Why Missionaries Need Spanish
Working in a Guatemalan city where tourists often frequent has given me the chance to meet numerous different people from all over the world, each with their own unique story of how they ended up coming to the area. A vast majority of them came specifically to learn Spanish or to spend a good part of their time studying the language. These visitors’ motivation to learn Spanish generally falls into one of a few categories, like wanting to communicate better with the locals or for travel purposes. However, a surprisingly large number of people learn Spanish for mission work. Why is Spanish so popular with missionaries? Why should you learn Spanish if you are considering doing mission work?
Before we delve into why missionaries should learn Spanish, I want to preface this by saying that I don’t want to pressure you into choosing to do missions work in a Spanish-speaking area. Certainly, there is a need for missionary support all over the world, even in your own neighborhood. The purpose of this article is to show you the opportunities available if you learn Spanish as a missionary. If you’re on the fence about where to go or what language you should learn to further your missionary career, this blog is just for you! Personally, I am a fan of learning as many languages as possible; if you’re anything like me, why not learn Spanish and then some? With that in mind, let’s see why Spanish can be a huge asset to someone wanting to go into mission work.
You Meet People From Around the World
There are 572 million Spanish speakers in the world. Considering there are approximately 6,500 languages spoken in the world, 527 million (7.5% of the world population) is quite notable! That number is expected to increase by almost 200 million by 2050. In other words, if you speak Spanish, you will be able to communicate with a significant number of people in the world. Keep in mind that this number includes both native and non-native speakers, so we are talking about the possibility of meeting people who have learned (or are learning) Spanish anywhere in the world!
In my time in Germany, I attempted to use my broken German to get around, hoping that I was understanding directions correctly. While waiting at a bus stop, someone asked if I needed help in what I thought was a Spanish accent. Much to my relief, they were from Spain, and I was able to speak Spanish with them! It was such an amazing experience to meet someone with whom I could speak Spanish in a country where I never expected to use that language. I have also had the same experience with several Korean and Dutch friends – since we did not speak each other’s native tongue, we used our mutual second language, Spanish, to communicate.
You Better Serve the Community
As a missionary, you need to be able to communicate with the people you intend to serve and work with. If you decide to learn Spanish, you’ll be able to communicate with people in over 20 countries and territories, as well as people around the world that also speak Spanish. Knowing another language is always a great asset – especially if it’s a language as common as Spanish!
Additionally, many churches organize missionary trips abroad throughout the year. Of course, not every team goes to a Spanish-speaking country. However, because of the United States’ close proximity to Latin America, many short-term and long-term missionaries travel to a Spanish-speaking country to serve. Having the ability to speak Spanish will make you a great asset to these teams and you will be able to connect quickly with the locals and build better relationships with them.
You Share Your Skills Locally and Abroad
Speaking of traveling for mission work, knowing Spanish gives you the option to serve the community either abroad or locally. As you might have guessed, the number of Spanish speakers in the United States is growing at a rapid pace; you don’t even have to leave the country for your Spanish skills to be put to use!
Some missionaries travel abroad and live full-time in other countries, while others travel just for a week or two each year. Both methods are valid, but if you are learning Spanish for mission work, it can get a little dusty if you only use it for a couple of days each year. The good thing about learning Spanish as a second language is that you can use it even when you’re home!
Whether you are a full-time missionary home on furlough, a short-term missionary looking for local service opportunities to do when not on the field, or a missionary focusing on serving in the States, you can find ways to use your Spanish skills in your neighborhood. It can be as simple as helping to translate for your neighbor in the grocery store, participating in your local Spanish-speaking church, or tutoring kids in Spanish. Or, if you are looking for more of a commitment, you can look for local ministries that work specifically with the local Latino community.
Furthermore, when missionaries come off the field after an extended period abroad, it can be difficult to readjust to the culture and find work. Speaking Spanish can open up a lot of opportunities back in the States whenever you are ready to go back home. It can also connect you with Latino communities, which will help as you readjust to life back in the States after living in Latin America.
You Explore the Globe With Short-Term Trips
As I’ve previously mentioned, missionaries don’t always live permanently in foreign countries. Missionaries can be people who do short-term trips or those who spend their time serving in the States. Whatever type of missionary you are (or want to be), you will more than likely be a part of a short-term team in some shape or form. Personally, I have gone on short-term trips to Latin America, hosted them in Guatemala, and translated for teams working for different organizations. I have been a part of almost every aspect of short-term teams, both in the States and abroad. So, whatever type of missionary work you want to do, I can tell you with much confidence that you will probably be involved with short-term teams. What does that have to do with Spanish, though?
Whether you are the leader organizing the team, the group hosting them, the translator accompanying the team, or the person preparing the team for the cross-cultural experience, language skills are a necessity! Again, because of our close proximity to Latin America, many short-term teams decide to go there. Speaking Spanish will give you the ability to lead, host, or translate for short-term teams heading to Latin America. Basic Spanish skills are better than nothing when your purpose is to serve the community.
Even if you are serving as a missionary in an African, European, or Asian nation, you will more than likely host short-term teams from around the world. You may have team members that are native Spanish-speakers, just like I have!
You Sharpen Your Cultural Sensitivities
Now, when you’re working with short-term teams or as a full-time missionary, it is imperative that you learn about the culture of the place you’re going. One way of preparing yourself is by learning the language. Language and culture are so intertwined that you end up learning the intricacies of a culture through the language. Again, since Spanish is so popular around the world, it is a good language to start with as a missionary because you can travel to so many different places with confidence that you know a little bit about the culture.
For example, one of the first things you learn in Spanish class is how to greet people. In the States, (at least where I’m from), people don’t always greet each other; it is a much colder environment. However, with just the basics of the Spanish greetings, you are prepared to respond to everybody who greets you on the street daily in a Latin American country. Imagine how much more you can learn about the culture with regular Spanish classes! You learn how to be polite, how to joke, what are the cultural values, and how to respectfully decline things. As a missionary, you need to be very careful not to unintentionally offend people when you are trying to help. By learning Spanish (and consequently the culture), you can be prepared to enter a culture of over 20 countries and territories!
If you are considering becoming a missionary (or maybe you already are), think about learning Spanish to open additional doors and connect you to more people all around the world! It is a relatively easy language to learn as a native English speaker, and it is a great skill to have both on and off the field. Just because you learn Spanish for mission work doesn’t mean you can’t learn any other language! It would be a good language to start with, but it in no means limits you to further language learning endeavors. If you are ready to start learning Spanish for your mission work, try a FREE class with some of our native Spanish-speaking teachers! They can help you with key phrases, colloquial terms, and missionary vocabulary. Sign up today to start on your journey!