face in your shoulder while sneezing. If you speak Spanish you can tell them that was impolite and they damn well better get you some sanitizer.

Reason #3 When you walk into a bakery you can actually ask how much bread is if you learn Spanish beforehand. Okay, you will probably pick up enough Spanish to ask the question, but you will likely not pick enough Spanish to understand their response. If you ask them to key in the price onto your phone calculator, they will act as if your device has leprosy so do not bother trying.

Reason #4 While in most parts of the world you can expect to hear announcements at the airport in English, South America once again stands out. Unless you speak Spanish you can be sure you will not understand the announcement that causes everyone else to switch queues. It is only after you have spent 40 minutes in the old queue that some kind soul will tell you that you need to move to the back of the new queue.

Reason #5 There is a lot of street food in South America. Some of it is awesome and some of it has way too much corn flour for a foreign person. Unfortunately, looking at something is not a good enough way to decipher the contents and you will want to speak Spanish if you want to avoid a corn flour overdose.