“Will you be able to learn some Spanish before you go? “ The answer came easily, “of course I’ve got 8 months”. And that was it, I was committed to volunteering in Spanish-speaking El Salvador with the inability to say anything other than ‘Gracias’. Gracias being the only word I knew because I thought it was ‘grassy ass’ as a child. 

Although I knew learning a new language wasn’t easy I put off learning anything for the first 7 months before my trip. In the last month I was able to grasp a couple of phrases; “My name is” and “How are you?” And before I knew it I was on my way, no more time for practising. 

During the flight it dawned on me how daunting it was to be going to a country where nobody other than my fellow international volunteers would understand me. What was I thinking? Why hadn’t I used those 7 months more wisely? 

On arrival I was relieved to find out that not only was I one of a number of people who had limited knowledge of the Spanish language but we would also be having lessons. Our teacher at CIS (Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad), Wilmur, was adamant he was not going to speak English to us from the very start. We were given no other choice than to understand. Practising vocabulary and common phrases whilst doing crazy actions and acting out plays really helps you to become familiar with the idea of language and remember important words.

Over the next couple of weeks and with the aid of my lessons, patient friends and a lot of hand gestures my Spanish is finally improving. I may not be able to string a sentence together yet but I can understand the basics and join in a few jokes. One thing is for sure I now know how to order my favourite drink or ask for someone to pass the wheelbarrow!


Blog by Kim Wood.