3 reasons to learn Spanish before the Camino |
Should I learn Spanish before my Camino?
This is a frequently-asked question in Camino groups and forums. The answer?
Some people will tell you that a smile is enough. And the truth is you will survive. But this is also true: by not learning any Spanish you’ll be putting yourself at a disadvantage.
First of all, you’ll be going through rural areas, where finding an English speaker can be challenging, if not impossible.
Secondly, things don’t always go according to plan: accidents happen, we get sick, a number of things can go wrong. And if they go wrong when there’re no English speakers in sight… well, who wants that added stress?
Finally, most pilgrims asked agree that knowing even very basic and limited Spanish gave them a richer, fuller experience on the Camino. And the majority of those who didn’t learn any ended up regretting it.
If you’re still not convinced, keep reading and learn the top 3 reasons why you should learn Spanish before your Camino… and learn some Spanish while you’re at it.
1. Peace of mind & freedom
Picture this: you find yourself in an emergency. Your phone’s battery is dead. There are no English-speaking people around. What do you do? The situation is stressful enough as it is. You don’t want to add the worry of not being able to communicate what you need.
A smile will take you a long way. True. But it’s not always enough. There are situations when you might need at least some basic knowledge of Spanish. You never know when phrases like necesito un médico (I need a doctor), no me encuentro bien (I’m not feeling well) or ¿dónde hay una farmacia? (where is there a pharmacy?) might come in handy.
Spanish is not only for important, urgent needs. How about spending the night in a small village where nobody speaks English? It could be a looong and lonely evening. That’s what happened to Kelli on the Camino Francés.
Imagine being able to communicate your needs without having to rely on a translating app on your phone or on finding someone who can speak English or who can translate for you.
You could even become a Camino angel for other pilgrims who didn’t think learning Spanish was important!
2. Respect & connection
Making an effort to use the local language shows respect for your host country. And Spanish people are generally pleased if you have a go at Spanish. Give it a try and you’ll experience a warmer welcome.
Even basic greetings such as hola (hello), buenos días (good morning) or buenas tardes (good evening) can open doors that would remain otherwise closed. Polite words like gracias (thank you) and por favor (please) will go a long way too.
In Spain, people acknowledge each other with hola or the greeting of the time of day. Even relative strangers. And we will say hasta luego (see you later) or a clipped version of this at parting. So remember to greet before launching into asking a question. This applies in shops, doctors’ waiting rooms, elevators, before ordering food or even a café con leche at a bar… everywhere.
Anyone who tried their Spanish on the Camino, no matter how limited it was, will tell you this: they got a much better reaction from the locals.
Of course, the better your knowledge of Spanish, the better chances at making deeper connections with the locals and knowing what’s going on around you. OK. So, you find yourself in a small village where nobody speaks English.
If you’re the “a smile is enough” type, chances are you’ll spend the evening by yourself. You’d love to know what that festival is about or why people are wearing strange clothes, but communicating with these people is too hard. You’re missing an opportunity to learn about local traditions, history, culture.
And this brings me to the next reason to learn Spanish before the Camino.
3. Broaden your mind
We all know the Camino can be a life-changing experience, a wonderful opportunity to become a truer version of ourselves, find answers, heal, etc. But why limit the experience to learning about ourselves? There are people on the Camino who have never been to Spain before. Their “knowledge” about Spain is in many cases full of stereotypes and misconceptions bearing little resemblance with reality. They spend days, probably weeks, walking through Spain. Yet, they go back home full of the same stereotypes.
I see this every now and then in Camino-related Facebook groups. There’s one case in particular that caught my attention: This couple was sharing their journey along the Camino Portugués. Neither the husband nor the wife knew any Spanish. Every day, they posted pictures of their stage, with their comments. Every day, at least one of the pic’s descriptions showed a couple of things:
- they were interpreting things through their own pre-conceived ideas of Spain. Some of these were way off the mark.
- because they were not talking to any locals, they went back home convinced that their wrong assumptions were true. Their distorted vision of Spain was reinforced.
In essence, maybe the Camino was a very spiritual experience for them, but they missed the opportunity to broaden their minds, to learn about Spain and its culture.
3 reasons to learn Spanish before the Camino and countless benefits.
What type of pilgrim are you going to be: the “a smile is enough” type? or the one with the richer, fuller experience?
Today’s Spanish words & phrases
Necesito un médico
No me encuentro bien
¿Dónde hay una farmacia?
Café con leche
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