Over 500 million people in the world speak Spanish. It is in the top four most common languages spoken on the planet, along with Mandarin Chinese, English, and Hindustani. In the U.S., over 45 million people speak Spanish and over 6 million more are learning it. There are more Spanish speakers in the U.S. than speakers of Chinese, French, Hawaiian, and the Native American languages combined. We are the second-largest Spanish-speaking community in the world, only following Mexico. Chances are very good that you work with or come into contact with Spanish-speakers every day. Wouldn’t it be great to communicate with them? You don’t have to be completely bilingual to do it. Here’s a little secret: most Spanish-speakers in the U.S. know some English. About fifty percent of Spanish-speakers report that they speak English well, but many more know a little English. If the Spanish-speakers you’re meeting aren’t talking to you in the English they know, there could be a simple reason. It’s possibly because of a language theory called: Language Ego, originally defined by Guiora in 1981.
The general idea of the Language Ego theory is that we feel we have a different personality when we speak in a different language. We also feel less confident speaking in our second language. This is the reason most people prefer to speak in their first language. They’re afraid they will look stupid or will say the wrong thing. The reality is that when someone tries to speak in a second language the listener is usually very patient and thrilled that they are trying to communicate. They’re not concerned at all if it comes out perfectly.
So what can we do about this conundrum? It’s really quite easy; we can speak a little Spanish. It’s like offering an olive branch to a Spanish-speaker. You’re saying: I want to communicate with you and I’m willing to use the limited Spanish I learned to make a connection with you. You’ll be amazed how this will break the ice. You’ll instantly put the other person at ease to speak English with you. Then, before you know it, you’re speaking a little Spanish and they’re speaking a little English. The flood gates of communication will be open!
It really is that simple. People complicate the issue by trying to instantly become fluent in a second language. They try the time-consuming and boring language learning programs that teach the entire language with grammar lessons. Those are great for people with the time to dedicate months and years to learning Spanish. For the majority, this is too difficult and they give up quickly. The key is to start communicating with short and simple phrases. It’s like anything else, the more you do it the more you’ll learn.
You don’t have to become fluent to improve communication with your Spanish-speaking neighbors, customers, co-workers, etc. All you have to do is learn some common Spanish phrases that apply to the situation and voila-you’re communicating. Why not start today? Next time you meet a Spanish-speaker say: Mucho gusto. (moo-ch? goo-st?) It means: It’s a pleasure to meet you. Go out there an offer a Spanish olive branch!
If you want to learn more common phrases for specific jobs and situations, check out www.spanishonthejob.com