Everyone dreams of taking a few months off and backpacking abroad. I, for one, decided to turn that dream into a reality and take a backpacking trip through South America. As I started to plan the details for my upcoming trip, I realized I haven’t spoken Spanish in years (or ever). Like most of us, I learned a language in high school and college through boring lectures and useless memorization. Fast forward a few years and I forgot everything except “¿Hola, como estas?” While important for small talk, I didn’t think that would get me very far with the locals. So, when my buddy and I got into a conversation about what I was going to do, he recommended trying Babbel, a language-learning app that helps you learn a semester’s worth of language in just a few weeks.
The problem was most of South America predominantly speaks Spanish and it can be hard to get around if you only speak English. After doing some research, I found some classes to brush up my Spanish online, but they were costly, running up to $800 and took a few months to complete. Babbel offers guided classes through their interactive website and app. They have 14 languages to choose from with a wide variety of exercises ranging from audio interactions to games, all designed by hundreds of linguists to help you practice the language for real-life conversations. Each class is set to ~15-minute increments to help keep you focused. My goal was to incorporate Babbel into my daily routine as I prepared for my upcoming trip.
Every morning, I selected a training with or without voice recognition depending on where I was. Each training asks you to study words and phrases with a voice-over that teaches you how to pronounce every word so you can practice for real-life conversation. This was key, I really felt like I was having a normal conversation with a person – not repeating the same phrase over and over again – like in 6th-grade Spanish class. This was practical and gave me confidence because I learned what to listen for and how to properly pronounce words. You can even play games where you practice the words you were asked to study. In just a few weeks, I was having conversations and continued using the app whenever I had a spare moment.
The real test was my trip and if I was capable of getting around and speaking the language. While I was a little quiet at first, by the end of the trip I was doing really well. When you’re visiting all the little villages in South America, I noticed different accents. However, I was still able to communicate and understand what they were saying. The experience was so much better than my other trips because I was able to make friends and I even was able to get some of their jokes. After using the service for a couple of months, I felt prepared for my trip.
Babbel proved to be well worth the $7 a month, which by the way, costs way less than the $350 Gregory backpack I purchased for the trip. It has helped me interact with hundreds of people and I even made a few new Spanish-speaking friends on my trip!