21 million students learn Spanish around the world. In this post you will discover why you should join them.
Back in 2008 I was on a trip to Africa when I realised something important. I realised that I had been living with blinkers on. I realised that my view of the world had been shaped by one small cultural corner. And if I wanted to see things from a different perspective I would have to take my blinkers off.
What I decided was on my return to Australia I would start to learn Spanish. And here’s the thing—it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
So what was the reason I decided to spend the next 7 years dedicated to learning a second language?
In reality, there are a lot of reasons. But, when I reflect on that decision, I think one of the main drivers was that I felt my education was missing something.
Growing up in Australia meant that there was not a lot of push to learn a second language. There is no need, right? We are miles from another country that speaks a different language. If I do eventually visit another country, I can always hire an English guide. And if foreigners come to Australia they will learn English.
I was fine. I didn’t need another language.
But, I was wrong.
When I made that decision back in 2008, I had no idea where it would take me. I couldn’t imagine what I would discover and the people I would meet.
In this post, I’m going to cover some of the rewards that come with learning a second language. And some of the main sources of motivation that helped me in the earlier years.
If you are thinking about starting to learn Spanish or you have already started and maybe struggling for motivation, here are some of the main reasons why English natives should be learning Spanish.
I will preface that previous sentence by saying that the following list is a combination of reasons why you should consider learning a second language (in general) and also why you should specifically learn Spanish.
This list isn’t presented in any particular order but the last 4 have been particularly strong motivators for me.
1. Learning a second language will open doors
It is only after you have learnt a second language that you really start to understand what this quote is all about.
You will discover doors that you could never see before. What do really I mean? A ‘door’ could represent new opportunities for work, new opportunities for adventure, new opportunities for love, new opportunities for self discovery or new opportunities for growth.
I can’t say for sure what opportunities will present themselves for you if you do decide to learn a second language.
But I can say that opportunities will open up to you and in ways you didn’t expect. If you want to find out what is possible, start as soon as you can (maybe before you read the rest of this article).
2. You won’t be able to look at the English language in the same way again (but, in a good way!)
English is a difficult language to learn. I had no idea. But, now I can say I’m relieved I could learn Spanish from English and not the other way around.
When you learn a second language, you will start to see things—such as everyday English phrases—with a brand new point of view.
With your new perspective you can look closely at phrases like “I’ll give it a go” and see how bizarre they are. You know what ‘give’ means and you know what ‘go’ means but why do they combine to create an idea like ‘try’ something for the first time?
It’s hard to see idiomatic expressions until you start translating them from one language to another.
If you want a fun way to see the problem in reverse check out Superbritánico. It is a interesting business built on selling merchandise with printed Spanish expressions that have been translated from Spanish to English that make no sense after the translation.
In English, we have a whole set of verbs called ‘phrasal verbs’. Foreigners dread them. And sadistic English teachers start their classes on this subject with a very cheeky grin.
I had no idea they existed until I started looking back at English from a foreigner’s point of view.
Phrase combinations like “put up with” or “put away” or “put on” all mean completely different things. For a non-native English student, understanding the idea of “putting something somewhere” is okay but then it becomes very difficult to remember that “put up with” means to to endure or “put away” means to tidy or clean.
We also have some serious spelling quirks in English. We have words like “tear” and “tear”. If I was learning English, I would have some major issues remembering how to pronounce these two words.
Another example—“dough” and “cough”. Notice how the pronunciation of the “ough” changes in these two words. A foreigner who hasn’t heard these words before would have no idea how to guess what they would sound like.
Spanish, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. With only a few exceptions (the exceptions follow a simple rule anyway), almost every letter is pronounced exactly how it is written in every single word.
3. Learning Spanish actually helps your English
I’ll admit my control of the English language has never been my strong suit. But there are parts of the English language that I only really started to understand after I saw how another language is used.
We don’t really learn grammar in school—maybe we don’t need to? I’m not sure.
But, these days, when I have conversations with my friends about direct objects, prepositions and subject pronouns they all look at me sideways.
I also can’t help but get annoyed every time someone corrects “my friend and me” to “my friend and I” even when “my friend and me” are the objects of the sentence. If someone says “my parents gave a present to my friends and me”, it’s correct!
This is just one small example of how you can re-discover the English language or maybe properly learn it for the first time.
4. Opportunities for work
If you can speak Spanish you can find opportunities for work both at home and overseas.
If you’re in a Spanish speaking country, you could work as a translator or an English teacher.
If you are at home you could find work for companies that run joint ventures with Spanish companies. You could find fly-in-fly-out work for companies that run location based projects in areas such as South America.
A good friend of mine just came back from a year working in Santiago, Chile. Both he and his girlfriend found opportunities for work over there using their Spanish skills in their day jobs. And neither job was based on teaching—he was working for a mining company and she was looking after children.
4. Language learning creates life long friendships
You will be amazed at the response you will get when you talk to people in a Spanish speaking country.
When I was in Pamplona, I was sitting on a fence waiting for the running of the bulls. I started a conversation with a local boy sitting next to me. He could not believe that I could speak Spanish. He said that most Australians that he had spoken to couldn’t even respond to a simple ‘hola’. More often than not he said the typical response was ‘dude, I don’t speak Spanish’.
When you show someone the effort you have made to speak their language, the response can be overwhelming. You can make friends very quickly. And don’t be surprised when you find yourself still speaking with them years later.
5. It’s rewarding to learn Spanish and help someone learn English
Let’s face it, English is the language of the business world. In countries like Spain, English is seen as crucial for better work opportunities.
You can help!
Helping someone makes you feel good. Even if you only have a basic conversational level of Spanish you can find language exchanges and help someone grow their English while they help you grow your Spanish.
I don’t want to get too deep on you in this article. I was never playing on bringing up questions about the meaning of life. But if we aren’t here to help others, what are we here for?
6. Opportunities for discovery while on vacation
Learning Spanish has given me a number of opportunities to see and do things that I couldn’t have expected to see or do if I hadn’t ever started.
One example—an important bucket list item for me—was to see a big European soccer game. Last year, I had the opportunity to go to La Supercopa De España. I got the opportunity from a good friend that I met through a language exchange. He is a massive fan of Atlético Madrid.
In the game, Atlético Madrid defeated Real Madrid and it was the first time Atlético had won La Supercopa since 1985. It was some night!
Sometimes the opportunities are much smaller and unexpected.
When my girlfriend and I were in Marrakech in Morocco, we were waiting to get in to our accommodation down a small dark side street. We had been waiting for over an hour. We weren’t sure if our host ever was coming. Or if it was the right place to start with.
After knocking on the door and trying the phone number we were supposed to call for the 10th time, an old lady stepped out from a door on the opposite side of the street.
She started speaking in French and it was obvious she didn’t speak English. But, shortly after we discovered she could speak Spanish. She then invited us into her home for tea. We spent over two hours chatting about life and travels. It was a great experience and one I will always treasure.
7. Avoiding hassles while on vacation
In contrast to reason number 6, being able to speak Spanish can help you avoid trouble or annoying inconveniences while aboard.
When I was in Madrid I wanted to park our rental car in a paid garage. I ended up in 15 minute discussion with the parking attendant in an effort to understand whether or not our car was going to get locked in the garage all night.
If it wasn’t for my Spanish we may have been stranded in Madrid.
8. The discipline required to learn Spanish is transferable
In ‘The Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg wrote about something he called a ‘keystone’ habit. These types of habits are useful because when you focus them, they affect all other areas of your life. One of the most important keystone habits is willpower.
If you can develop the discipline to sit down and do 30 minutes of Spanish study after a full days work, you will grow your willpower muscle.
If you can develop this keystone habit it will have a knock on affect in other areas such as fitness, your job or your relationships with family and friends.
9. Spanish is spoken by 450 million people
I would be remiss if I didn’t reference the number of people and number of countries where Spanish is spoken.
If you love travel, Spanish is great. It is spoken in 20 countries and by 450 million people.
Here is a list of countries where Spanish is the official language.
10. There are so many English-Spanish cognates
I don’t really like debating whether one language is easier to learn than another. Why? Because learning a language—in general—is difficult.
It’s like asking what’s harder to lift: 500 pounds or 550 pounds. Yes, 500 pounds is “easier” to lift. But it’s still really hard!!
Having said that, Spanish is definitely the 500 pound weight.
If you decide to learn Spanish from English it comes with a lot of upside. The languages share an alphabet and there are tonnes of Engligh-Spanish cognates—these are words that mean exactly the same thing and are spelled the same in both languages.
There are a hundreds of these common words, all you have to do is learn the basics of Spanish pronunciation and you will effectively start with a Spanish vocabulary of more than a thousand words.
11. Learning a second language improves your brain
It definitely doesn’t feel like it while learning.
In fact, when you are learning a second language you feel really dumb—all the time!
It sucks to make lots of mistakes. And typically, as adults, we tend to avoid activities that make us feel vulnerable.
But, it does help the brain. A lot! There have been a number of studies that have demonstrated the benefits of learning a second language as an adult.
If you have issues with a bad memory, then this a good reason to start learning a language not an excuse. Our brains are incredible adaptable, they just need to be challenged on a regular basis.
It’s the old adage “use or lose it”, but maybe it should be use it to improve it.
12. Find the love of your life (or at least expand the dating pool)
She talked about how, up until recently, her husband didn’t speak English and that the opportunity was there because she learnt a second language.
If you are single and having trouble finding a mate in your local town, state or country, a second language could significantly increase your options.
Even if you are happily in a relationship—you never know—you may want the option someday.
13. In the US, Spanish is spoken by 16% of the population
I’m not exactly sure when a nation decides it has another “official” language.
In Canada, both French and English are recognised as the official languages of the country. According to the 2011 census, 21.3% of the population in Canada call French their mother tongue.
The figure of 16% for Spanish in the US is moving very close to the percentages of French speakers in Canada.
Regardless of whether the Spanish is technically an official language or not, it is widely spoken and worth knowing if you want to communicate with more than 1 out of every 10 people.
14. There are lots of awesome Spanish books
This could be a long list. But, I will keep it short.
There are some great books in Spanish but when you are first starting out it can be a hard slog getting used to reading in another language. It can be a real pain if you have to constantly keep referring to a dictionary.
For beginner readers, I recommend finding a dual text, something like:
You could also choose books that are written for teenagers. There is a series of novels by Elvira Lindo based on a 10 year old character called Manolito Gafotas. They are fantastic!
There are also, of course, famous authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Ruiz Zafón. But the books by these authors are quite challenging.
If these books aren’t challenging enough, you could even step it up again with the famous ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel Cervantes. This is a classic book of Spanish literature. But, if I’m honest, I’m still not ready for this book yet.
15. There are lots of awesome Spanish movies
Before I start recommending movies, I have to say that a lot of Spanish movies come with adult ratings. It seems that the culture in Europe has a much more relaxed attitude towards sex than what I am used to in Australia. This relaxed attitude maybe the reason that such a large percentage of Spanish movies includes sexual references.
Having said that, I will recommend 4 movies from different genres that would appeal to different maturity levels. You can think about who you are planning to watch the movie with and choose accordingly.
‘El Laberinto Del Fauno‘, or ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ in English, is a dark fantasy set around the time of the second world war. It is the best choice for a younger audience.
‘Ocho Apellidos Vascos‘, or ‘Spanish Affair’ in English, typifies the romantic comedy genre. It hits all of the formulaic highs and lows that come with the category. It is also the highest grossing Spanish movie in history. I’m normally not of fan of this genre but I liked this movie a lot. I’ll also admit that I’m a bit in love with Clara Lago who plays the female lead.
Straight up—I’m a wimp when it comes to scary movies. But, I forced myself through the following film because I have friends that aren’t even interested in Spanish that tell me this is one of the best horror movies of all time—from any country! The movie is called ‘REC‘ and in short, it is a zombie movie. It is the typical kind of scary movie where each character gets picked off one by one. But, it is done really well. It was filmed using the ‘handheld camera technique’—which is always scary—and it is difficult to predict what is going to happen next. Plus the characters are locked in an old apartment building throughout the night. If you learning Spanish and you like scary movies, its a must!
I mentioned, at the start of this section on movies, that Spanish cinema is full of nudity. Well, so far, I have done well to avoid it. But in this last recommendation, that goes out the door. The movie is called ‘Lucía y El Sexo’. Obviously, a movie with sex in the title is likely to have nudity. But I don’t recommend the movie because of the nudity. This movie is really good. It is intriguing and mysterious. There are plot twists and things aren’t as they seem. If you like a movie that doesn’t follow the typical formula, this is great.
If you do decide to practice your Spanish with movies then, in order, try first with English subtitles, then with Spanish subtitles and then without.
To finish off this section, I have to offer a word of warning about practicing with Spanish movies, don’t be too disheartened if you can’t follow the Spanish—normally it’s fast, colloquial and muffled.
It is much better to practice your listening comprehension in a one-on-one situation with a native Speaker.
16. Spanish is a great “gateway language”
When I say “gateway language” what I mean is that if you successfully learn Spanish it could be a catalyst for you to go on and learn 3, 4 or even 10 other languages.
This is a controversial point because it could be argued that the requirement for a “gateway” into language learning is that you are simply motivated to start.
Said in another way, if you are really interested in learning Mandarin then it is a very backwards strategy to start learning Spanish in order to learn Mandarin.
But, conversely, if you are undecided on a language to start with and simply looking to learn a language in general, Spanish should be right at the top of the list. Why? Because Spanish is the 500 pound weight. (see point 10)
When I chose Spanish it was because I thought that languages like Japanese, Mandarin or Russian would be simply too hard for me to get any traction with and hence I would be more likely to quit.
Starting with Spanish could give you the confidence to realise that there is no such thing as a natural language learner and that you could move on to other languages once you have learnt how to learn.
Internet famous polyglots Benny Lewis and Olly Richards both got their start with Spanish and then went on to learn 8 and 6 other languages respectfully. I haven’t got passed Spanish yet, but if I do eventually make it to a third language, Spanish will have been a “gateway language” for me as well.
17. Learn about another culture and in turn learn about your own
I mentioned earlier that when you study another language you learn about your own. This is also true for culture.
In fact, this has been one of the most fascinating parts of learning another language. You get to see how another culture approaches simple things like drinking at the pub or big things like how to have a wedding.
At the very start of the post I mentioned that I was living with blinkers on. This is what I was talking about. I thought for a long time that the way things are done here are the ways things are done everywhere.
A comment I often get from Spanish friends who live for a period of time here in Australia is that if you want to see your friends here you need to fit them into your busy schedule. In order to catch up with your best friend from high school you need to ‘book something in’ for four weeks time. What’s worse, as the date approaches, the ‘booking’ may have to be moved around.
In Spanish culture, if you feel like seeing a good friend, you catch up with them that day. Simple! If it is a Tuesday night and so-and-so is at so-and-so’s house, everybody goes over and all of a sudden it’s a party.
I’m not saying we should be living like this all the time. And for some this kind of social ‘chaos’ could be a nightmare. But, it is always a talking point when I catch up with my best friend from university on a depressingly bi-annual basis.
18. Impress your friends/show off at parties
While I don’t advocate learning a language to impress friends, nor is it a great long term strategy for motivation, it is impressive. Particularly in western culture.
Not a single one of my high school friends speaks another language. It’s sad. But, the fact that it is unique makes it impressive.
When you do tell people that you can speak another language they are normally quick to ask more. How did you find they time? Why are you learning? You must be really smart?
Let’s face it, the attention is nice and it is fun to show off every once in a while.
19. Listen to conversations you wouldn’t normally be able to listen to
As I write this point, voyeuristic scenarios come to mind. Situations like when you’re sitting on a train and listening in on a conversation that you shouldn’t be listening to.
With your newly established language skills you could listen in on Spanish conversations as well. Maybe the two people sitting opposite you on the train are speaking about you and they assumed you wouldn’t understand them (in reality, that’s unlikely).
But more practically, you could find yourself in a situation in a Spanish speaking country where locals are trying to pull the wool over your eyes by selling you something dodgy or double the regular price.
In ‘The Promise of a Pencil’ (one of my favourite books), Adam Braun describes a situation when he was on a bus in Guatemala. He could speak Spanish but pretended he couldn’t. He listened in horror as the boys on the bus debated which items they were going to steal from him. One said “I want his wallet”, another “I want his passport” and another “I want his shoes”.
I hope you never find yourself in a situation like this, but I’m confident that if you do you will be thankful that you had diligently completed your Spanish homework.
20. Understand the lyrics to those songs you love to sing along with
We all have guilty pleasures. I’ll admit it. I know I’m not the only one that sings along to the typical ear-worm pop song. The kinds of songs where it would amount to social suicide if you did decide to tell anyone that you liked them.
I’m not sure about you, but where I grew up it wasn’t cool to sing along to Shakira or Ricky Martin. But who cares, we do it anyway.
If you do decide to learn Spanish, you will be able to rediscover popular Spanish songs from your teenage years (or nowadays) and find out what they were all about.
21. Spanish is a beautiful language
I can’t believe it’s taken this many points before I got to this one.
It sounds beautiful.
(And it even feels good to speak.)
22. Complete unfinished or missing education
Do you ever feel like there was some unfinished business from high school? Maybe mathematics got the better of you and now you want to see if you can conquer it with a more mature perspective.
This is exactly how I felt about language learning.
In high school, foreign language learning got the better of me. I was a pretty good student. So it was embarrassing when I received a fail mark. At the time I vowed I would never learn a foreign language, but that was a bruised ego talking.
If you feel like language learning got the better of you, it is never too late to have a second go.
23. Because you like a challenge
I often send out survey’s to the subscribers of Real Fast Spanish and it turns out 27% of you are learning Spanish because you like a challenge.
Some people like Sudokus or the daily crossword. Some people like to play chess. Some people like to go to trivia nights.
And some people love to learn languages!
If you feel like your day job is a little on the boring side or you are just in desperate need of a mental challenge, language learning is perfect.
If you do decide to learn Spanish or any other language, you will have a great source ongoing material to challenge your brain everyday.
24. Spanish food is amazing
Did I mention…
Spanish people are awesome! I know I shouldn’t make generalised statements like that. But, from my experience, the people that I have spent time with from Spain and South American countries do seem to have common traits:
- They are warm, welcoming and love the company of family and friends.
- They like spending time with each other even if it is late on a work night.
- They love to discuss the big issues just as much as the finer things in life.
- They celebrate and are proud of the things that make their culture unique (except for maybe bullfighting).
- They love quality food and wine and will always defend their right to consume these things.
- They welcome foreigners who are interested in learning about their language and culture with open arms.
To sum up
If you are thinking about starting to learn Spanish…stop thinking!
Start as soon as you can!
Motivation is really important, so choose one of the 25 reasons above to push yourself over the initial hurdle to get moving.
If you have been learning for some time then you can also use the reasons listed above to keep up momentum.
I believe strongly that even if you don’t have to learn a language for work or school and even if you aren’t planning an overseas trip, language learning is something that we should all seriously consider.
It will help you see your own world with new eyes. And although you can’t truly see through someone else’s eyes, language learning can help you understand just a little bit better how the rest of seven billion people on this planet live and see their world.