Most travellers will tell you that the single biggest tip they can give you about learning Spanish is to decide where you want to travel to first. The reason is that this choice will determine the type of Spanish you learn, as the Spanish spoken in Latin America can be very different from the ‘original’ Spanish spoken in Europe.
Indeed, even within Spain itself there are regional variations considered to be separate languages that are equally ‘Spanish’, for example in Catalonia.
Spanish in Latin America
It might seem odd to start by considering Latin American Spanish, but actually there are an estimated 420 million native Spanish speakers worldwide (and more if you also count those who have learned Spanish), while Spain itself has a population of only around 46 million people. So it is clear that the vast majority of native Spanish speakers are located in countries outside Spain.
In fact, Mexico has the highest number of Spanish speakers in the world, with almost one third of the world’s native Spanish speakers. This is one of the strongest legacies of Spanish exploration and colonialism. In Mexico Spanish is by far the most dominant language, with only 1.2% of the population speaking exclusively an indigenous language.
This Spanish influence from Mexico and other Latin American countries has heavily influenced the Spanish used in the USA, where Spanish is the second most spoken language after English, and where a kind of hybrid, Spanglish, is spoken in some states and cities.
Spanish in Europe
The differences between the Spanish spoken in the Americas and the Spanish spoken in Spain are deep rooted, reflecting the other influences the language has absorbed in different countries. They include vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar – all the essential elements of a language.
In Spain the issue of language is hotly debated and fiercely protected. The constitution itself recognises the peoples of Spain and their languages, acknowledging the diversity. Nevertheless, it is Castilian Spanish, sometimes known as Peninsula Spanish, that is the one language that all Spanish citizens learn.
For that reason, the traditional Spanish as spoken in Spain is probably the best place for a traveller to start their Spanish language studies.
It will then be possible for the world traveller with at least knowledge of the basics of this European ‘romance language’ (that is, based on the Latin of the Romans), to add on and assimilate new versions of Spanish as they travel. This immersion approach to learning Spanish is probably the most effective strategy.
Learning any new language by immersion means going to a country in which your target language is spoken and staying there long enough to pick up the language by absorption, as well as by study. It is generally recognised that this is the most effective method of learning a language.
would be travelling to Spain to stay in a city such as Madrid or Barcelona and studying at a reputable language school there. On this website
you can find more information on the different types of courses available to complement your travels.