As long-distance travel becomes more commonplace and international boundaries are broken down, more people than ever are deciding it is time to learn a foreign language. Which language you learn will depend on any existing knowledge you have, your future intentions for using the language and, to a large extent, which one takes your fancy.
Spanish has grown to become one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and its use is far from restricted to Spain. In fact there are any estimated 328.5 million native Spanish speakers in the world today and many millions more who speak it competently as a second or additional language.
So if you are thinking of learning or improving your Spanish, what is the best way to go about it? The ideal is to adopt an approach of total immersion – to spend time in a Spanish-speaking country, surrounded by people who conduct their everyday lives in Spanish. Traditionally students headed to Spain to learn the language during their gap year or as part of their university studies, either on a full-time degree, masters or part of an ERASMUS or other exchange scheme. But these days there are many more options besides and South America is an increasingly enticing proposition.
Whether you are on a gap year, a student or recent graduate, taking a sabbatical or even a retiree looking for fun, adventure and another linguistic string to your bow, learning Spanish in South America is sure to tick the right boxes.
Language-learning options range from one-to-one lessons with locals (who may or may not be formally qualified), formal lessons in a language school, or university studies at diploma, undergraduate or graduate level. It is vital that you do plenty of research before you make your decision, both to determine the type of study that fits your needs and to ensure you make the right choice of location.
South America is a vast continent, separated into countries that are largely grouped together by dint of the fact that they share the same landmass and language rather than the fact that they are all culturally similar (consider the differences between Germany, Italy and Poland, for example!). The northern countries such as Venezuela and Colombia have a strong Caribbean influence, which permeates their culture. Move south and you enter the former land of the Incas, countries such as Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia where the native South American Indian culture is still evident in every aspect of day-to-day life. By contrast, the southern countries of Chile, Uruguay and Argentina have a strong European influence, evident in their music, their architecture and their overall approach to life.
Research your destinations carefully and try to understand what it is that you are looking for to be sure you make the best match. Do consider, also, whether you are looking to be surrounded by a large ex-pat population or would prefer to be absorbed into the everyday life of the inhabitants of a remote Andean village. Whichever you choose, there is no doubt that you will return not just able to speak Spanish but entranced by the magic of this beguiling continent.