Traveling Outside Medellin: Do You Need to Speak Spanish?

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TLDR? Most people outside Medellín don’t speak Spanish, but you can communicate through translator apps or by enrolling in a language school!

As a nomad, sometimes it is difficult when you arrive in a place where people don’t speak your language. 

Now, while you might be fine scraping by with just the occasional hola in Medellin, do you need to speak Spanish if you venture beyond the city limits?

Good question! In this guide, let’s take a look at whether or not you have to speak Spanish if you’re traveling outside of Medellín. And, let’s talk about some tips for understanding Spanish even when you’re struggling. 

Do You Really Need to Speak Spanish in Colombia?

If you’ve ever spent time in Miami or Los Angeles, you know that even though the first language of the area is English, you can find a ton of Spanish speakers. 

Medellín is much like one of these cities. The city is largely bilingual, thanks to the influx of tourists, digital nomads, and immigrants. 

However, much like Miami and Los Angeles, once you venture outside of these major cities, that’s just not the case anymore. 

If you plan to travel to small towns on the outskirts of Medellín, you should know that finding people who speak your language will be uncommon, despite the number of tourists they receive daily.

Now, that’s not to say you’ll be up the creek without a paddle. There are tons of friendly people that are more than happy to do their best to help you.

You might need to enlist the help of a translator app (or a friend who speaks Spanish), but all in all, they’ll do their best.

How to Improve Your Spanish

If you plan to stay in Medellín for a while or you already know you’ll be doing a lot of travel outside the city, I recommend you consider taking a Spanish course.

Medellín has tons of different places for you to learn Spanish. 

Language School

One of the easiest ways to learn Spanish is through a language school. Over the years, the number of language schools around Medellín has grown significantly. 

There are a few different options in terms of the courses and classes you can take:

  • Online courses
  • Private classes.
  • Group classes
  • Excursions

Some schools will even help you extend your stay with their study programs. If you’re wanting to extend your tourist visa, this is a great place to do it.  

Language Exchange

These types of places are fun and are a much more casual way to brush up on your Spanish. And, they’re perfect places to meet other nomads or different people in the city!

The good thing about these types of meetings is that they are free, so you don’t need to pay anything to join them. Some are even online if you don’t have time to go in person.

And, of course, if you want to learn a language that’s not Spanish, these language exchange meetups have that too. 

Apps You Need

Sometimes, all you need is an app or two to help you explore Medellín’s surrounding villages. If you don’t have time for group meetings or language exchange, here are some additional resources you can use.

Microsoft Translator

Although most people’s go-to is Google Translate, I actually like Microsoft Translate better. This app lets you type text, upload images, or even use the microphone to translate words and phrases. 

Microsoft Translator is particularly helpful if you do a lot of reading and writing. I personally use it to help me out with academic texts. 

If I ever get stuck, I can just pop the text in there. 

Google Translate

Ahh, Google Translate, the favorite of many. This app has a lot of the same capabilities that the Microsoft app has. 

One thing that helps my partner out a lot is that you can take photos of images or products that are written in a different language. 

The app then translates the words and phrases, so you don’t have to manually punch it in!

On top of that, with more than a hundred languages ​​in its translation system, you won’t have any problem translating what you need. In addition to this, if you don’t have internet all the time, you can download the language packs you need and use the app offline.

Duolingo

I’m a huge fan of Duolingo. I actually use it to practice German and to keep up with my Swedish, but it’s got a great Spanish platform too! 

While you can’t use it to translate words and phrases, you can definitely use it to learn a new language, including Spanish. 

What’s cool about the app is that it’s free, and it only takes a few minutes of your day. Just spend 5 to 10 minutes on the app, and you can learn a lot more than you’d think!

Common Colombian Phrases

Before I even start talking about how to speak like a paisa, I’ve got to advise you to get out and explore Colombia. 

The more activities you try, the more you’ll pick up on simple words and phrases. And, you’ll find that even though Spanish seems hard at first, it quickly gets easier!

A few words or phrases that can go a long way in Colombia include: 

  • Que chimba: this basically means how cool or how awesome! 
  • Mijo or Mija: this is an endearing way of referring to someone. You can use it with friends or family members.
  • Parcero: the Colombian equivalent of saying ‘dude’.
  • Parcharse: this means get together and have a good time
  • Armar parche: this refers to organizing a group of friends to get together.

Get Out and Explore Medellín’s Countryside

So, do you need to speak Spanish if you explore Medellín’s surrounding villages? While it’s certainly helpful, where there’s a will, there’s a way. With these tips and a few translator apps, you’ll be just fine.

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