Do You Need to Speak Spanish in Colombia? A Gringo’s Guide

Maybe it’s a silly question. Of course, you need to speak a little Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country in South America. But how important is speaking Spanish in Colombia?

Well, that depends on who you are, what you want to do, and where you’re going. Personally…

I’ve found Colombia to be a bit intimidating without speaking Spanish. A country known for drugs, violence, and attractive women is probably a place you want to be able to communicate in.

But do you NEED to speak Spanish in Colombia? Not exactly, but it sure makes things a lot more fun if you do.

In this article, we’ll take a look at where Spanish is important in Colombia, where you can get by on English, and how to learn Spanish – for real.

English Levels in Colombia

Now, how much Spanish you’ll need to speak in Colombia will mainly be dependent on which city you live in.

For example, in Bogota, you can easily get by without a drop of Spanish. Bogota is one of the most educated cities in Latin America and has over 8 million people in the city proper.

I’d estimate 1 million Colombians in Bogota can speak some English. Thus, you’ll always be able to find someone to communicate with in English in the capital.

Things change when you get out of the capital and larger cities. For example, I spent some time in Ibague, Colombia.

Con mi amigo.

While I met a few English speakers in the city, the vast majority of people didn’t speak much English. They had no need to.

Ibague is a city of 500,000 people. Maybe 3-5% of the people in the city spoke some English. As such, the likelihood of meeting people who speak English wasn’t that high.

The same goes for places like Barranquilla, Pereira, Cali, and other cities in Colombia. English levels just aren’t that high outside tourist areas and the capital.

If you don’t speak much Spanish, here’s how I’d rank cities in the country based on English proficiency:

  • Bogota
  • Medellin
  • Cali
  • Cartagena
  • Santa Marta
  • Ibague
  • Barranquilla

…And the list goes on and on!

Basically, if you plan to visit Colombia with little to no Spanish, I’d recommend sticking to Bogota and Medellin to start. You’ll find more English speakers here than anywhere else.

Does Speaking Spanish Make Life Better in Colombia?

Without a doubt. 100%. The more Spanish you speak the easier life becomes when living in Colombia.

I’ve lived in Colombia when I could barely utter, “Como estas?” and I lived in Colombia when I was able to have full conversations in Spanish.

Which scenario was better? 

There’s really no comparison. When you’re able to actually communicate with people, you form stronger relationships and are able to connect with people on a deeper level.

One of the best parts of traveling is interacting with locals and seeing if your vibe matches theirs. It’s pretty difficult to do that if you can’t talk to them.

Now, speaking Spanish in Colombia isn’t necessary. I’d highly recommend it before you go, but it’s not mandatory.

You can get by with just English. The experience just isn’t the same.

You’ll get “Gringo Priced” without Spanish in Cartagena!

How to Learn Spanish

So, how do you learn Spanish before you head to Colombia? Well, through a lot of trial and error, I found the three best ways to learn Spanish:

  • Travel in Latin America

Make no mistake about it. You’ll learn 10X faster when fully immersed in a culture and speaking the language every day.

Get out of hostels. Rent an apartment. Start interacting with the locals as much as possible. In doing so, you’ll start learning at a much faster pace.

While practicing before a trip is great and certainly recommended, don’t be surprised if your speaking improves more in one week on the ground than in two months of studying.

  • Take Skype Lessons

In-person lessons can be pricey. In fact, you’ll often pay $10-20 an hour for lessons in Latin American countries. While that might not seem like much, it’ll add up quick.

Think about it…

$500-800 roundtrip flight, $20-30 a night for an Airbnb, two hours of lessons a day at $15 an hour, and other living costs.

If you went somewhere to study for a month, you end up spending $3,000-4,000. And that’s conservative!

Luckily, I found a much cheaper way to take Spanish lessons with great teachers.

Enter BaseLang.

BaseLang is a one-of-a-kind service. You pay a monthly fee and you get unlimited personal Spanish classes for the month.

You could take 100 hours of classes in one month if you wanted to. BaseLang offers a unique curriculum and all their teachers have been trained to ensure you learn the language.

Plus, all BaseLang teachers speak some English.

If you sign up for Base Lang, test out a few teachers and then stick with 1-2 that you really like.

You’ll develop a relationship with them and they’ll become invested in your learning.

  • The Cheapest Way

If you want to learn Spanish without spending much money, I’ve found the best way. It doesn’t involve any monthly fees. There’s no travel necessary.

All you have to do is buy this book and start reading.

That’s it. This is the best book to study if you want to learn Spanish on your own. It’s not even a question.

Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish is just that – a magic key to unlocking the language. You’ll shorten the learning process by years and quickly become conversational in Spanish before you know it.

Plus, the book only costs $12-13 USD. There’s no excuse to not learn Spanish.

Playa Blanca, Cartagena.

Do You Need to Speak Spanish in Colombia? A Gringo’s Guide

Speaking Spanish in Colombia is a good idea for the traveling gringo. Not only will it make your life easier and keep you out of trouble, you’ll also get respect from the locals who are used to non-Spanish speakers visiting their country.

While I’ve traveled in Colombia with and without Spanish, I’d highly recommend picking up some Spanish before you head down south.

P.S: Start learning Spanish today by clicking here!

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Jake D

Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.

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