Back when I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina..
I went to a small house gathering for drinks where there was an Argentine guy named Juan, a Colombian chick named Cindy, a Venezuelan chick named Zahira and some random American dude.
Anyway, Cindy was fun to fuck around with but kinda crazy.
Zahira was cool too but less crazy.
And Juan seemed like a chill dude in general.
And so was the American guy.
The American guy was a tiny bit older than me and was basically running some bike tour thing in Buenos Aires if I remember right.
Where, if I remember right, a bunch of foreigners who wanted tours of Buenos Aires can pay to go riding some bikes with him around the city.
Anyhow, it came to my observation that the guy didn’t speak a lick of Spanish!
Which was part of the premise for why we all met up at Juan’s place..
I never knew any of these folks beforehand.
But I joined some group in Buenos Aires that hosts events on Facebook where you could show up to whatever bar for drinks, meeting people and practicing a new language.
The new language being English or Spanish usually.
So the American guy seemed to take an interest in wanting to practice a little bit of Spanish at this gathering at Juan’s place.
Though he had, from what I remember, been living in Argentina for years without really a lick of Spanish under his belt.
Which I found strange!
How do you live in a country for years and not speak even a tiny bit of their language?
Reminds me of a few folks I met when in college…
The Brazilians Without English
In college, it was similar.
We had a bunch of international students from all over the world who were studying at the college I went to for the full 4 years.
But, despite the full 4 years, some of them seemingly didn’t speak much English.
Granted, they probably knew enough English when it came to the grammar rules and vocabulary to read assignments, tests, etc.
But speaking another language is always different than being able to read or write in it.
Anyhow, there was always this group of Brazilian students in the school.
Similar to the American guy above, there was some Brazilian dude named Isaac who didn’t really speak English.
His English was extremely basic but, like I said, he could probably figure out a test I’d imagine.
Otherwise, I have no idea how any of them could get through the 4 years of college there!
Reading and writing in English must’ve been possible for some of them.
Not very good.
And Isaac was a pretty cool dude.
Nothing against him personally.
I get it’s hard to learn another language well.
Either way, I noticed how, as you can imagine, almost all of his friends were Brazilians.
What language did they speak in the cafeteria or wherever?
As you’d imagine.
And that is likely where the problem comes from for why foreigners in whatever country seemingly don’t learn the local language despite years living somewhere different.
The Root of the Problem
Why this happens isn’t too difficult to understand.
First, you simply have some foreigners who are either too lazy to learn the foreign language like Spanish…
Or, to be fair, perhaps some simply find it too difficult?
I’ve heard that excuse before.
Maybe it’s legit.
I wasn’t a master at learning Spanish but I found it easy enough myself.
Perhaps if you are older in your 50s or so, maybe it’s more difficult then?
So I’ll give some leniency there.
Though it still seems weird to me if you spend years somewhere and never get a basic grasp of it.
Still, there’s another reason behind all of this also…
Which is that it is not uncommon for foreigners to stick to their own bubbles.
You go to a country like the US and only hang out mostly with other Brazilians who can speak your language…
Only pulling out the English when asking a professor a question or ordering a meal at a restaurant.
Which, to be fair, ordering a meal doesn’t always require English…
We had this one Asian guy in my college who couldn’t speak English at all from what I noticed but would simply point at whatever food he wanted me to put on his plate.
No “good afternoon.”
Simply walk up, put plate on counter for me to pick up and then start pointing at anything he wanted to eat.
Literally never said a single word to me.
Anyhow, like I said, you have foreigners like that down here also in Latin America.
And so when you live in the bubble, It’s easy to not ever learn the language.
However, I think it’s even easier for us Americans than it would be for the Brazilian guy or that Asian guy mentioned above.
Because English is basically a world language where you can always find someone who speaks it in any major city with tourism.
So we have that advantage anyhow that allows us to not ever learn the local language as long as we don’t go too far off the beaten path..
And even if you do go off the beaten path a bit, I’m sure you could maybe find someone who speaks English.
Anyway, what are my thoughts on this?
Well, I don’t care really.
If someone comes to the US and never learns English despite years there….
Or a foreigner coming to Latin America and never learning Spanish or Portuguese…
It’s not my problem.
If they are happier that way, then whatever.
Still, I think it’s a wasted opportunity if you never try.
My experience in Latin America has been so much nicer because I can speak with the locals.
I’d fucking hate it with a burning passion if I couldn’t communicate with them.
I remember simply being a tourist to places like Poland…
And not being able to speak the local language?
I can’t imagine living somewhere and not knowing how to communicate myself to most folks.
Because most folks in whatever country will not have a functional level of English.
They just won’t.
You’ll have to stick to tourist areas usually and even then not all the locals will speak English there either…
So you are missing out on lots of experiences and cool people you could meet.
As well as losing out on an ability to learn on a deeper level about the country you are in.
No language skills means your ability to learn about the country on a deeper level is a bit fucked.
On top of that, I find it a little bit distasteful if you spend years somewhere and never learn their language even a little bit.
Having said that, I can understand if we are talking about a language like Arabic or Mandarin.
A language that is much more difficult to you.
In that case, it’s more understandable if you live years there and still have difficulty.
Anyway, let’s wrap this up.
At any rate, I could probably bring up more examples I’ve met of people not knowing the local language very well.
When I was in Bolivia, I worked at some NGO that brought in a ton of foreigners to work for them.
And, as you can imagine, not all of them had any bit of Spanish skills.
There was one guy I remember who had spent years at this NGO who didn’t really have much Spanish to work with.
And, similar to the cases above, he’d only really hang out with other foreigners at the NGO.
His own little bubble.
It is what it is.
At any rate, I sometimes forget that these foreigners exist down here.
Especially in the last 4 years of living in Mexico.
I met a lot more of them when traveling around South America…
But it’s been years since then.
I only remembered that they exist when another foreigner I talked with told me that he met someone like that.
And it seemed strange to me in the moment – “years in Mexico? No Spanish? How?”
But then I remembered my previous experiences with this and thought “well, ok then.”
Anyhow, got any similar experiences or comments yourself with this?
Drop them below in the comment section.
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Thanks for reading.