How to Learn Spanish on Vacation: 8 Tips to Go from Tourist to Traveler

Whether you want to soak up the rays on a Mexican beach, run with the bulls in Spain, climb Machu Picchu in Peru or chill with penguins in southern Argentina, one thing is abundantly clear.

Many of the world’s most beautiful and incredible vacation hotspots just so happen to be located in countries where Spanish is spoken.

And one of the best ways to pick up Spanish is to proactively learn it while traveling, as you’re immersed in the language and culture of a new place.

Today I want to go beyond simple tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your next vacation at a Spanish-speaking country.


1. Use a Guidebook or Spanish Vocabulary App

For best results when trying to learn Spanish while on vacation, take some time to learn important phrases ahead of time. For example, you’ll want to spend some time on overarching topics like:

If you have any old Spanish class materials, it couldn’t hurt to review them!

Once you’ve done your basic preparation, go one step further. Based on the country you’re visiting, take some time to understand the local dialect, their specific use of vocabulary and other local twists on the Spanish language (like the use of the vosotros in Spain and vos in Argentina). Besides helping you appear prepared and knowledgeable, it shows respect for the people whose country you’re visiting.

While you’re preparing to learn Spanish on vacation, use one or many of our app suggestions:

  • SpanishDict, which also works offline for quick translations while traveling.
  • FluentU, which immerses you in authentic media clips to hear Spanish as it’s used by natives.
  • Duolingo, which allows you to learn multiple languages through fun and easy practice prompts.
  • Rosetta Stone, which allows you to learn Spanish in the same way that younger children would learn Spanish.

If you prefer paper to digital, the following book suggestions can be useful:

  • European Phrase Book,” which is small enough to fit in a pocket/purse, and translates basic phrases and vocabulary for a number of European nations (perfect for a multi-leg trip).

Having a phrasebook or translation app can be empowering if you’re about to head into a certain situation—just consult your tools to prepare yourself for the interaction. And if you’re nervous, don’t be shy or embarrassed to test out your knowledge.

Shopkeepers, restaurant staff, drivers and other people you interact with will appreciate that you’re trying. In essence, the more preparation you do, the better your resulting experience when attempting to learn while on vacation.

2. Find a Language Immersion Program

Even a simple one-day class can jump-start your Spanish learning experience. However, truly immersive language programs might last several days or weeks, and they can help you become fluent in a much shorter time frame.

If you have a decent foundation of Spanish understanding, you could also opt to take a non-language class to learn a skill like dancing, cooking, etc. You’ll be able to pick up some new tricks while practicing your Spanish!

Here are some of the top language programs in Spanish speaking countries:

  • Medellin, Colombia: Blink Spanish Immersion Experience lets you live in a guesthouse in the heart of Medellin and offers 20 hours of language class per week as well as field trips.
  • Quintana Roo, Mexico: Na’atik Institute of Language and Cultures provides an affordable way to learn Spanish one on one, while also learning about Mayan culture. They also offer cultural workshops in conjunction with local nonprofits so that you can practice your Spanish while doing activities you enjoy (cooking, dancing, etc.).
  • Barcelona, Spain: CEA Study Abroad is geared more toward long-term Spanish language learning. You can study at partner universities in Barcelona including the University of Barcelona, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the Universitat de Vic and the Pompeu Fabra University.

Besides these wonderful global cities, there are also many language immersion programs in America.

3. Participate in a Cultural Exchange Program

If you’re planning to be gone for an extended period of time, a cultural exchange program like Workaway can save you a lot of money. Workaway connects you with people who need volunteers in other countries. In exchange for your time and efforts, you’ll receive room and board. WWOOF is another well-known international work program to consider, with a focus on farming.

The best opportunities to practice Spanish include stays at hostels where you’ll be able to immerse yourself in conversation with other staff members and guests, but there’s still something to be gained from making time for conversations with your local hosts in all other situations. Even if you don’t work at a hostel, there’s still a great opportunity to practice Spanish if you stay at one and participate in community events.

Besides volunteering with Workaway, you could also opt to become an au pair if you’ll be gone for an extended amount of time. Cultural Care and InterExchange are two places to start the search for a family in need of an au pair.

Another option? Become an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor and help someone learn English. While teaching someone your language, you’ll learn some of theirs, too. To find ESL tutoring jobs, check with local educational institutions, or even general community boards like Craigslist.

If you have official teaching qualifications and are planning on staying a while, Verbling is a great site that helps connect individuals who are looking to teach or learn through online (or even in-person) tutoring. Obviously, this could be a great option for learning Spanish as well, since you could meet with an online tutor during your vacation free time.

4. Look for an Intercambio Opportunity

Intercambio means “exchange” and often refers to conversation opportunities between native speakers and language learners. There are two ways to seek out intercambio opportunities to learn Spanish while on vacation:

  • Officially: Through a local search on a platform like Meetup. Look specifically for language exchange opportunities.
  • Unofficially: Seek out conversation opportunities at a club or bar, where locals and tourists alike seek to make connections. More often than not, natives enjoy the opportunity to meet visitors, and will indulge your desire to practice Spanish. Take this opportunity to learn about the vocab that doesn’t get taught in school (aka the cool Spanish phrases).

Additionally, seek out Spanish-speaking hosts through your existing network, or on a platform like Couchsurfing or Airbnb. Many locals are on these platforms to connect with foreign travelers. They’re excited to practice with you!

In general, find an opportunity to speak Spanish whenever you can, being proactive about striking up conversations as often as possible.

If you’re feeling gutsy, pick up the phone to seek out information or to make a reservation for dinner. Imagine how accomplished you’ll feel once it’s done!

5. Read Everything You Can

While conversation practice may be the gold standard if you want to learn Spanish on vacation, you can improve your Spanish ability by not just trying to master the spoken word, but also the written one. So read everything you can! That means signs, menus and newspaper headlines.

Read and translate everything around you, using context clues to help you figure out any words that you don’t already know. If you still can’t get a word, make a note in an app or notebook so that you can look it up later.

If you want to take it a step further, go into shops and ask about items you don’t know the word for. Gesturing towards an object and saying the phrase “Cómo se dice esto?” (“How do you say this?”) is your friend in these situations.

6. Travel with Another Language Learner

One of the best ways to improve fluency is to travel with others who have the same goal as you: to learn Spanish. With your travel partner, agree to converse in Spanish a majority of the time, switching back to English only if absolutely necessary for communication. Committing to this can be hard but rewarding. Create a lighthearted “punishment” for the first person to break this rule.

The ideal travel buddy has at least a basic understanding of Spanish and isn’t afraid to talk to strangers. With your language learning friend, seek out tours led by Spanish-speaking guides. Let the guide know that you’re not a native speaker, but that you’d like to learn about the place you’ve traveled to while practicing Spanish.

There’s also a benefit to traveling with someone who’s learning Spanish, but isn’t a native English speaker. By traveling with a person of this background, your common thread will be Spanish, and you’ll have more motivation to improve your skills. You may have heard of the term lingua franca to describe this; it’s basically when two speakers with two different native languages adopt a third language that they both speak in order to communicate with each other.

7. Turn On the TV and Radio

While you’re sitting in your hotel room, turn on the TV to a local channel and just sit and listen, while making an attempt to translate what they’re saying. Sometimes you’ll be able to recognize a program you’re familiar with in your foreign destination, which can simplify the process of translation thanks to familiarity.

While traveling in taxis, ask the cab driver (in Spanish, obviously!) to turn on his or her favorite local station. Music is a bit harder to translate than the spoken word, but can represent the perfect challenge as you start to build fluency. You might also opt to load up your phone or a music player with some Spanish songs, audio news programs or podcasts to listen to while walking around or waiting in line for attractions.

8. Go on a Date

What could be more compelling than trying to connect with a local hottie? Use an app like Tinder to connect with locals, or just hit up the bars with your travel companions. Once you’ve made a love connection, you can also ask them to guide you around or share their favorite spots for an insider’s view of the place you’re visiting.


Clearly, there are many ways to learn Spanish while on vacation. For best results, do a little preparation before you leave, arm yourself with the tools to translate on the go and be bold when it comes to practicing what you’ve learned.

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