Today I want to share with you the 5 most frequently asked questions that my Spanish students ask me about Latin America. Some of them are related to Chilean Spanish, the differences it has from other countries and how difficult it is to learn it, or how long it takes to reach a good level of fluency.
I believe that these are recurring themes among many students of Spanish interested in Latin American culture, that is why today I wanted to share with you my view on this, as a teacher, but also as a Chilean.
If you have any doubts regarding these subjects, just leave me questions in the comments and I will be happy to help you.
1. Is it necessary to know Spanish before coming to Chile?
Spanish is your gateway to Latin American culture.
It depends on where you go, but in general yes. Particularly in the case of Chile, even though English is mandatory in schools, many people don’t really feel comfortable speaking it and only a small number of Chileans speak English fluently. Most of us feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish. When foreigners come here, we are very grateful when they manage to communicate in our language, especially when they try to use our expressions and chilenísmos. With this, they definitely earn some extra points in friendliness and good vibes.
2. How much Spanish do I need to travel to Latin America?
If you know a little Spanish, you will definitely make new friends.
Probably many people in Latin America especially in the tourism sector; the hotel industry, restaurants, bars, and so on, will speak to you in English and try to understand you, but if you want to make friends and really get to know the culture, you will have to come with a basic level of understanding, at least to be able to introduce yourself to others and tell them about your tastes, some preferences and handle some emergency situations (hospital, police, etc).
With this, I don’t pretend that you have to know Spanish to talk about political or economical topics, with specific and complicated vocabulary. But having a basic conversational level, will allow you to feel comfortable, understand much better, answer some questions, and even explain words when you don’t remember their name in Spanish.
3. How different are the variants of Spanish in Latin America?
There are 21 countries in the world where Spanish is the official language and it is spoken on six continents.
Spanish-speaking countries around the world have different accents and expressions, Latin America is not an exception and neither is Chile. But the amazing is we can understand each other and, above all, learn from our differences. The grammar and sentence construction is the same, so even if you learn the Mexican variation, people in other parts of Latin America will still be able to understand what you are saying.
However, it is important for you to know that there are words that are quite particular to each country. In the case of Chile, we call these words chilenísmos, vocabulary that only a Chilean can understand. In this case, I advise you to study with a teacher who can teach you these differences and help you to use them correctly.
This is what makes Spanish so unique and special in its category. When you learn Spanish you can travel all over North, Central, and South America and understand what people are saying, make friends, and have incredible experiences. Just by knowing Spanish, you can communicate with 572 million people in the world, the rest is up to you.
4. What are the first words I should learn in Spanish?
Saying hello and goodbye in the language you are learning is a must
The first words you should learn in any language are Hello, Thank you, Please, and Sorry (hola, gracias, por favor y perdón). Then, if you have little time before your backpacking trip in Latin America, prioritize topics such as; accommodation, food, cab, greetings, and prices and you could even add an additional one in case of emergencies, such as hospital or police. But in general, with those five topics, you will be able to move around in a country without too many problems.
My recommendation as a Spanish teacher is to learn the essentials to communicate in each of these situations and practice them before you leave, so you won’t have big problems when you find yourself in a real situation, check here the 100 words that I consider essential to take your first steps in Spanish.
5. Is Chilean Spanish the hardest to understand?
As easy or as difficult as any other language, just depends on you.
Many people say that the most difficult Spanish to understand in Latin America is Chilean, because it has a lot of chilenísmos and because we tend to speak fast. They are probably right, but from my point of view, Chilean Spanish is not as fast as other variants of Spanish. What happens is that we shorten words a lot, we don’t pronounce some “s” at the end, and in the endings -ado and -ido (participle) we often eliminate the “d”. It is more a matter of pronunciation than speed.
Here are some examples to help you understand.
Cutting words is very similar to what happens in English when we say wanna (want to) or gotta (have got to). In Chilean Spanish, we also do it with some words.
For example in these sentences
El colegio no tiene dinero para nada… nada.
El niño está muy callado (the boy is very quiet).
Los alumnos no quieren llevar uniforme (the students don’t want to wear a uniform).
This would be like:
El colegio no tiene dinero pa´ na´… na´.
El niño está muy calla´o
Loh alumnoh no quieren llevar uniforme
Apart from the pronunciation, it is always good to learn some Chilenísmos and expressions as in all Latin American countries. Personally, I don’t think these differences make this variation the most difficult to learn.
6. Can I find a job in Chile if I don’t know Spanish?
Of course, you can but I don’t recommend it and here I explain the reason why.
It is very possible to look for a job in your country to work in Chile, pass the selection process, apply for a visa, and even if you don’t know a word of Spanish, you will get a work visa. In Chile, it is not necessary to know Spanish to get a work visa. That is why many foreigners come to work in Chile (with an approved work visa) and without knowing any Spanish.
The national laws should change and as in other countries, people applying for a visa or residency should also take at least a language test. But currently and with the information I have, it is not an excluding requirement.
However, I do not recommend you to come to Chile without knowing any Spanish, it will be frustrating to realize that when you try to talk to people, you will not be able to do it, and learning Spanish will take you at least a few months.
So always be informed, be prepared and ask as many questions as you can.
If you have any further questions about Latin America or Chilean Spanish I will be happy to help you in any way I can. Write me in the comments.
I’ll see you in the next post!