Spanish has always been one of the most popular languages to learn amongst English speakers looking to augment their linguistic skills, with a whole host of factors suggesting that it is a sensible choice.
The most obvious reason for learning to speak Spanish is that it is one of the most commonly understood languages on the planet. Trailing behind only Mandarin, Hindi and English, over 400 million people are fluent in the language. Indeed, when one considers how many native speakers of the language there are, it actually overtakes English in popularity. It is the official language in areas across four continents, and is the native tongue of twenty one countries in total.
The common use of the language across the world means that learning to speak Spanish can make foreign trips substantially more enjoyable. Whilst it is true that English is often spoken as a second language in many European and Latin American countries, it is difficult to throw off the experience of being a tourist if you cannot communicate with people fluently. Even if you know only a few phrases, you will find that people will become much more open, as well as being visibly appreciative of the effort that you have made. Being able to converse with others can lead to a real understanding of different cultures and traditions.
Learning to speak Spanish can also have significantly positive effects on your personal finances. Employees with fluency in the language are highly prized by companies, not just for the possibilities it may open up for international business, but also because many people within Western countries communicate best in Spanish. In the USA, for example, the Hispanic population is rising fast and has already reached 35 million people. The ability to master another language also generally demonstrates intellectual curiosity and determination, both of which are highly prized qualities on the part of recruiters.
Of course, as with any major world language, Spanish has a number of different dialects. Fortunately, the differences between them are no more significant than those between British and American English. Whilst changes in pronunciation do exist, the only real risk of speaking a dialect in the ‘wrong’ region is of being thought to be slightly too formal or informal. However, there are a few vocabulary pitfalls to watch out for. For example, if you learn nothing else, be aware that the verb ‘coger’ (to catch) is fine to use in Spain, but is much more offensive in Latin America.
In the past, learning to speak Spanish required the services of a dedicated teacher, and was sometimes difficult to fit into a busy schedule. With the advent of the Internet, however, it is now possible to learn the language online through services such as Babbel. Such courses build up vocabulary and basic grammar through practice and interactive games, and can provide an excellent foundation in the language. Ultimately, however, once you have gained such a foundation, the best way to learn is to visit a Spanish speaking country, and get talking!