Letter Re: Learning a Second Language as a Survival Skill

I’m curious about your thoughts regarding a person learning a second language. In America I guess the language of choice would be Spanish simply due to the incredible influx of Hispanics to our shores thanks to our open border policy.

Personally, I feel it would be a sound investment to one’s array of survival skills to provide them with the ability to negotiate and communicate with a large segment of the population. Also, if one has to flee south of the border for whatever reason having Spanish under their belt along with a few gold pesos [minted as “Onza de Oro“coins in the modern era] could be very helpful.

But, it is a trade-off as leaning a language does not come easy and requires a substantial time investment both in study and practice. Hence, I’m seeking some sage advice. Kind regards, – Michael

JWR Replies: Knowing a second language is indeed valuable, and well worth pursuing. Here in North America, learning to speak Spanish is definitely advisable. Even just a rudimentary vocabulary might prove invaluable. In the context of preparedness, I can think of at least two situations where this knowledge would be important

1.) Barter situations. People feel more comfortable dickering in the their native language. In many agricultural regions in the western US there are sizable immigrant populations.

2.) Offshore relocation. Most of Central and South America is Spanish-speaking, of course with the notable exception of Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken. Language skills are crucial in “coming up to speed” when relocating.

OBTW, one subtlety that many Norte Americanos are not aware of is that the accent in which you speak Spanish is important. It changes in the way that people perceive you and place you socially–at least subconsciously. Hence, you do not want to learn to speak gutter Spanish. If you are tutored, then hire a tutor with a refined Castilian accent. The nature of human mimicry dictates that you will pick up part of your tutor’s accent. Having a refined accent will give you a subtle edge in dickering or when in conversation with customs or other law enforcement officers when you travel abroad.