Why bother with this mysterious, convoluted and seemingly incomprehensible tongue? After all, isn’t English the world’s language? Why would an American, or anyone who has English as their first language, ever consider learning a second? True, for those of us in the States, Spanish doesn’t seem like a foreign language. After all, we hear it at the store, on the street and in just about every public space. Practically anything of importance is translated into this language, including announcements, speeches and labels. Yet, few of us need Spanish. Most of us do just fine without it and, with so many speakers around, learning it doesn’t necessarily provide the sort of competitive edge you’d get by learning, say, Arabic, Chinese or a computer coding language. So why trouble yourself?
I thought I’d start this blog by reflecting on the reasons why learning Spanish, especially Spanish, is a great idea. Presumably, if you’re reading this, you’re already sold on the idea, but hopefully you’ll re-read this during those inevitable moments when you feel like giving up. Here are several reasons to stick with the language, no matter what the challenges:
1) Spanish isn’t just a language… it’s a world unto itself: We’re not talking about a dialect spoken in some remote mountain region, or even a language whose speakers are spread between two or three countries. Spanish is spoken by over 450 million people, making it the world’s second most spoken language (after Mandarin). Its geographic breadth, covering Spain and much of the Americas, is wider than of that any language besides English. It’s the official language of 21 countries and its influence is felt on four continents. The combined economies of the countries where it’s spoken far exceed those of China or India, yet comparatively few capitalize on their potential growth. The Spanish-speaking world has its own history, its own traditions and its own internal diversity, most of which remains intact despite globalizing trends. While any language can help you understand the world better, few have the reach in time and space that Spanish has. With its vast literature, widely distributed press and enormous geopolitical reach, Spanish is your key to vastly untapped, underestimated regions on our planet.
2) There are jobs which require it: True, Spanish may not give you a competitive edge in many fields, but in some cases it may allow you to compete at all. Some jobs simply require you know the language before any of your other credentials are even considered. My job as a park ranger is one such example- lack of Spanish skills are an automatic screen-out. Jobs requiring Spanish skills exist in health care, law enforcement, marketing, teaching and international relations. Spanish is such an ubiquitous language, especially in the States, that you may simply be expected to know it.
3) Spanish opens up a world of travel and friendships: Sure, you can go to France or Germany and get by in English. Go to Mexico or Colombia, however, without knowing the local lingo and you’ll have a much harder time. So why go, you wonder? The Spanish-speaking world contains some of the most incredible sights on this planet: Mayan pyramids, Incan cities, endless tropical beaches, colonial cities, and on and on. The cultures in these countries are not confined to museums… they are palpable everywhere you go. The churches are still in use, the streets still host spontaneous celebrations, and the people still honor their ancient traditions. People are, for the most part, some of the friendliest, happiest and most open anywhere. Much of what I learned about life I learned from the people I met in places I would never have known to visit without the language.
4) You can be someone else for a while: You almost develop a new personality when you learn another language. You discover things about yourself you didn’t know before. You acquire different perspectives… a lot of my political views and my understanding of history, for instance, changed as a result of my language studies. Any language, of course, can deliver these results, but Spanish may take the gold for the amount of resources and experiences available to feed your soul.
5) Spanish is a bargain: Suppose you want to study abroad somewhere and learn a language. The Spanish-speaking world abounds with language schools that are, by any measure, less expensive than those found elsewhere. An entire industry has cropped up around teaching the language and many schools provide quality one-on-one instruction at great prices. In fact, studying at a language school can be even cheaper than taking a traditional vacation. Guatemala, Ecuador and Bolivia offer the best bargains, but many Central and South American countries are competitive in this regard.
6) Spanish is accessible: You don’t need to dig through cyberspace for resources to learn the language. No language, except possibly French, has as many books and courses at your disposition. Many bookstores dedicate entire walls to Spanish learning materials. Type in “Learn Spanish” on any search engine and you’ll get loads of options. You can practically learn on your couch just by watching youtube.
7) Spanish can help you become quintalingual: Spanish is closely related to Portuguese, French and Italian. As I’ve proven, once you master the underlying structures and a fair bit of vocabulary, transitioning to one of these other languages is leagues easier. As an adult learner of Spanish, you have an advantage over native speakers when it comes to learning these additional languages. Whereas native speakers internalize grammar and vocabulary as children, with hardly a clue how it all works, you have to make a conscious effort to assimilate it all. When you do so, you acquire a tool that allows you to decipher other related languages with considerably less effort. In other words, if you train your brain to accept Spanish, you’ll recognize patterns and similarities in these languages in no time.
8) Spanish is the language of the future: It’s one of the fastest growing languages on Earth and may count nearly a billion speakers by mid-century. By many estimates, the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world will be the United States, which has only Mexico left to surpass in this regard. While it will probably never displace English as the world’s language of business, it will make an increasing impact on the world. Even the British, who are geographically closer to French and German-speaking countries, have made the study of Spanish a top priority in their schools.
9) Spanish is comparatively easy: This may be of little consolation while you’re wrangling over the subjunctive tense or wondering what the heck someone just said to you in the check-out line, but compared to most languages, Spanish is relatively easy for an English speaker to learn. Not only do our languages have an immense amount of vocabulary in common, but Spanish is refreshingly phonetic and, for the most part, logical. Once you grasp the basics, you’re well on your way. Compare this to Arabic or Chinese which boast complexities in writing and in speech which, by government estimates, take over 2200 hours of intense study to master. You can reach a comparable level in 1/4 of the time with Spanish.
10) Spanish is fun: Life doesn’t have to be drudgery, and that’s the great lesson I took from learning Spanish. The language is a pleasure to speak, the cultures associated with it are exciting to discover, and the sense of accomplishment, above all, compensates for hours spent listening to audio and pouring over texts. It is not a stagnant subject, contrary to how many schools present it, but rather a living, vibrant life experience that, as short as life is, would be a shame to miss out on.
I hope I’ve inspired you to study this magnificent language, or to keep going if you’ve already begun. Few things in life pay as many dividends… ¡Te deseo buena suerte!