The Unexpected Benefits of Spanish…in Italy

I still remember the day that my plane first touched down in Italy nine years ago. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement, and everything—even the simple train ride into the city—was beautiful to me.

And I had the fleeting thought that perhaps I should have studied Italian instead of Spanish for the last few years.

But I quickly learned that Spanish was even more widely understood than English here—both because many of the Italians I met spoke Spanish very well and because many of the words in Spanish are similar to, or even the same, as the Italian word for the same thing.

I started out tentatively, nervously trying my somewhat rusty Spanish, only when a train station employee or a gelato-seller or someone I’d stopped for directions didn’t speak English.

And so my confidence grew throughout those first six weeks exploring.

I struck up conversations with locals in a pizzeria in Biassa—a tiny, hilltop town just above the colorful Cinque Terre—learning about their lives over the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

I started joking with the local baristas. And once, when I accidentally took the wrong bus to a tiny Italian town, I found my way back because of a Spanish-speaking local.

Over the nine years since that first trip, I’ve returned to Europe again and again, eventually applying for residence in Switzerland and making central Europe my home. And on every single trip—no matter where in Europe I found myself—my Spanish language skills have come in handy.

When I found myself lost in French-speaking Geneva, Switzerland, it was my Spanish that got me back to my hotel.

When I found myself on a train that had been re-routed in a confusing way in German-speaking central Switzerland, I was able to translate the re-routing announcement from English to Spanish for the worried Spanish girl in the next seat over.

And the rest of the ride we laughed and chatted, exchanging email addresses, and parting as friends by the end of the journey.

So no matter where I am in Europe—even though I’m almost never in Spain itself—Spanish comes up again and again, helping me find my way…forge new friendships…connect with locals…and understand just a little of the other romance languages I run into in this part of the world.

When I first came to Europe, I wondered if I should have learned another language. But the more I travel, the more I love my Spanish—so widely spoken, so similar to the other languages I stumble upon, and so beautiful (which is why I learned in the first place).

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