By Ivo Henfling
This picture got your attention, didn't it? Well, that's what I needed because when I start talking about learning Spanish, most people don't pay attention.
Imagine, you get stopped in your home town by a Latin, asking in Spanish where the grocery store is located. What would you say?
Most would answer “why don’t you learn English”? Am I right or wrong?
The other day I saw a gringo in Escazu get mad at a Tico and shout at him in English. The poor sucker didn’t have a clue what the gringo was shouting at him. The Tico just turned around and walked away. This in turn made the gringo even madder. I enjoyed the scene from my car.
Most expats and even more retirees who move to Costa Rica expect the locals to speak English. Many locals do, but they have no obligation unless you are a tourist.
I know people who have lived here for many years and they don’t even try to speak Spanish. When you go to a restaurant in Jaco Beach you can expect the waiter to speak English because most people who visit Jaco Beach are tourists.
If you go to a fancy restaurant in Escazu, you might find the owner or a waiter who speaks English. But when you go to the farmer’s market in Atenas to buy fruits and vegetables or you buy meat in the central market of Grecia you need to speak Spanish, or at least try to. if you are a legal resident it is a matter of having respect for the locals and it makes living in Costa Rica so much easier for you.
Children learn a language is no time. I grew up with three languages and learning the fourth was pretty easy. But if you grow up with only English and you’re over 50 years old, it is not so easy to learn a new language. But the Ticos are proud people and they like it when you try to speak their language and show some respect. Sign language also helps a bit.
If you learn one word a day, in one year’s time you will speak 365 words. I know many foreigners who have been living in Costa Rica for many years and don’t speak 50 words of Spanish. It is all about making an effort. No need to become fluent, but please try. If you make the move to Costa Rica and you want to adjust to your new country, you should also try to learn the language. Take some private Spanish classes or some immersion classes, at least learn the basics.
There are many language schools in Costa Rica and even more private teachers. Learning Spanish will help tremendously to get you going. A good friend who thought he would never learn went to Peru and lived with a Peruvian family for a month now speaks very good Spanish and the Ticos love him for it.
Shopping in Spanish is a good start. Look at the labels and purchase the locally made groceries; it is much cheaper than the North American products. Imported products pay a lot of import taxes. You should also try to speak Spanish with your housekeeper.
Don’t try to teach her English, there is no reason she should learn. Practice Spanish as much as you can. You are a guest in a Spanish spoken country, so you should learn Spanish. Please do and I'm sure you'll have a happy life.