Learn Spanish to experience a country in a whole different way in Journey Three

May 10, 2012 / by Rachel Reardon

Warren and Betsy Talbot of marriedwithluggage.com applied what they were learning in Spanish with Mango during their first stop on their amazing trip around the world: Ecuador.

In his own words, Warren Talbot describes their Journey learning Spanish in Ecuador and interacting with locals:

"We started our trip in northern Ecuador, just outside of Otavalo. This area does see a fair amount of tourists for their huge and diverse Saturday market, but the vast majority of people speak no English. This turned out to be the perfect scenario to start to learn a language.

Our first of many funny experiences occurred when we headed into the local food market for breakfast. We were clearly the only foreigners, and from the looks of it, it appeared like we were the only outsiders to enter this area in some time. We sat down at a stall and decided to order desayuno (breakfast). We started in with the limited Spanish we had learned in our first 2 weeks with Mango Languages, accompanied by as many smiles as we could fit into the request. The woman was delighted that we were trying, though she clearly had no idea what we wanted. Through a series of pointing and finger gestures we were able to order the best empanadas we have had on this trip and some wonderful sweet coffee.

That one experience began a 6 month immersion into Spanish that we absolutely loved. We found that people were always friendlier when we tried to speak Spanish, even if we did it wrong.

A couple of months into our trip we arrived in Baños, Ecuador, a place famous for living in the shadow of a live volcano and for having plenty of hot springs as a result. By this time we were more comfortable with our Spanish and during a hike one morning we stopped at a remote guesthouse for coffee. There were no other guests, and the elderly owners showed us around their beautiful gardens, pointing out plant and animal life and telling us about past eruptions of the volcano. Had we not learned some Spanish, we would have never had this very special memory.

As we neared the end of our time in Ecuador we discovered one of our friends from Otavalo was leading a tour in Cuenca and would have a few hours free to see us. His wife was bilingual and always paved the way for any misunderstandings, and this would be our first time with him alone. He didn't speak any English. We ended up having a great time together, taking a tour of the city, enjoying a local specialty in a roadside restaurant, and strolling around the main square with ice cream to end the day. We bonded with him like never before because there was no middle man paving the way. And believe us, when you no longer have need of a middle man, you experience a country in a completely different way.

learn spanish

Through the last 18 months we've had some wonderful interactions with locals as we work to pick up Spanish, Thai, and now Mandarin. From a Spanish-only 4-day trek in Peru, to chatting with monks in a temple in Thailand, and recently to eating with a family in China our ability to communicate, even in a small way, opens people's hearts (and sometimes homes) to us.

For us, learning a language serves many practical purposes on this adventure: getting directions, buying groceries, asking for help on public transportation, finding the restroom. At one point we got sick and needed to see a doctor. We were able to find out where the doctor's office was, tell him our symptoms and even engage in a bit of small talk about our travels, and go to the lab and pharmacy. Knowing some language when you travel in a country gives you comfort that you can handle most things that come your way, expected and unexpected.

However, the true benefit to learn a language is the opportunity to communicate and learn from people in a completely different culture. Even if it is just a few words in the local language, people will smile and light up your day. New experiences and opportunities will appear that you never thought possible. Inevitably you will engage in a discussion and learn something new about a person, a place, or a culture all by being able to share a common language. It does not require you to be fluent, but merely be willing to start learning. Most importantly you must be curious, as curiosity leads to the greatest discoveries."

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Rachel Reardon

Written by Rachel Reardon

Rachel works with some of the coolest marketers, designers, and writers around to help Mango look and sound its best. She loves bold colors, old books, the Montréal metro, and Star Trek. She has conflicting feelings about the Oxford comma.

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