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How Much Language Will I Need?

Brad Chatellier

New Member
Hello all,

As an English only speaker I am a bit nervous at the thought of getting by on the Camino. I have a very little bit of Spanish, and (literally) a few phrases of French. How hard will it be for me to obtain my credential in SJPdP, obtain lodging, and embark on this journey?

Thanks much,
Brad :)
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Hi Brad,

Before moving to Spain I had the same worries as you have for your walk. I did not speak a thing.

I am pretty sure that you will be fine with a small dictionary, a smile on your face and the right attitude when talking to Spaniards. When they see someone trying to talk Spanish, they will be helpful and try to understand you. If you try to speak English slooowwly, I found that that people were less helpful. When in Spain, talk spanish.

Practice some keywords before entering into an establishment... you will be fine... this is part of the experience. :)

Buen camino,
ivar said:
you will be fine with a small dictionary, a smile on your face and the right attitude when talking to Spaniards.

I think this is the key. You probably don't _need_ very much Spanish at all; many people get by without it; you can do quite a lot with sign-language; younger Spaniards will learn/have learnt English at school, and of course many of your fellow pilgrims will speak at least a little English. But if you go around demanding that everyone speak English, the message you send out is a very negative one: I can't be bothered learning your language; it's not important to me (= you're not important to me). So much better to meet people on their own terms and make the effort to learn at least the basics. Everyone will know you are not Spanish, so noone will expect you to speak Spanish flawlessly but, as Ivar says, you will please them if you at least try.

Plus, you will get more out of it. Not only are most of the locals monoglot Spaniards; a majority of pilgrims are Spanish too. If you can only communicate in one language you restrict yourself considerably on who you can communicate with.
The 9th edition the Lightfoot Guide will let you complete the journey your way.
When I went 2 years ago, I knew absolutely no Spanish nor French, assuming everyone would speak at least some English nowadays. Turned out the moment I got there, I found out I was absolutely wrong. the thing is, though, I survived. Yes, it was hard work to communicate to get credential (I started at SJPdP, too), lodging, food, anything. But anyone can tell you are a pilgrim when you are at SJPdP with a big backpack. I actually met 5 other pilgrims on the train to get there, some whom I got help from with first day lodging.

After I was on my own, I drew pictures when I didn't know Spanish words for sandwitch, apple, or any other food, or even toilet. There were always people who could translate, or someone who want to learn and talk in English. and those who only spoke Spanish (and locals) are used to pilgrims who don't know anything beyond 'hola.' I found people generally are so patient, they acutally wait for you to find a word you are looking for in the dictionary. Besides, you will learn the most basic stuff on the road, and actually get used to Spanish, for sure.

Don't get me wrong, it's great if you have time to learn some Spanish before getting there, and I highly recommend it. But not knowing Spanish does not kill you. As the other guys said, SMILE, have fun, and just try hard. That's what I did, and it worked well. And don't forget a mini-dictionary.
re: learning spanish

Brad, I would highly recommend learning some spanish before you go. As Ivar says, while in spain speak spanish. Speaking Spanish will change your trip. I spent one year in south america, and by knowing basic spanish, i had an amazing trip, staying with the locals and having amazing opportunities come my way.
for a free website check out http://www.studyspanish.com

Join our full-service guided tour of the Basque Country and let us pamper you!
good question
northern europeans tend arrive on the camino assuming that all spaniards will speak english, like the rest of western europe
not so
spaniards tend to get a little huffy when you assume they speak english
they think you ought to speak spanish, and why not
since it's one of the most widely spoken languages in the world

anyway, on the one hand, when i walked, there were plenty of pilgrims who didn't speak spanish
on the other hand, i did a heckuva lot of interpreting for people
so i guess i'd say
you'll get by
you'll meet lots of peregrinos that speak english
but you'll miss out on connecting with the locals

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