Knowing Spanish Helps A Lot
by Chris Traub
(Windsor, California, U.S.A. )
I learned Spanish in High School and learned more while I was working in a county jail where it came in very handy. I got certified bi-lingual and earned 90 cents an hour more. I have been on 3 trips to Mexico, one trip to Colombia, one to Guatemala, and one to Costa Rica. When I travel in Latin American I am quite at home now conversing with the locals in their own language. I feel that this gives me much more access to the hidden gems.
My wife has made no effort to learn Spanish and instead relies on me. But she has picked up a bit by osmosis. Once, a maid wanted to clean our room starting with the bathroom. The maid spoke no English and my wife said, "Uh, esposo...el bano." She pointed to the bathroom and the point was made. The woman smiled and said something that my wife took to mean, "I'll come back later."
I didn't mention 2 trips to Panama because my experience was different. I went first when I was 16 with a typical American attitude of, "They can speak my language. There are plenty of English speakers most anywhere." It made things awkward but some Peace Corps volunteers I hung out with patiently encouraged me to try to speak Spanish in restaurants, etc. My mental block slowly melted and now I'm addicted to learning new languages and it is by no means a waste of time. I now make it a point to learn some of the local language whenever I travel to a new place.