Some questions come up again and again when working as a Spanish teacher with students from other countries. Things like doubts about the variants of Spanish, how long it takes to learn a new language, or learning techniques are recurrent when they start learning a language from scratch.
Here I have selected the most frequently asked questions, hoping they help you!
As I always say, you know where to find me if you have any doubts or questions!
Let’s get started!
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 feel comfortable speaking it, and only a tiny 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 earn some extra points for friendliness and good vibes.
2. How much Spanish do I need to travel to Latin America?
If you know a little Spanish, you will 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. Still, suppose you want to make friends and get to know the culture. In that case, 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 emergencies (hospital, police, etc.).
With this, I don’t pretend you have to know Spanish to talk about political or economic 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 is spoken on six continents.
Spanish-speaking countries worldwide have different accents and expressions, Latin America is not an exception, and neither is Chile. But the fantastic thing is we can understand each other and learn from our differences. The grammar and sentence construction is the same, so even if you know the Mexican variation, people in other parts of Latin America will still be able to understand what you are saying.
However, you need to know that there are words that are quite particular to each country. In the case of Chile, we call these words chilenísmos, vocabulary 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, understand what people are saying, make friends, and have incredible experiences. Knowing Spanish means, you can communicate with 572 million people worldwide; 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. You could add one in emergencies, such as a hospital or police. But in general, with those five topics, you can move around in a country without too many problems.
As a Spanish teacher, I recommend learning “the essentials” to communicate in each situation and practicing them before you leave so that you won’t have big problems. 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 complex as any other language. It just depends on you.
Many people say that the most difficult Spanish to understand in Latin America is Chilean because it has many chilenísmos, and we tend to speak fast. They are probably right, but from my point of view, Chilean Spanish is not as quick 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, learning some Chilenísmos and expressions is always good, as in all Latin American countries. I don’t think these differences make this variation the most difficult to understand.
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 why.
It is 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, learning Spanish is unnecessary to get a work visa. That is why many foreigners come to work in Chile (with an approved work visa) 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 possible.
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.
¡Hasta la próxima!