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Learn Basic Spanish Before Going Abroad

Posted by Jen King on 9/10/15 9:28 AM

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Volunteering in Mexico? Or spending your summer in Costa Rica and Nicaragua?

If you're an ILP volunteer you're not required to know the local language ... actually most of our volunteers only speak English! So you're not alone. 

If you are an ILP volunteer in Mexico, Costa Rica or Nicaragua, you'll spend around four hours a day playing with young children and speaking to them entirely in English. No Spanish is required! But what about the rest of your day? I have a feeling you'll want to get out and explore your new home around you.

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We highly recommend learning even the most basic Spanish for your trip. If you can walk into a room and at least say hello, even if you can't hold a conversation with them, you'll feel a lot more comfortable. It's a sign that you're trying, even though you don't speak fluently.

Speaking if you learn basic Spanish will help you to have more meaningful experiences while living abroad.

Now Spanish does vary slightly from country to country, but these phrases are all basic enough that they'll typically work.

Must Know Phrases:

Hola = Hello

(Sounds like O-la)

Adios = Goodbye

(Sounds like ah-dee-os)

Gracias = Thank you

(Sounds like grah-see-us)

ILP adventure

Useful Phrases:

Lo siento = I'm sorry

(Sounds like low-see-en-toe) As a foreigner you'll use this quite a lot as you make mistakes at first and want to apologize, right?

Perdon! = Excuse me

(Sounds like pear-doan) This is similar to lo siento, but you might say it like "excuse me" as you need to pass by someone or to get someone's attention.

Ayudame = Help me

(Sounds like eye-you-duh-may)

Como estas? = How are you?

(Sounds like coh-moh eh-stah-s)

Bien, gracias = Well, thank you

(Sounds like bee-en grah-see-us)

Como te va? = How's it going?

(Sounds like coh moh tay vah) This is a more casual way of asking someone how they are. You'd probably say this around your friends.

Buenos = Good morning/afternoon/evening

(Sounds like b-way-nos) Technically good morning is buenos dias, good afternoon is buenas tardes, and good evening is buenas noches. Most of the locals just shorten the 3 phrases to buenos or buenas though and you can say it anytime!

Buen provecho = Enjoy your meal

(Sounds like b-way-n pro-veh-ch-oh) It is polite to say this to someone if you pass by them before they start a meal. You might hear your waiter say this after they serve you. 

Keep Learning

Online Resources

There's so many sites online that will help you learn a language and great news for us ... many of them are completely free! Or at least super budget friendly.

Of course Youtube is always free. You're going to find tons of lessons on there, and this one is actually four hours of free Spanish help! 

This site has a free version for a few lessons, and then if you want to keep going they have memberships that are as low as $10 a month, so pretty doable.

Practice with the locals on your trip

Living in another country for a semester is really the best way to learn a language because you're immersed in it every day. I was so surprised by how much Spanish I was able to understand after my summer volunteering in Mexico. So, while you're on your trip, don't be afraid to practice with the locals you meet. From my experience, they really loved that I was trying and had fun helping me. Plus, they also wanted to practice their English, so it was a great trade!

ILP Mexico

Let's put that Spanish to use and get you on a trip abroad!

Here's more tips on learning a new language, but you know the best way to learn a language? Live in another country and immerse yourself in their culture!  Click below to speak to someone and volunteering with ILP — get the chance to have a semester in Mexico and learn Spanish, or go serve abroad in Lithuania and learn Lithuanian .... or even come to Russia to learn Russian

 Text Me! I've Got Questions


Topics: Central America


We are ILP, a Utah based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time traveling and living abroad.

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