I had anticipated difficulty making myself understood in Brazil, and certainly outside of Rio it was hard to find anyone who spoke any English at all. But it‘s surprising how well you can get by on place names, a few key phrases and constant gesturing. Google Translate did also play a role, I have to admit it.
Since moving into Latin America, speaking Spanish has been more fun and fulfilling – most of the time I have at least some idea of what people are trying to say.
There are sometimes when you will simply have to pretend you understand, and sometimes when you both have to give up. That‘s okay.
The rest of the time, slowly, I feel like I‘m learning. I‘m trying to speak as much as possible, especially to locals. The best tips I‘ve heard: speak slowly, and say what you can, not exactly what you want to say.
One thing I won‘t be doing is that old protest: “No, I don‘t know any of the language at all!” and then go on to have a five minute conversation. I hear so many people say this and I find it frustrating on a number of levels.
Firstly, it‘s almost always a lie. False modesty renders any effort you‘ve put into learning the language worthless, and it also invites the following kind of reply, “Oh, no you‘re really good!” – whether you are or aren‘t. Forcing people to comfort you in this way is actually pretty selfish. There must be some kind of continuum between complete ignorance and fluency; let‘s start using that.