Do I need to speak Spanish to walk the Camino?
It would be very arrogant for any future pilgrim to expect the people of Spain to speak English. Yes, in the big towns and larger villages, you will often be greeted in English (the Spanish can spot us a mile off!), but in the smaller villages and quiet little churches, there is very little English spoken or understood.
I have found that a good basic knowledge of Spanish is essential if you are seeking a true experience on the Camino. If you are walking the Camino Frances route then you will soon pick up the lingo over the next five weeks.
So what are the basics?
- Manners - learn words such as please, thank you, etc
- Drink (especially words such as beer, wine, coffee, black tea, lemon beer).
- Food - although you will find that many pilgrim meals are presented to you in an image format (ie: picture menus), it is extremely handy to know how to ask for items such as bread, apples, butter (they never give you butter unless you ask for it), and your favourite meals.
- Words that are pilgrim related. Such as Peregrino (pilgrim), Credential (passport), Stamp (sello)
- Hostel/hotel: learn the word for bunk bed, private room, bathroom, toilet.
- Transport: train station, bus, ticket
- Numbers - if you can learn your numbers up to 10 then you can probably get by.
I would urge everyone to download the awesome Google translate application. It is user-friendly and has proven invaluable on many occasions. Some people may consider using this app as cheating, but google translate is fantastic and you can have some good fun with it.
I have Google Translate it to give directions to a taxi driver, to order bus tickets, to arrange a pizza delivery, and I once had a long conversation in complete Spanish with a hostelier who wanted to learn better English. I have spoken with people from Korea, France and even Isreal using this app. I would never travel to Spain without it.
Apps to help you learn the lingo
I expect that you can not beat joining a proper Spanish class, however, if you are a little time-starved then try out one of the many applications available in the app stores. I have personally used two language apps. Dedicating time to learn a new language is a commitment and these apps give you a daily dose of Spanish starting at just 10 minutes a day. It is amazing how much you can pick up in that time.
Duo-Lingo is a popular app. I loved it until I lost my streaks. You are awarded a point for every day you complete a Spanish lesson but, if you miss a day, then your points go back to zero. I was on day 87 and for some reason, I missed a day and lost all my points. I know it is crazy and the points do not mean anything, but I found it rather demotivating at the time.
Memrise - A fellow pilgrim recommended this app and I found it easy to use and the best of all the Spanish language apps. I dip in and out as I get nearer to a forthcoming Camino trip!
There are lots of apps out there if you are keen on learning Spanish before your trip. I read these twelve Spanish learning apps on this blog which was quite an eye-opener as to how many options there are.
The bottom line is that you really do not need to learn Spanish, and I am sure in the future we will all be wearing some sort of instant translation widget in our ears! But, making the effort to learn the lingo will certainly enhance your Camino experience and that can only be a good thing!