There’s nothing like spending time in a Spanish-speaking country to improve your Spanish skills and learn about the life and culture of that country. The Camino de Santiago is the perfect opportunity for an immersion experience. After all, you’re going to spend at least one week in Spain, and you may spend several weeks, a month even.
It would be a shame not to take advantage of all that time to improve your Spanish a little.
You’re going to be in Spain, surrounded by people who speak Spanish, things written in Spanish… so it’s almost impossible not to learn something.
In this post you’ll find tips to get more out of your Spanish during this pilgrimage time.
You can listen to these ideas in the podcast, in Spanish.
Or you can continue reading in English.
Let’s start with the advantages of learning Spanish on the Camino compared to other destinations in Spain.
There are many routes and each one is different, but in general you’ll pass through a lot of towns and villages that are far from the most touristy areas. So, you won’t find many people who speak English or any other foreign language. It may not be so difficult on the Camino Francés because it’s the most popular one. But if you take other routes… Spanish will come in very handy.
In general, people react very positively when someone makes the effort to speak Spanish, even if it’s very basic. So don’t be afraid. You’ll even notice that they treat you better than someone who doesn’t try. And I’m not the only one saying this, people who have made the effort have had access to special experiences that would have been closed to them otherwise.
Tips to improve your Spanish
- The first one is quite obvious: Depending on the route you choose and the time of year, it’s quite possible that you’ll come across other pilgrims. Sharing the path with other pilgrims from around the world is an essential part of the experience. But why limit yourself to people who speak your own language only? Roughly half of the pilgrims who walk the Camino every year are Spanish. Speaking Spanish will allow you to connect with them and it will obviously help you improve your Spanish. In addition, Spanish is an official language in more than 20 countries, so you can make friends not only with pilgrims from Spain, but with those from any other Spanish-speaking country.
- We tend to focus on relationships with other pilgrims and often forget about the people who live in the places we pass through. In the smaller towns, it’s common to find people, especially older people, who are eager to chat. Take advantage of this opportunity and greet them. Stop for a few minutes, ask them about life in the village, their festivals, history, customs, whatever comes to mind. Not only will you be practicing the language, but you will also be learning a lot about the culture and way of life. And you will be making this person’s day.
- In the bigger cities and towns, people tend to be in a hurry. They don’t have as much time to stop and chat, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice. Look around you. You are surrounded by opportunities to improve your Spanish. There are billboards, signs in shop windows, information at bus stops, etc. Pay attention to all of this. Do you understand everything or are there any new words? Surely you have a phone with an internet connection, right? If you see a new word, you can look it up in an online dictionary. Or take a picture and ask someone later when you have the chance.
- In these larger places, there is usually a tourist office. Look for it and go ask for information. They will be happy to help you and you will be practicing and learning.
- It’s common for bars and cafes to have newspapers. Take advantage of the breakfast or break time to read a bit if you don’t have anyone to talk to. In addition to practicing reading, you will also be up-to-date on current events and learning about other issues. What topics are given more space in the newspaper? What type of news is more frequent? Are newspapers in your country the same or different?
- At the end of each day, write a little bit, in Spanish, of course, about how your day went. You don’t need to write a long text with long, elaborate paragraphs. You can start by simply writing down words or very short phrases, and you’lll notice how your writing will get better every day.
In order to help you with this last part, I have created journals for the Camino. Actually, you can start using them even before arriving in Spain. You can plan your stages, write your packing list or your thoughts. You also have space to write every day during your Camino, as as after your journey, while you are still processing your experience.
There are two versions of the diary:
There is one for those who are going to do a longer journey. In this one, you have space to write up to 40 days.
And for those who are going to do a shorter journey, there is a shorter version of the diary where you have space to write up to 15 days.
Or, if you prefer a simple notebook, you can get a Camino-inspired one.
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