Spanish for Surfers: A Babbel User’s Journey in South America

Babbel catches up with Berlin-based surfer Christian Reiher to learn about his experience learning Spanish before a big trip!
Christian mit seinem Surfboard am Strand

Christian Reiher (34) lives in Berlin and is a mathematician – and a passionate surfer. Since he started with the sport as a teen in England, he’s been hooked. Christian can often be found at his Berlin surf club, Surfer’s Connection Berlin, or at surf spots around the world. Recently he was in Central and South America for several months. Before the trip, he got a tip from another surfer from Surfer’s Connection to try out Babbel. And so, using the app before and during his trip, he learned Spanish!

Christian spent most of his time in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where the surfing was the best. “At first there was a plan, but that eventually got tossed out,” he says about his trip. He ended up just going with the flow— traveling to Ecuador and Peru, to Columbia and Bolivia as a surfer, a surfing instructor and, sometimes, simply a backpacker.

Christian had already begun to develop his Spanish before his journey and not just because he knew he would need some Spanish to get by, but so he could actually pick it up and get fluent as fast as possible. “I think it’s a shame that so many people travel to another country without studying the language,” Christian says. “You cut yourself off from so many possibilities and experiences if you don’t at least learn a few words in the native language.” He got started with Spanish in two beginners’ courses at college, then he continued learning with Babbel.

“Learning languages isn’t particularly easy for me,” Christian explains. “Learning new words can be hard,” and simply picking up a language only works depending on the situation and works very differently from a language course. At the beginning of his trip, understanding fast-speaking natives was often a challenge. This is where Christian found Babbel particularly helpful. You always have your phone with you to look up maps and listen to music, and in the same way, you can use Babbel as a go-to aid for understanding everyday conversations.

His favorite time to use Babbel? The long train rides from one destination to another. “It was especially helpful for me that Babbel trains all the necessary skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking,” Christian explains. “I used the app whenever I wanted to learn something in a structured way like, for example, to learn how to tell time or for building vocabulary.”

Although Christian doesn’t consider himself a great language-learner, he got along well in the Spanish-speaking countries he traveled to. His trick is super easy: He makes an effort to speak. It is possible to express yourself even with a relatively small vocabulary – and the native speakers love it when people make an effort to speak their language. Simple vocabulary, like “mostrar” (“show”) or “salir / partir” (“leave” or “drive off”), help with everyday orientation, as in “Can you show me the room?”

And so Christian’s ability to communicate got better and better. Somewhere on his trip, he was travelling with eight people in a minibus. During the ride, he got to know the person sitting next to him and struck up a conversation. He was happy how much the guy shared with him – about his work in construction, about his young daughter who loves to dance, and about the dangers of the Chikungunya virus. “For me, that was a small victory,” says Christian – because at that moment it was clear he was able to hold a more-than-an-hour-long conversation in Spanish.