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Language barrier

WGroleau

Wandering Weirdo
Time of past OR future Camino
2015 & 2016 (partial)
There are lots of posts about the language barrier, but it seems they get mostly advice on learning or coping. Few (seemed to me) mentioned that there really isn't one.

Native speakers of English were by far the majority staying in the Dutch-run albergue I worked in, and the majority of others spoke it well. Last year was a slow year—less than two hundred thousand certificates issued. More than 8654 of those were from English-speaking countries. More statistics at https://catedral.df-server.info/est/peregrinaciones2021.pdf
 
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RobertS26

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances, (2013)
Camino Frances, (2014)
Camino Frances, (2015)
I do not speak a lick of Spanish. Yet I have never missed a meal or slept outdoors on five Caminos.

The dirty little secret is that English is the official language of the EU. Virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English if it is not their native language.

More than once I have witnessed a Spanish waiter or front desk clerk try to switch a conversation from broken Spanish to English. On one occasion I overheard an American struggling to use his high school Spanish to order a meal. Eventually the waiter leaned in and said, "Can we do this in English? It will go much quicker."

When speaking to someone who is not a native English speaker, remember to speak slowly and not use big words. In other words, eschew verbosity. Also, do not turn your head. The other person needs to see your lips to help them understand what you are saying. And finally, don't use slang. For example, don't say, "I'm down with that." Rather, a simple, "yes" works better.
 

Molly Cassidy

Travelling light
Time of past OR future Camino
Starting May 2023 from St Jean Pied de Port
While in many places this may be true. I am currently working in an ordinary non-camino, non-touristy town in northern Spain and apart from the English teachers at the school where I work, nobody speaks English. The staff at the small hotel where I stayed when I arrived didn't speak English.

I do agree about speaking clearly and looking at people, though.
 

J Willhaus

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2016, 2022
If you work in the hospitality industry, you are expected to have some language skills, however in the small towns where we have volunteered there are few English speakers. Occasionally someone brings in their son or granddaughter to translate. Yes you can get by with a few words, but it is not as rich as having a conversation.

We are making an effort to learn Spanish and have been doing so for several years so we can have a more full communication experience when we are in Spain.
 
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trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
While in many places this may be true. I am currently working in an ordinary non-camino, non-touristy town in northern Spain and apart from the English teachers at the school where I work, nobody speaks English. The staff at the small hotel where I stayed when I arrived didn't speak English.
Many people say that there is a higher percentage of English speakers in Portugal than in Spain, which is probably true, but when you are in in the only bar in little village in Portugal your chances of finding an English speaker aren't so great!
That's when Google Translate comes to the rescue.
 

WGroleau

Wandering Weirdo
Time of past OR future Camino
2015 & 2016 (partial)
The dirty little secret is that English is the official language of the EU. Virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English if it is not their native language.

More than once I have witnessed a Spanish waiter or front desk clerk try to switch a conversation from broken Spanish to English. On one occasion I overheard an American struggling to use his high school Spanish to order a meal. Eventually the waiter leaned in and said, "Can we do this in English? It will go much quicker."
One of the ten official languages. But it seems true that most Germans and French and almost all Dutch speak English well. Spanish pilgrims and Italian pilgrims not as much. And I've had pellegrinos claim they can't understand Spanish (which I don't believe, because my non-fluent Spanish enabled me to pass the A1 test for Italian). I noticed MANY Korean pilgrims have neither English nor Spanish. (And I don't speak Korean!) I highly recommend to everyone learning another language.
Man with crossword puzzle: "Speaks one language, hmmm …"
Other person: "Monolingual"
Man: "No, only eight letters"
Other person: "American"
 
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RobertS26

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances, (2013)
Camino Frances, (2014)
Camino Frances, (2015)
The focus of the OP was whether there is a language barrier on the Camino. The pupose of the post was to relieve the fear that speaking Spanish was necessary to complete the Camino. Anyone who has walked the Camino knows that it is literally 100% unnecessary to speak Spanish to walk the Camino.

Now, if the topic is language barriers in far flung villages, then yes, knowing some of the local language may be necessary. But again, that was not the point of the original post.
 
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trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
The focus of the OP was whether there is a language barrier on the Camino. The pupose of the post was to relieve the fear that speaking Spanish was necessary to complete the Camino. Anyone who has walked the Camino knows that it is literally 100% unnecessary to speak Spanish to walk the Camino.
@RobertS26 - You should know that when you post on a public forum you will receive a variety of opinions, and all members of this forum have the right to post, unless they break one of the forum rules

Yes, it's right that you can complete the Camino without knowing a word of Spanish - on the Norte I met a guy from Taiwan (if my memory serves) that knew neither Spanish nor English, and he managed. But I wouldn't say that English is universally spoken in small towns on the Caminos in Spain and Portugal.
 
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igailfh

Active member
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino Português, Camino de Tejo (Fatima)
On my first Camino I met a Frenchman who spoke 6 languages & none of them were English. We then met an Italian woman who spoke both French & English so that problem was solved.
 

K_Lynn

Buen Camino!
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances 2021
I am not conversant in Spanish, and did not have many problems communicating last year when I walked. I made sure I knew how to say hello, please, thank you, good bye, and numbers, the usual pleasantries to get by and be polite. I memorized how to properly say "Lo siento, soy muy alergico al ajo, que seguro comer?" so that I could eat, otherwise I used a translation app if there were long conversations to be had. When I mailed some unneeded things from Burgos to Santiago the woman at the post office did not speak any English and was so incredibly patient and kind, we managed to communicate with my translation app and a bit of time.
English may be the universal language, but as visitors to another country I think it is only polite to try to say a few words. I did meet one gentleman that refused to say por favor or gracias, or even a simple Hola. He was very unhappy people did not speak perfect English.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
There are lots of posts about the language barrier, but it seems they get mostly advice on learning or coping. Few (seemed to me) mentioned that there really isn't one. Native speakers of English were by far the majority staying in the Dutch-run albergue I worked in, and the majority of others spoke it well.
Maybe I am not a very attentive reader of this forum because I have not noticed that people are afraid that they won’t find other pilgrims to chat to - at least not on the popular Caminos in Spain.

In general, those pilgrims who have a common language, be it their native tongue or one of their foreign languages, tend to find each other for meaningful conversation. And as in any touristically developed area which the Camino Francés certainly is numerous locals who provide services for visitors such as hotel staff, taxi drivers, and restaurant staff have basic foreign language skills, more often than not in English.

Advice to learn some Spanish often has another purpose. First of all, some forum members actually want to do so. Secondly, numerous posters regard it as a sign of politeness if not common decency to know a few words in the local language such as thank you, hello and good-bye.

I’ve walked the Camino Francés over several years and can communicate with some ease in a few European languages. Of course you can get by with English only. Initially I was surprised when I discovered that some Spanish restaurant staff, owners of accommodation and the odd local found it more convenient to speak French with me than English. Still, I eventually decided to bring my smattering of Spanish to a better level: not because it was a necessity but because I found it enriching to engage occasionally with locals on the street or in a shop in this way. Of course only with those who had the inclination to do so and who had enough patience and time … :cool:
 
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Pelerina

Camino Walker
Time of past OR future Camino
Since 2011, ongoing.
Anyone who has walked the Camino knows that it is literally 100% unnecessary to speak Spanish to walk the Camino.
Just sticking my head up to say that this would certainly be true of the Camino Frances - Spanish is not necessary.

On many other camino routes in Spain, particularly the more remote, there can be a language barrier and it certainly helps to speak a little Spanish. I only have a few words, but have found that can go a long way in communicating and connecting with local people - and enrich your experience 😎
 
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Antonius Vaessen

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2015-2016 VdlPlata - Sanabres
2016.Primitivo
2017 Salvador
2018 Norte (to Sobrado)
2019 Norte again
On the Camino Frances and other welltrodden caminos there is hardly a language barrier, for certain not for communication between fellow travellers. ( Even if they don't speak English or Spanish they are/ should be prepared for problems in communication) In contacts with locals it is rarely a problem in so far as hospitaleros or waiters and so on are involved. I myself speak Spanish enough to have basic conversations but that is because I like the language. ( Sometimes a problem arises when I start speaking in spanish, they think that I understand Spanish well and soon I have to ask them to slow down)
When you are walking a Camino in France for instance the "Le Puy route" the language barrier is/ can be a bigger problem if you don't speak french. The main cause for this is that the great majority of walkers is frenchspeaking. I speak some french so for me it was not a problem to make reservations, order food, talk to individual pilgrims and so on. Conversations at the dinner table were many times difficult, certainly when sitting in the middle of long tables with different conversations around you.
 

dick bird

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
Plata, Ingles, Madrid, Norte, Primitivo, Invierno, Aragones, Olvidado, Chemin D'Arles
I do not speak a lick of Spanish. Yet I have never missed a meal or slept outdoors on five Caminos.

The dirty little secret is that English is the official language of the EU. Virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English if it is not their native language.

More than once I have witnessed a Spanish waiter or front desk clerk try to switch a conversation from broken Spanish to English. On one occasion I overheard an American struggling to use his high school Spanish to order a meal. Eventually the waiter leaned in and said, "Can we do this in English? It will go much quicker."

When speaking to someone who is not a native English speaker, remember to speak slowly and not use big words. In other words, eschew verbosity. Also, do not turn your head. The other person needs to see your lips to help them understand what you are saying. And finally, don't use slang. For example, don't say, "I'm down with that." Rather, a simple, "yes" works better.
You can manage quite well on the camino Francés without Spanish. On other routes it is a different matter. On the French routes, they don't speak Spanish at all, although I found a lot of French people were happy enough to use English when my French wasn't good enough. English is a lot more widely spoken in Portugal, they have been teaching it at high school level for a very long time but a lot of Portuguese people speak French having lived in France as migrant workers. Younger Spanish people are more likely to speak English especially if they work in hospitality but that is by no means assured. You don't have to speak Spanish in Spain, but it is still a good idea and it is also a good idea to smile and maintain eye contact whenever you are speaking to someone and to be aware of the visual cues they give you. Incidentally, I would really like to see some empirical evidence for the rather definitive statement 'virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English'. Is that your impression or do you actually know?
 
Time of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
I would really like to see some empirical evidence for the rather definitive statement 'virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English'. Is that your impression or do you actually know?
I can't speak for @RobertS26 but I can speak for myself: Both personal impression (and that includes walking and dining with groups of Camino pilgrims with different native languages) and actual knowledge tell me that not "virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English". The level of knowledge of English depends not only on age but also on country of education received and on highest level of education obtained and on socio-economic status. Below is an overview from a fairly recent survey by Eurostat (an official agency of the European Union) where statistically representative samples of the population in each countries were asked whether they knew one or more foreign languages (no information about which foreign languages was published but English is likely to be included for the majority).

Pilgrims who don't speak passable English tend to shy away from predominantly English-speaking groups - despite all the lovely anecdotes where the group as a whole may switch language to accommodate a non-speaker or where there are people who do interpretation for him/her.

Some country results surprised me - both because they are better than expected and worse than expected. The yellow and blue markers indicate percentages of the relevant age groups: 24-34 and 35-44. For Spain for example, 60% of the 35-44 year olds said that they knew at least one foreign language and for the younger age group in Spain the percentage is a little higher.
(Click to enlarge)
Knowing a foreign language.jpg
 
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peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Anyone who has walked the Camino knows that it is literally 100% unnecessary to speak Spanish to walk the Camino.
I don’t mean this to be snarky, but in light of your other thread about the importance of context and precision in language, I would point out that “the camino” refers potentially to 45 or more routes criss-crossing all parts of Spain. For people walking those routes, like the Olvidado, the Ebro, the Levante, the Castellano-Aragonés, etc, @Molly Cassidy ’s observation about walking into hotels or bars where no one speaks English is a good heads up.
 
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camino_rooky

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Fisterra2012;Ingles 2013;Littoral 2014;Frances 2016;Portuguese 2015,2017,2018;Mozarabe 2017,2019
Having just completed the Camino Mozarabe in October, I can confirm we had few problems communicating our needs despite only having a few words / stock phrases. Once we made the effort people went out of their way to help us. We had worried a bit as we had read somewhere that this Camino shouldnt be attempted without a good grasp of Spanish. So I think for safety on any Camino do a bit of prep, learn a few words and phrases, bring the book "Camino Lingo" and if all else fails use Google Translate!
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
Walking from Barcelona to Puente la Reina I only encountered nine other walkers, none were native English speakers. The two Spaniards may have been at the B2 level of English or better (I'm only slighty familar with the ABC requirements). Two Italians did not speak English, one did and very well as did two Germans and a French woman. A Croatian had hesitant conversational English (B1?). Of the locals and hospitaleros met along the way I only encountered two that spoke English with me (one damn near commanded me to speak English when I had some difficultly with Spanish).
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
and if all else fails use Google Translate!
I had an amusing moment on that walk I just mentioned. A young man and woman came up a hill to the road I was on; they had baskets. After greetings the man spoke a few sentences and I couldn't understand even one word for some reason, maybe he spoke Aragonese. When I said "No entiendo" he immediately had his phone out and at Google Translate. Some nonverbal cue from the woman, like an eye roll or something, told me that this wasn't the first time he did this and that she was losing patience with his habit. He spoke into the phone and I read that they were mushroom hunting but the wild pigs had dug them all up. I replied "Que lastima" but he immediately held his phone up to me, pointed at it and told me to use it. Somewhat deviously I said "What a shame" and it worked, the translation came out as "Que lastima" and a giggle came out of the woman.
 

LTfit

Veteran Member
I don’t mean this to be snarky, but in light of your other thread about the importance of context and precision in language, I would point out that “the camino” refers potentially to 45 or more routes criss-crossing all parts of Spain. For people walking those routes, like the Olvidado, the Ebro, the Levante, the Castellano-Aragonés, etc, @Molly Cassidy ’s observation about walking into hotels or bars where no one speaks English is a good heads up.
Thanks for your post Laurie. There is the Camino Francés then all the others where speaking some Spanish although not essential, is definitely recommended.

I've mentioned this on many occasions but without speaking Spanish, my Camino Mozárabe back in 2014 would have been quite lonely as I met no one between Granada and Mérida. Stopping for coffee in a cafe and chatting with the owner or with locals while walking made my walk so much more enjoyable.
 
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Time of past OR future Camino
2021
I also agree that there really isn't a language barrier in terms of being able to get the necessities for any Camino. However, it does make the hosts feel more comfortable that you try to speak their language. I was walking the CP and was having dinner with a few people that I met along the way (all of us speaking English). I tried to order in Portuguese and I did get what I wanted albeit with some confusion and good natured jibbing by my friends.

But, at the end of the meal, the owner brought out a desert and put it in front of me stating the I deserved a good ending to the meal because I tried to speak Portuguese. Never underestimate the power of trying to be friendly and the generosity of the people along any Camino.
 

dbier

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Last 114km Camino Frances, Jul 21
2023 - Camino P
And while this discussion goes on, at least one other thread here today features a pilgrim who missed his/her bus because the pilgrim and the locals didn't understand each other.

There are so many factors that play into whether two people in conversation can understand each other. Accent and rate of speech are huge.

Ask about the time a California surfer student translated a question ...in English...from the Turkish student to the Chinese teaching assistant and back again. Simply because their accents were so different that they couldn't understand each other. Or ask me to understand a Glaswegan television announcer on UK TV. (Hint: I couldn't).
In my humble opinion: Don't let lack of language keep you from your Camino. But don't get offended if most people along the way don't speak/understand your language.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
I agree with those who think that the original post opened the door for all sorts of comments about language ability on the camino. The first two posts proclaim that Spanish isn’t necessary on the Camino. That’s a broad categorical statement and it was received differently by different forum members who then posted their reactions.

Rigorous linearity is just impossible on the forum (and IMHO, not a good thing). A post making the statement that no Spanish language comprehension is necessary is bound to trigger reactions from those who think that while maybe that is a true statement (at least if “Camino” is limited to the Camino Francés), that approach has other consequences that may be less than ideal.

I am glad that other members have added the perspective that while it may not be NECESSARY to speak anything other than English, there are tremendous benefits that come from learning some Spanish and trying to speak some Spanish.

I remember once on the Vdlp, in the albergue in Oliva de Plasencia, we had a communal dinner of 10 or 12. As many have noted, the language of the table is often English. A Spanish couple was sitting across from me and spoke no English. One turned to the other and said “No hay que salir de España para ir al extranjero.” (We don’t need to leave Spain to go to a foreign country). That jolted me and made me realize how rude we were being. True, not everyone speaks Spanish, but I think we English speakers frequently forget how exclusive we are being when we fall into English-only table talk.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Francés (partial) and Portugal
Part of traveling to Spain for me is volunteering at Vaughantown, an English immersion program for Spaniards working on their conversational english. I’ve been told by many of them over the years that conversational english is not really taught in school. The focus is on reading and writing only. Add that to the fact that, unlike many other European countries, Spanish television dubs english-speaking programs. So Spaniards don’t have as much exposure to spoken English as do other countries. I noticed this while walkng the Portuguese. We were able to watch television in english in Portugal but not onece we got to Spain. I’m not an expert in language. Just anecdotal evidence from my time in Spain and other European countries.
 
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J Willhaus

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2016, 2022
Growing up we lived in Europe for while and my parents spoke no language other than English. They relied on me to help them with basic questions and directions. I was only 7 and was learning German at school. Years later, I took German in high school and at the university and when I was deployed to Germany in the early 2000's my experience was this: although many Germans could speak English, they often commented that I could not possibly be American as no Americans ever bothered to learn German even if they were there several years. I have felt it my duty to represent my country by trying not to portray the stereotype that those from the US do not think that learning another language is important.

When we first walked the Camino in 2016, I had spent a year studying on Duo Lingo. It was hardly enough, but we got by. My husband learned NO Spanish before we went and wished that he could converse with people. Over the years now, we've studied in Spain for several weeks a few times and we have a weekly Spanish lesson together here at home through a school.

Our progress is painfully slow, but we are determined to speak and understand well enough to have meaningful conversations with Spaniards beyond ordering food or booking a room. As a hospitalero, I am able to check people into the albergue and explain guidelines and resources now in 3 languages (English, Spanish, and even German although my formal study was 40 years ago). I am able to have simple conversations on the phone and I also still rely heavily on Google Translate for pilgrims from France, Korea, Russia, Italy, etc.

It is a personal decision to try to learn another language because I want to be accepted as more than a tourist and pilgrim. Each person must make their own decision in that regard, but my husband has had several interesting experiences that happened by not knowing the language very well. He's taken the wrong bus or train more than once and thank goodness for the school-aged daughters and grandchildren of proprietors who are often called in to translate just as I once was when he is at the market.
 

Bogong

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
First, March 2014
@RobertS26 - You should know that when you post on a public forum you will receive a variety of opinions, and all members of this forum have the right to post, unless they break one of the forum rules

Yes, it's right that you can complete the Camino without knowing a word of Spanish - on the Norte I met a guy from Taiwan (if my memory serves) that knew neither Spanish nor English, and he managed. But I wouldn't say that English is universally spoken in small towns on the Caminos in Spain and Portugal.
I tidied to learn a bit of Spanish before I went . It greatly enriched my walking experience and my interaction with both pilgrims and local people. It was winter and there were few walkers. Catalan, Korean, Japanese made up a goodly proportion and none spoke much English if any. Practically none of the locals spoke any English at all. Sure a person can walk the Camino with only English but it misses out on so much. To me anyway. It’s easy to forget that although this site seems huge it represents only a minuscule proportion of the people who do the Camino, and I suspect many nationalities are scarcely represented at all.

De Colores. Bogong
 

MaxHelado

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Portugués via Variante Espiritual 2022
I don't doubt for one minute that you can walk a camino with no Spanish (or any other language apart from English) and be understood wherever you go. You may need to use Google Translate on occasions or the innkeeper/bar owner may call upon a friend to help out but I am sure you will get what you need. And English will serve you very well in a community of international pilgrims.

I walked my first Camino earlier this year and my Spanish is not too shabby. For me it was this that unlocked the people and the culture of Galicia. If i had not been able to speak some Spanish I would not have understood the locals proudly telling me what they grow on their wonderful allotments, or found out about the little bar just off the main route, or the short-cut that avoids the busy main road. I found the Galicians very warm and very welcoming and even more so when I tried my Spanish.

If I was planning on just one visit to Spain I would not learn Spanish. But if I was planning to return time and again I certainly would. For me personally it adds so much to the journey.

Maybe worth noting that for many Galicians Spanish is not their first, or certainly not their preferred language? My understanding is that in most Galician schools English is #3 on the list.
 
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C clearly

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Most years since 2012
A post today in another thread gives an example of language difficulties. Nothing earth-shattering, but it clearly illustrates that although someone will eventually be found who speaks English, not everyone does, when and where you need it...
I missed my bus from Lavacolla to Sarria today because I don't speak the language and people I asked couldn't speak English.
 

lindam

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances, VDLP, Invierno, Portuguese, Madrid, Ingles, Fisterra, Muxia, Catalan/Aragones/Loyola Norte
Walking from Barcelona to Puente la Reina I only encountered nine other walkers, none were native English speakers. The two Spaniards may have been at the B2 level of English or better.
Not to mention that the two Spaniards may in fact have been Catalans, given that you started your walk in Barcelona. In which case, Spanish was likely their second language.

My Camino experience suggests that Spanish and Portuguese people go out of their way to assist pilgrims and tourists, with or without knowledge of English. For that, I have always been thankful.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
Not to mention that the two Spaniards may in fact have been Catalans, given that you started your walk in Barcelona.
One was Basque (his name was changed to a Basque version of Ignacio when he was three after Franco died and it was possible). He lived in Catalonia so I suspect he also spoke Catalán. The other was a young man who lived in Huesca and used an albergue in the Pyrenees foothills occasionally as a base for hiking in the area.

I may as well add that there may have been more locals that knew English on that trip but were not comfortable with it so when I spoke bad Spanish they went with that. I'm remembering an earlier camino where in Muxia we stayed at a guest house. The owner spoke English with Peg so I could tell her English was better than my Spanish but we spoke Spanish together. I assume that she preferred cringing to working on speaking English.
 

Portach

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2017
There are lots of posts about the language barrier, but it seems they get mostly advice on learning or coping. Few (seemed to me) mentioned that there really isn't one.

Native speakers of English were by far the majority staying in the Dutch-run albergue I worked in, and the majority of others spoke it well. Last year was a slow year—less than two hundred thousand certificates issued. More than 8654 of those were from English-speaking countries. More statistics at https://catedral.df-server.info/est/peregrinaciones2021.pdf
I have a little Spanish and found it made for a much richer Camino experience. This was more in relation to speaking with people in the small villages we passed through, most of whom had little or no English. We had exchanges and got insights that would not have been possible without some Spanish. I agree that many of our fellow pilgrims were either native speakers or had a reasonable command of the language.
 

henrythedog

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
My affair
First time on the Frances I spoke very little Spanish and survived. I didn’t go hungry or without a bed. A number of my occasional companions were German and even when it was me in a sole minority they switched to English for my benefit. Ironically the lingua Franca is ingles.

A decade later and after a great deal of effort (Language learning is a job for the adolescent brain really) I’m ‘functionally’ fluent in Spanish. A comfortable B2. You wouldn’t want me defending you in court or completing your tax return; but day-to-day I can communicate well.

I’ve learned Spanish not because it’s necessary for me, but because it’s interesting; it transforms the nature of the relationship I have with native Spanish speakers, and because at my age and being retired one really needs to have an intellectual challenge; IMHO.

A tip: confuse the locals so they’re not 100% sure you’re English (or whatever you are). I’m getting on a bit and I’ve got one of those ‘well used’ faces - rugby, sun, alcohol and being happy I suppose. I don’t dress like an endurance racer in the evening and I typically wear a traditional boina. A Spaniard approaching me doesn’t automatically know what to make of me - this bloke looks English; but he wouldn’t be wearing that hat if he was, I’ll open up in Spanish. When they do and I reply in a not totally unconvincing accent - I can almost see them thinking ‘well, whatever he is he’s not Spanish; but strangely I seem to understand him, I’ll carry on in Spanish …’

I’m so very pleased.
 
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MaxHelado

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Portugués via Variante Espiritual 2022
First time on the Frances I spoke very little Spanish and survived. I didn’t go hungry or without a bed. A number of my occasional companions were German and even when it was me in a sole minority they switched to English for my benefit. Ironically the lingua Franca is ingles.

A decade later and after a great deal of effort (Language learning is a job for the adolescent brain really) I’m ‘functionally’ fluent in Spanish. A comfortable B2. You wouldn’t want me defending you in court or completing your tax return; but day-to-day I can communicate well.

I’ve learned Spanish not because it’s necessary for me, but because it’s interesting; it transforms the nature of the relationship I have with native Spanish speakers, and because at my age and being retired one really needs to have an intellectual challenge; IMHO.

A tip: confuse the locals so they’re not 100% sure you’re English (or whatever you are). I’m getting on a bit and I’ve got one of those ‘well used’ faces - rugby, sun, alcohol and being happy I suppose. I don’t dress like an endurance racer in the evening and I typically wear a traditional boina. A Spaniard approaching me doesn’t automatically know what to make of me - this bloke looks English; but he wouldn’t be wearing that hat if he was, I’ll open up in Spanish. When they do and I reply in a not totally unconvincing accent - I can almost see them thinking ‘well, whatever he is he’s not Spanish; but strangely I seem to understand him, I’ll carry on in Spanish …’

I’m so very pleased.
Perfectly put. I couldn’t agree more.
I too am a proud boina wearer when walking in Spain. To my wife’s horror!
 

MichelleElynHogan

Veteran Member
I do not speak a lick of Spanish. Yet I have never missed a meal or slept outdoors on five Caminos.

The dirty little secret is that English is the official language of the EU. Virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English if it is not their native language.

More than once I have witnessed a Spanish waiter or front desk clerk try to switch a conversation from broken Spanish to English. On one occasion I overheard an American struggling to use his high school Spanish to order a meal. Eventually the waiter leaned in and said, "Can we do this in English? It will go much quicker."

When speaking to someone who is not a native English speaker, remember to speak slowly and not use big words. In other words, eschew verbosity. Also, do not turn your head. The other person needs to see your lips to help them understand what you are saying. And finally, don't use slang. For example, don't say, "I'm down with that." Rather, a simple, "yes" works better.
As most know, even a feeble attempt to communicate in Spanish will take anyone a long way.
 
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Sixwheeler

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2013
I worked for a French company and it was important that I spoke French in meetings etc. However my French colleagues always wanted to rehearse their English so we had the bizarre situation of each speaking the other's language not particularly well. For European meetings the 'Official' language was French but in reality everyone spoke English.
 
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andarapie

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2021
When I walked the Primitivo, I, with my trusty high school Spanish, had to act as interpreter for Italians and Germans who had no Spanish and wanted to make reservations or ask directions. They had assumed that the Spanish people they encountered would know enough English for them to get by, but the fact is that, in rural areas, most people know only Castilian and/or Galician.

For me, the bigger question is: why would you want to spend weeks walking through another culture without being able to hold a basic conversation with the people you meet? But of course different people walk a camino for different reasons, and exploring culture is not a priority for some.
 

TravellingMan2022

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Norte
When I walked the Primitivo, I, with my trusty high school Spanish, had to act as interpreter for Italians and Germans who had no Spanish and wanted to make reservations or ask directions. They had assumed that the Spanish people they encountered would know enough English for them to get by, but the fact is that, in rural areas, most people know only Castilian and/or Galician.

For me, the bigger question is: why would you want to spend weeks walking through another culture without being able to hold a basic conversation with the people you meet? But of course different people walk a camino for different reasons, and exploring culture is not a priority for some.

I think it’s relatively easy to do a Camino even if you don’t speak Spanish. That said based on a recent study, Spain had the second lowest level of English across EU countries, is 25th across 35 European counties and globally is 33rd of 111 countries so may of that what you will. Galicians have the best level of English in terms of region, with Vigo being the star.
 

Molly Cassidy

Travelling light
Time of past OR future Camino
Starting May 2023 from St Jean Pied de Port
First time on the Frances I spoke very little Spanish and survived. I didn’t go hungry or without a bed. A number of my occasional companions were German and even when it was me in a sole minority they switched to English for my benefit. Ironically the lingua Franca is ingles.

A decade later and after a great deal of effort (Language learning is a job for the adolescent brain really) I’m ‘functionally’ fluent in Spanish. A comfortable B2. You wouldn’t want me defending you in court or completing your tax return; but day-to-day I can communicate well.

I’ve learned Spanish not because it’s necessary for me, but because it’s interesting; it transforms the nature of the relationship I have with native Spanish speakers, and because at my age and being retired one really needs to have an intellectual challenge; IMHO.

A tip: confuse the locals so they’re not 100% sure you’re English (or whatever you are). I’m getting on a bit and I’ve got one of those ‘well used’ faces - rugby, sun, alcohol and being happy I suppose. I don’t dress like an endurance racer in the evening and I typically wear a traditional boina. A Spaniard approaching me doesn’t automatically know what to make of me - this bloke looks English; but he wouldn’t be wearing that hat if he was, I’ll open up in Spanish. When they do and I reply in a not totally unconvincing accent - I can almost see them thinking ‘well, whatever he is he’s not Spanish; but strangely I seem to understand him, I’ll carry on in Spanish …’

I’m so very pleased.
And never order a large beer.
 

Pelegrin

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2019
I think it’s relatively easy to do a Camino even if you don’t speak Spanish. That said based on a recent study, Spain had the second lowest level of English across EU countries, is 25th across 35 European counties and globally is 33rd of 111 countries so may of that what you will. Galicians have the best level of English in terms of region, with Vigo being the star.
second catalans and third basques. Maybe learning a local language helps to learn others. In that study Portugal is 9th.
 
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MaxHelado

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Portugués via Variante Espiritual 2022
second catalans and third basques. Maybe learning a local language helps to learn others. In that study Portugal is 9th.
Surprising and interesting. I wonder if you’re right (about why)?
 

TravellingMan2022

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Norte
Surprising and interesting. I wonder if you’re right (about why)?
Was surprised to see Gran Canaria and Tenerife amongst the lower English speakers given so many UK folks holiday and live here! Then I remembered that’s it mainly folks from the north of England which explained it, and they don’t speak ‘pwopa English’ like is southerners do!
 
Time of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
Was surprised to see Gran Canaria and Tenerife amongst the lower English speakers
Don’t draw wrong conclusions from this index. It does not measure the level of English of a population. It measures the level of English of a self-selected group who took a specific test. See this information about the EF English Proficiency Index:

We recognize that the test-taking population represented in this index is self-selected and is not guaranteed to be representative of the country or region as a whole. Only people who wish to learn English or are curious about their level of English participate in any of these tests. This could skew the scores below or above those of the general population.

In addition, since this test is online, people without Internet access or unaccustomed to online applications are automatically excluded. In countries or regions where Internet use is low, the impact of this exclusion can be expected to be stronger.
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Time of past OR future Camino
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
Language barriers exist, but they are greatly variable. Primarily from which is your native language, which is/are any secondary one(s), and how good you happen to be at languages.

If you're on the major routes in Spain, English usually helps you get by, and in Portugal either French or English. French on the secondary or tertiary routes, English on the major ones.

And in some places out in the sticks in France, you WILL be in trouble with no French.

And one French peregrina I met in Burgos last May on my way to the start of my Stage 4 was in a degree of trouble as she had virtually no Spanish nor English. She was getting by, but with enough day-to-day difficulty that she was considering giving up !!

Though my own personal annoyance nowadays is people insisting on trying to converse using English far worse than my Spanish.

Well, I'll be back in France in a few weeks ...
 
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Antonius Vaessen

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2015-2016 VdlPlata - Sanabres
2016.Primitivo
2017 Salvador
2018 Norte (to Sobrado)
2019 Norte again
I can't speak for @RobertS26 but I can speak for myself: Both personal impression (and that includes walking and dining with groups of Camino pilgrims with different native languages) and actual knowledge tell me that not "virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English". The level of knowledge of English depends not only on age but also on country of education received and on highest level of education obtained and on socio-economic status. Below is an overview from a fairly recent survey by Eurostat (an official agency of the European Union) where statistically representative samples of the population in each countries were asked whether they knew one or more foreign languages (no information about which foreign languages was published but English is likely to be included for the majority).

Pilgrims who don't speak passable English tend to shy away from predominantly English-speaking groups - despite all the lovely anecdotes where the group as a whole may switch language to accommodate a non-speaker or where there are people who do interpretation for him/her.

Some country results surprised me - both because they are better than expected and worse than expected. The yellow and blue markers indicate percentages of the relevant age groups: 24-34 and 35-44. For Spain for example, 60% of the 35-44 year olds said that they knew at least one foreign language and for the younger age group in Spain the percentage is a little higher.
(Click to enlarge)
View attachment 137129
In general I think that it is right that many Dutch people speak and to a higher degree understand English. That probably has partly to do with education in school, English lessons are obligatory. An important factor that knowledge is kept alive is that movies, tvseries, newsitems and so on are not "dubbed" but subtitled.
 

Pelegrin

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2019
In general I think that it is right that many Dutch people speak and to a higher degree understand English. That probably has partly to do with education in school, English lessons are obligatory. An important factor that knowledge is kept alive is that movies, tvseries, newsitems and so on are not "dubbed" but subtitled.
I don't know Dutch but a little German vocabulary and I think that a Germanic language has it easier (lernen, beginnen, trinken, kommen, etc) than a latin one.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
In general I think that it is right that many Dutch people speak and to a higher degree understand English. That probably has partly to do with education in school, English lessons are obligatory. An important factor that knowledge is kept alive is that movies, tvseries, newsitems and so on are not "dubbed" but subtitled.
This and a number of other reasons play a role, such as the size of the domestic market and the importance of foreign markets for a country and in which languages foreign trade is conducted. That is quite different for a country like the Netherlands compared to a country like Spain.

Another reason are the effort and the investment it takes to learn another language and obtain a passable level. The internet says, and it is not a surprise, that - regional languages like Scots and Frisian apart - the closest language to English is Dutch. The linguistic 'distance' between English and Spanish is much larger, hence harder to learn and to reach a reasonable level of competence. It works both ways. Who is easier to understand when someone tells you that the cat sat on the mat, the Dutch guy or the Spanish guy?

De kat zat op de mat.
El gato se sentó en la alfombra.
 
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Antonius Vaessen

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2015-2016 VdlPlata - Sanabres
2016.Primitivo
2017 Salvador
2018 Norte (to Sobrado)
2019 Norte again
I don't know Dutch but a little German vocabulary and I think that a Germanic language has it easier (lernen, beginnen, trinken, kommen, etc) than a latin one.
You are right in this but my experience is that German people are less at ease with speaking English. An important reason is, like I said in my previous post, that they don't hear it it as much in their daily live as everything on television or in cinemas is dubbed. In the Netherlands we not only hear English a lot but the meaning is also provided in the subtitles. Dubbing of course has its advantages, but this effect of using subtitles is an advantage of its own.
 
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FireDragon

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
April 2023
Growing up we lived in Europe for while and my parents spoke no language other than English. They relied on me to help them with basic questions and directions. I was only 7 and was learning German at school. Years later, I took German in high school and at the university and when I was deployed to Germany in the early 2000's my experience was this: although many Germans could speak English, they often commented that I could not possibly be American as no Americans ever bothered to learn German even if they were there several years. I have felt it my duty to represent my country by trying not to portray the stereotype that those from the US do not think that learning another language is important.

When we first walked the Camino in 2016, I had spent a year studying on Duo Lingo. It was hardly enough, but we got by. My husband learned NO Spanish before we went and wished that he could converse with people. Over the years now, we've studied in Spain for several weeks a few times and we have a weekly Spanish lesson together here at home through a school.

Our progress is painfully slow, but we are determined to speak and understand well enough to have meaningful conversations with Spaniards beyond ordering food or booking a room. As a hospitalero, I am able to check people into the albergue and explain guidelines and resources now in 3 languages (English, Spanish, and even German although my formal study was 40 years ago). I am able to have simple conversations on the phone and I also still rely heavily on Google Translate for pilgrims from France, Korea, Russia, Italy, etc.

It is a personal decision to try to learn another language because I want to be accepted as more than a tourist and pilgrim. Each person must make their own decision in that regard, but my husband has had several interesting experiences that happened by not knowing the language very well. He's taken the wrong bus or train more than once and thank goodness for the school-aged daughters and grandchildren of proprietors who are often called in to translate just as I once was when he is at the market.
I wish there were more people like you wishing to learn a language other than your native tongue…besides being able to converse with others, you learn more about other cultures.
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
1989
While "do you need to speak Spanish" and "do they speak English" are related, they are not necessarily the same thing (especially not for those who don't speak English, who, admittedly, are unlikely to be reading this thread). It seems to me that, assuming we are talking about an English-speaking pilgrim:
  • On the more popular routes and in the larger towns, there is a decent chance of finding someone who speaks English. Perhaps that person can meet your needs; perhaps they can translate for you with someone else who can meet your needs. Chances are there will be a number of people who won't speak English, but people in the first category will make it not too difficult at all to get by.
  • On the less popular routes in rural Spain it is still possible to find places where nobody speaks English. That doesn't mean that you will starve or sleep in the streets. When necessary, people do have an amazing ability to make themselves understood without spoken or written language. You may not be able to communicate the finer points or culture or politics or philosophy, but you will find that you can communicate your need to find a place to eat, sleep, or use the washroom.
  • Of course, for those who bring and use technology, there is always Google Translate, which, when not useful is at least amusing.
  • In all cases, not needing to speak Spanish doesn't equate with it not being advisable to learn some Spanish.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
May, 2023
A question: Just a matter of semantics, really. While working on my Spanish (in duolingo), one of the phrases I'm being taught is "desculpe"- as in "Desculpe, Tu Habla Ingles?". Then, while looking at another site, it showed that desculpe more meant "Can I have your attention?" and, pardon me would be "Perdóname".
I could imagine, in every day Spanish, me saying "Can I have your attention?" might sound rude. I'd hope for forgiveness... but, as a simple curiosity, walking up to the counter, would it be friendlier to say "perdoname" than "Desculpe"...
 

C clearly

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Most years since 2012
as a simple curiosity, walking up to the counter, would it be friendlier to say "perdoname" than "Desculpe"...
Either should be fine. For comparison, in English, some people say "Excuse me" and some say "Pardon me". In both cases they are just polite ways to get your attention and preface a request they are about to make.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
I believe the difference in usage is more like Desculpe - Excuse me (for asking for some of your time, diverting your attention but you dropped this, etc) and Perdóname - Pardon me (for bumping into you, getting in your way, etc).

I hope I'm corrected if wrong.
 
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trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
A question: Just a matter of semantics, really. While working on my Spanish (in duolingo), one of the phrases I'm being taught is "desculpe"- as in "Desculpe, Tu Habla Ingles?". Then, while looking at another site, it showed that desculpe more meant "Can I have your attention?" and, pardon me would be "Perdóname".
I could imagine, in every day Spanish, me saying "Can I have your attention?" might sound rude. I'd hope for forgiveness... but, as a simple curiosity, walking up to the counter, would it be friendlier to say "perdoname" than "Desculpe"...
Here's an article that should be useful:

 

henrythedog

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
My affair
A question: Just a matter of semantics, really. While working on my Spanish (in duolingo), one of the phrases I'm being taught is "desculpe"- as in "Desculpe, Tu Habla Ingles?". Then, while looking at another site, it showed that desculpe more meant "Can I have your attention?" and, pardon me would be "Perdóname".
I could imagine, in every day Spanish, me saying "Can I have your attention?" might sound rude. I'd hope for forgiveness... but, as a simple curiosity, walking up to the counter, would it be friendlier to say "perdoname" than "Desculpe"...

I’d say ¿discúlpame, hablas inglés? or ?¿perdóname, hablas inglés? are interchangeable and both perfectly polite.
 

henrythedog

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
My affair
Please remember that Spanish is spoken in many countries and its usage is a bit different in all.
A very good point indeed. If you’re learning specifically for use in Spain, clearly it’s Castilian you want. A number of US resources I’ve looked at in the past are Mexican Spanish, but just described as ‘Spanish’.

Using the incorrect second person plural pronouns would still be understandable, but a Spaniard asking where they might catch (coger) a ‘bus in Mexico would get some funny looks.

There are often multiple different ways of saying the same - or very similar - things in Spanish (two directly interchangeable imperfect subjunctives anyone?) - it’s best to keep it simple to start with.

The Spanish - especially younger ones - use many contractions and shortenings; loads of colloquial and regional words and a surprising number of mild and quite creative obscenities in daily conversation.
 
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C clearly

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Most years since 2012
Using the incorrect second person plural pronouns would still be understandable, but a Spaniard asking where they might catch (coger) a ‘bus in Mexico would get some funny looks.
I think that this possible problem in usage is exaggerated by the Spanish learners who are being taught all the possible ways they might go wrong. Oddly, I learned the verb "coger" in Venezuela many many years ago and thought nothing of it. I only heard about its other implication from this forum! Maybe I was ignorant then, or unknowingly foul-mouthed, but maybe it has become more of a "thing" that it should.

In English, a classroom of 13-year-olds might snicker and titter when someone uses certain words that are actually completely appropriate in context.
 

FireDragon

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
April 2023
A very good point indeed. If you’re learning specifically for use in Spain, clearly it’s Castilian you want. A number of US resources I’ve looked at in the past are Mexican Spanish, but just described as ‘Spanish’.

Using the incorrect second person plural pronouns would still be understandable, but a Spaniard asking where they might catch (coger) a ‘bus in Mexico would get some funny looks.

There are often multiple different ways of saying the same - or very similar - things in Spanish (two directly interchangeable imperfect subjunctives anyone?) - it’s best to keep it simple to start with.

The Spanish - especially younger ones - use many contractions and shortenings; loads of colloquial and regional words and a surprising number of mild and quite creative obscenities in daily conversation.
i learned »the real Spanish » from two youngsters…with a twist of Mexican Spanish that many Madrilenos didn’t often understand. it was sometimes a hoot.
 

henrythedog

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
My affair
I think that this possible problem in usage is exaggerated by the Spanish learners who are being taught all the possible ways they might go wrong. Oddly, I learned the verb "coger" in Venezuela many many years ago and thought nothing of it. I only heard about its other implication from this forum! Maybe I was ignorant then, or unknowingly foul-mouthed, but maybe it has become more of a "thing" that it should.

In English, a classroom of 13-year-olds might snicker and titter when someone uses certain words that are actually completely appropriate in context.
I agree entirely. A peregrinos basic needs around greetings, transport, food and accommodation can probably be covered in a couple of dozen plug-and-play sentences which would be understood perfectly well in any Spanish speaking country.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
May, 2023
Here's an article that should be useful:

Thanks. It was very helpful. BUt, I didn't really need another way to say excuse me (con permiso). I'll have to remember to begin every sentence with "Lo siento" (I'm sorry) and get it out of the way... as in "I apologize in advance for what I'm about to do to your language"
Thanks, again.
 

Kiwi-d

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances Sep/Oct 2014
When I walked the Camino Frances I rarely stayed at the 'Brierley stops', staying in the small villages instead. I sometimes phoned ahead in the morning to book accommodation for the night, and often seemed to strike elderly non-English speakers answering the phone. (My guess family members or helpers). In my very incorrect and broken Spanish I would ask to book a bed for the night, and eventually we would seem to come to an agreement. This was always followed by a flow of dialogue in Spanish, of which I understood not a word, but using common sense guessed it was probably to the effect I must be there by a certain hour or the bed would not be held for me. I would respond vale, vale and everybody seemed happy. I never had a problem, the bed booking was always fine.
 
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May, 2023
I actually don't foresee any problems, at all, in this regard. There's a few things that I want to make sure I can communicate, such as asking permission to sleep in my tent. These, I'll write down. I will carry a book of translation to help. But, having traveled in quite a few places where I didn't speak the language, I learned that making the attempt goes a long way...
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
1989
A question: Just a matter of semantics, really. While working on my Spanish (in duolingo), one of the phrases I'm being taught is "desculpe"- as in "Desculpe, Tu Habla Ingles?". Then, while looking at another site, it showed that desculpe more meant "Can I have your attention?" and, pardon me would be "Perdóname".
I could imagine, in every day Spanish, me saying "Can I have your attention?" might sound rude. I'd hope for forgiveness... but, as a simple curiosity, walking up to the counter, would it be friendlier to say "perdoname" than "Desculpe"...
I always thought of desculpe as more of "excuse me" and perdóname (or just perdón) as more of "pardon me". We say "excuse me" all the time to get people's attention without it seeming rude (I hope).
 
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C clearly

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Most years since 2012
Use whichever one flows off your tongue most easily. We could have the same unresolved debate about the English word..

Just for the record, it is "disculpar" in Spanish. (Google says "desculpar" in Portuguese.)
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
Trying to simplify my earlier post I would use desculpe for minor inconveniences like asking someone to step away to allow you to pass through a line and perdóname for minor transgressions like bumping into someone. I would use it also for more than minor inconveniences like asking for help filling out a form.

Edit: Written while @peregrina2000 was posting her permiso post. That sounds right.
 
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May, 2023
I always thought of desculpe as more of "excuse me" and perdóname (or just perdón) as more of "pardon me". We say "excuse me" all the time to get people's attention without it seeming rude (I hope).
My hope, as well. I hope a smile and a bit of simple courtesy will make up for my linguistical challenges. AS someone has already pointed out, I'll keep it simple, try to follow the customs I see and always remember to smile.
I won't be fluent in Spanish, by May. But, I hope to have those key phrases I know I'll use down. One big one being "¿puede hablar más despacio, por favor?"
I've always envied those people to whom languages seem to come easy. It never has, for me. Add to this the fact that I'm hard of hearing (hope to have my hearing aid before I travel) and I really struggle.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
2022
I have a little Spanish and found it made for a much richer Camino experience. This was more in relation to speaking with people in the small villages we passed through, most of whom had little or no English. We had exchanges and got insights that would not have been possible without some Spanish. I agree that many of our fellow pilgrims were either native speakers or had a reasonable command of the language.
*THIS* -- I can barely understand the point of travelling across the world to jump into a conga line of people who speak my own language, grab the rope and shuffle along with them from one standard pilgrim meal to the next without paying attention to the surroundings (people. art, music, architecture...). My in-laws travel in monolingual groups on "sight-seeing tours" around the world, and yet they have learned almost nothing and come back with little more than "this was pretty" or "the food was terrible, so foreign!". What is the point? There are so many easier ways to fail to engage with the distant locale than to go there and ignore it.
I was always able to learn by reading in Spanish, Catallan, Gallago or Portuguese because the cross-overs with French are strong enough on paper. By the end of my second camino I was brave enough to start conversing with locals in Castilian -- which they understand to be a 'not bad effort' on my part given that I am not from the Peninsula. Spanish was the only common language I had with two Polish pilgrims most recently, and I was delighted to have a 15 minute chat with my taxi driver from the San Martin Pinario out to the airport (he was delighted to hear that I hope to retire soon to NW Spain, but he himself is set on Tenerife because he has had enough of the rain!).
Do I get better treatment by speakign in Spanish? No... I do not think so. I find people across Spain and Portugal to be wildly generous on the whole. But I do think that my world is enriched for being able to engage with the local people, to be able to ask for more description of a menu item (even its history...) rather than just tromp through.
 

trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
Just one more random comment — on the metro or bus in Spain, I inevitably here “permiso” or “con permiso” when people are trying to get through. Maybe it’s an “anticipatory” request rather than saying sorry, and perdón and disculpe are more after you’ve bumped into someone.
I read that permiso is used in crowds and places like the bus where you are trying to get through.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
May, 2023
My hope, as well. I hope a smile and a bit of simple courtesy will make up for my linguistical challenges. AS someone has already pointed out, I'll keep it simple, try to follow the customs I see and always remember to smile.
I won't be fluent in Spanish, by May. But, I hope to have those key phrases I know I'll use down. One big one being "¿puede hablar más despacio, por favor?"
I've always envied those people to whom languages seem to come easy. It never has, for me. Add to this the fact that I'm hard of hearing (hope to have my hearing aid before I travel) and I really struggle.
I thought of this thread during my walk yesterday. I hope there aren't many that let lack of speaking Spanish stop them from their adventure. I will struggle with the language. I have stories of my time in Germany and the funny things that happened as I tried to learn the language. They are more of the spices that give flavor to my memories.
I also thought that while I may struggle, while I may have difficulty understanding, I can hear. While I may have trouble making myself understood, I can speak. And, yes, there is something from a book by my favorite author:
Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.
 
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jeanineonthecamino

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances 2021, 2022
There are lots of posts about the language barrier, but it seems they get mostly advice on learning or coping. Few (seemed to me) mentioned that there really isn't one.
I think most who give advice on "learning" do know that the language barrier issue isn't usually a big problem. The advice is given because it is a sign of respect that you are at least willing to attempt to speak the local language. I have tried to learn a little Spanish off and on for years - and for the most part - it doesn't stick. I still make attempts to speak a little Spanish when I can. I also encourage others to do the same. At least TRY. But I also understand learning a second language is not easy for everyone - I live 45 miles from the Mexican border - and I still struggle a lot despite having ample opportunity to practice (they speak to fast for my slow brain to process).

Advice about coping with a language barrier is really helpful to those who are worried. Yes - lots of people speak English as their primary language, and English is a common second language amongst pilgrims. That said - some people speak neither Spanish NOR English. And there isn't always someone around to help translate. So - yes - I reassure people that language barrier isn't a big issue if you speak English. But I also encourage others to try to learn at least some basic phrases and I also advise strategies to cope when you are struggling to cope to communicate. I had quite a few times I struggled to communicate. Of course - there was also the time that I was able to teach a Spanish speaking only person how to use the washing/drying machines - that was interesting. And then there were the times when local Spanish residents had full many minute conversations to me despite me trying to tell them (in Spanish) that I don't understand Spanish ;)
 
Time of past OR future Camino
May, 2023
I think most who give advice on "learning" do know that the language barrier issue isn't usually a big problem. The advice is given because it is a sign of respect that you are at least willing to attempt to speak the local language. I have tried to learn a little Spanish off and on for years - and for the most part - it doesn't stick. I still make attempts to speak a little Spanish when I can. I also encourage others to do the same. At least TRY. But I also understand learning a second language is not easy for everyone - I live 45 miles from the Mexican border - and I still struggle a lot despite having ample opportunity to practice (they speak to fast for my slow brain to process).

Advice about coping with a language barrier is really helpful to those who are worried. Yes - lots of people speak English as their primary language, and English is a common second language amongst pilgrims. That said - some people speak neither Spanish NOR English. And there isn't always someone around to help translate. So - yes - I reassure people that language barrier isn't a big issue if you speak English. But I also encourage others to try to learn at least some basic phrases and I also advise strategies to cope when you are struggling to cope to communicate. I had quite a few times I struggled to communicate. Of course - there was also the time that I was able to teach a Spanish speaking only person how to use the washing/drying machines - that was interesting. And then there were the times when local Spanish residents had full many minute conversations to me despite me trying to tell them (in Spanish) that I don't understand Spanish ;)
I'm like you in that it doesn't seem to stick. There's lots of classes on offer...on line and at the library. But, being in regional Australia, there's little chance to practice it, day to day.
For me... and the reason I brought up the word "Decuple" and how it should be used, I find it easier if I make it memorable. After the many posts in that thread, I might not remember the differences, but, I'll remember the word and what it means and, when I need it, I believe it'll be stuck there.
I foresee getting a LOT of use out of "Los puedes decir mas lento" (can you say that slower?) and "Me lopudes repetir, por favor?" (Would you repeat that, please?)
 

Ivan_Prada

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Francés-(septiembre 2018)
Portugués-(en planes)??
Hello fellow pilgrims:

While reading this thread, noticed some confusion on addressing the different ways to say sorry in Spanish/Castellano. Attached you will find a video from a popular blogger that explains the situations. I’m sorry that it in Spanish/Castellano; but, she she makes the presentation at a reasonable speed. I’m sorry is not in English (me disculpo que no sea en inglés.)

A word of advice; the only way you can learn a language is by exposing yourself to it with open mind to learn it, at least the basics. For your practice, you can search for movies in the language you are learning. Turn on the captions in English and give it a try. I’m sure, that after some time, your understanding will improve.


 

pepi

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Last: Sept 2022
next 🤷
I can't speak for @RobertS26 but I can speak for myself: Both personal impression (and that includes walking and dining with groups of Camino pilgrims with different native languages) and actual knowledge tell me that not "virtually everyone in Europe under the age of 45 speaks passable English". The level of knowledge of English depends not only on age but also on country of education received and on highest level of education obtained and on socio-economic status. Below is an overview from a fairly recent survey by Eurostat (an official agency of the European Union) where statistically representative samples of the population in each countries were asked whether they knew one or more foreign languages (no information about which foreign languages was published but English is likely to be included for the majority).

Pilgrims who don't speak passable English tend to shy away from predominantly English-speaking groups - despite all the lovely anecdotes where the group as a whole may switch language to accommodate a non-speaker or where there are people who do interpretation for him/her.

Some country results surprised me - both because they are better than expected and worse than expected. The yellow and blue markers indicate percentages of the relevant age groups: 24-34 and 35-44. For Spain for example, 60% of the 35-44 year olds said that they knew at least one foreign language and for the younger age group in Spain the percentage is a little higher.
(Click to enlarge)
View attachment 137129
Interesting stats; but "knowing one or more foreign languages" does not mean, that such is English!
 
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Interesting stats; but "knowing one or more foreign languages" does not mean, that such is English!
Of course not. As it says in the quoted post: where statistically representative samples of the population in each countries were asked whether they knew one or more foreign languages (no information about which foreign languages was published but English is likely to be included for the majority).

Also, I did not link to the statistics to point out how many people know English. The context of the post was the initial claim that nearly everyone younger than 45 years knows English. The statistics show the percentage of people in Spain and other European countries by age group who don’t know any foreign language at all, ergo they don’t know English and that includes the younger age groups, and the initial claim is proved to be wrong. People belonging to older age groups and coming from Eastern EU countries are more likely to know Russian instead of English as their first or only foreign language. Also, I did not check how “foreign language” is defined in countries with official multilingual status on the national or regional level, often a thorny political issue.

The purpose of the comment was about not knowing a foreign language at all. In long threads, the context of a comment often gets lost.
 
Last edited:

WGroleau

Wandering Weirdo
Time of past OR future Camino
2015 & 2016 (partial)
That's when Google Translate comes to the rescue.
But never trust machine translation for anything important. That said, Google is by far better than Bing (which Facebook unfortunately uses). But https://DeepL.com is usually better than Google.

I have seen Google add or remove a negative to make the meaning completely opposite. I was once asked to proofread a Spanish document. Was very puzzled by a heading "Extreme Mutation" for a paragraph about bicycles and skateboards. Finally I remembered that "sport" is a term in biology for "mutation." The document had been translated by a scientific version of some translation program!
 

Pelegrin

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2019
Totally out of the OP but now that we are in the middle of the Qatar championship and the Spanish followers could sing "alirón España es campeón", very few people in Spain know that the "racial" word "alirón" comes from English "all iron". When a good iron vein was discovered in the mines near Bilbao, the English man in charge sent a telegramm to headquarters with these words included.
Also, the word "guaje" that is an informal but very popular word for boy/kid in Asturias, comes from English "wages", because they earned wages (not salaries) when working in the coal mines.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
2022
Totally out of the OP but now that we are in the middle of the Qatar championship and the Spanish followers could sing "alirón España es campeón", very few people in Spain know that the "racial" word "alirón" comes from English "all iron". When a good iron vein was discovered in the mines near Bilbao, the English man in charge sent a telegramm to headquarters with these words included.
Also, the word "guaje" that is an informal but very popular word for boy/kid in Asturias, comes from English "wages", because they earned wages (not salaries) when working in the coal mines.
In the context of Spain being the champion, what does this modifier signal? Does “alirón” here mean to signal some kind of “purity” of the players? I’m not “getting it”.
 

Pelegrin

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2019
Alirón
In the context of Spain being the champion, what does this modifier signal? Does “alirón” here mean to signal some kind of “purity” of the players? I’m not “getting it”.
It is just to make a ryme. "Alirón España es Campeón!!". And nobody knows what Alirón means.
Initially, started in Bilbao to its team the Athletic for the reason I explained before. And is there where it is still more used
But it is also used by other Spanish team followers including "la selección".
 
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trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
Alirón

It is just to make a ryme. "Alirón España es Campeón!!". And nobody knows what Alirón means.
Initially, started in Bilbao to its team the Athletic for the reason I explained before. And is there where it is still more used
But it is also used by other Spanish team followers including "la selección".
More about the term here
 
Time of past OR future Camino
May, 2023
Unexpected gifts.
Until I started preparing for My Camino and practicing my Spanish, I'd forgotten how much I love Spanish and just how beautiful the language is. No surprise it is one of the romance languages. As a lover of poetry, I can't help but fall in love, all over again, with the way certain phrases just taste on my tongue:
Como lluuvia freca en mis manos

Sure, you can tell someone they have a beautiful voice. But, to say it as:
Como una guitara en la noche
just sounds delicious.

Yesterday, while walking my training walk, I paused as the sun broke the plane of the far mountains and I thought of so many different ways I might express how it made me feel. Then, today, while practicing my Spanish, I found the perfect, simple, beautiful expression:
Como una sonrisa... hermosa una sonrisa

Never let fear rob you of the what life offers...
 

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