Once you go English, you can’t go back

Learning Spanish opens the gates of communication to more than a billion new people. And some of the biggest dreams we have about learning Spanish for travel involve making close friendships and relationships in Spanish.

But realizing these dreams is not just about working hard to get better at Spanish. It’s also about being strong enough mentally to taking resist the easy route – by which I mean the temptation to just speak English. You’re going to find that even in the most exotic Latin American countries there are people with the ability to speak English. This can give you a dilemma. Do you speak Spanish or English with your new contact? On the one hand you came here to speak Spanish, but on the other hand you need friends. And it’s going to be way easier for you to just speak English.

Friendships and relationships in Spanish are a critical resource in your journey to fluency. And from my experience, you’ll return home with great regrets if you don’t make some effort to maintain some of these.

We’ve already discussed how your greatest enemy is English, and this probably the area in which it rears its ugly head the most. One of the most important messages of Gringo Academy is that it’s not enough to simply head abroad and expect your Spanish to improve. You have to take control of the situation and make it happen. And sometimes, in this English-dominated world, you have to fight for your opportunity to speak Spanish. Even if it seems to be holdig you back in the short-term.

Let’s talk about why.


One language quickly takes over

Any relationships you create in your new country of choice will fall into any one of these three communicative categories:

  • You speak predominantly English. This is when you are found to be less able in Spanish than your friend is in English. It’s therefore just easier if you speak English together.
  • You will speak predominantly Spanish. This is when your friend has greater difficulty with English than you have with Spanish, and thus it’s easier if you speak Spanish.
  • You speak both languages on a roughly 50-50 basis. This is rare when either of you is a beginner. It usually only happens when both of you speak the second language well, or in cases where your understanding of a language and your ability to speak it are greatly disproportionate.

Without your intervention, one language will take over very quickly – usually within minutes.  And this will dictate the future of your relationship with this person forever.


Fight the temptation of English

Although it’s much easier for you to develop a friendship or relationship in English, it’s also less productive and less rewarding.

You chose this experience in order to learn, and by maintaining friendships in Spanish you will learn the language much faster. You’ve actually no idea how valuable these relationships are to you on your path to fluency. Not only do they allow you to practice speaking the language regularly, they also allow you to break the mold of small talk and discussing the same topics over and over again. You will break new ground, finding yourself more regularly in emotionally charged situations.  It’s in these conditions that you learn most effectively.

It also just feels better to have a friendship in another language and boosts your confidence. By allowing your relationships to slip into English, you are throwing in the towel before you’ve even begun. You are passing up an incredible opportunity to feel accomplished and proud of yourself.


Once you give up, you can’t go back

As soon as your relationship becomes dominated by English it becomes very difficult to go back. This is because you are both comfortable with the pace at which the relationship has been developing in English, and by suddenly re-introducing Spanish you are only throwing a spanner into the works. If you maintain it in Spanish from the beginning it will develop at a slower pace, but this will seem normal rather than frustrating.

Another issue is that when you re-introduce Spanish, you will be more self-conscious about speaking it. You will naturally feel more uncomfortable with the idea of struggling to communicate around a person that you have developed such fluid communication with in English.

A girl I dated in Argentina did not reveal that she spoke English until halfway through our second date. She doubted her abilities and felt embarrassed to speak English, but ultimately she was better in English than I was in Spanish. Upon this revelation I completely surrendered my efforts to speak Spanish, because it was just easier this way. Four or five weeks later when we were still seeing each other, she told me it felt “weird” to hear me speak Spanish. This alone was a sign that I had wasted a valuable resource. I couldn’t have been doing that badly if I had managed to get her on a second date speaking only in Spanish.  Yet our relationship had become so dominated by English since then that she had all but forgotten that.

Many people will tell you that “getting a girlfriend” is the best way to learn a new language. And they’re right. But only if you fight off the gluttonous temptation of English.


It’s okay to have some English-based relationships

Ultimately, life doesn’t have to be hard. You are bound to have a yearning to build strong friendships and relationships while you are traveling. And it’s okay to have friends that you speak with in English.

But just remember why you came, and make sure you’re not setting yourself up for regrets. Friendships and relationships are crucial in your journey to fluency, and it’s important that you don’t just roll over when the opportunity to speak English comes along. By fighting for your opportunity to create close relationships in Spanish, you will learn Spanish faster, feel more confident in yourself and have even more amazing memories of your travels.

So be selective and pick out a few people that you’re determined to make this work with in Spanish. Even if that means things burn more slowly. Variety is the spice of life, and you might even find that you cherish these relationships the most.



So what have we learned about maintaining friendships and relationships in Spanish?

  • Friendships and relationships in Spanish are crucial to your learning
  • One language will “take over” very shortly after you meet someone
  • You should fight the temptation to speak English
  • Once you let English win, you can’t go back and will have wasted a precious resource

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