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Readers Respond: Would I Offend by Initiating Conversation in Spanish?

Responses: 72

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Definitely try it

In south Florida there are many Spanish-speaking people, from gardeners to retail salespeople, waiters and so on. I usually throw out a test phrase as suggested and wait for the reply, which is almost always in Spanish. It goes on from there quite easily and sure helps with the practice.
—Guest Andrew Clarke

¡Claro que sí!

Learning a language requires action ... the action of speaking as much and as often as possible even at the risk of personal discomfort, or one will never learn to speak fluently. I learned to speak fluent and excellent French in Paris using this approach. My motto is, speak with any and everyone. If they do not care to engage, they will let you know. It's OK, too, for someone to not care to engage. Otherwise, I see each and every person as a potential maestro de espagnol. So many people, when approached politely, are so willing to participate and to teach something of their native language to a person attempting to learn.
—Guest kevin

You learn by trying

I am an Argentine speaker of English, qualified, because I hold a degree in teaching and interpreting. However, sometimes Americans or Britishers are too posh, and when I talk to them in English, they will answer in Spanish. Priggish, perhaps? I don't know, but sometimes they would rather I spoke Spanish, because they don't seem to like foreigners speaking their language. Anyway, I believe that when you are learning you must try using the language, otherwise you are never going to learn.
—patgrey

Speaking in whatever language

I now live in El Paso but have spoken Spanish since I was young. Going downtown and many other parts of town you hear more Spanish than English. Generalmente yo hablo en español con otros, especialmente si veo que es difícil para los otros. Me gusta hablar en cualquier lengua, no me importa. :)
—Guest Speed from El Paso TX

Even in Slovenia

I am learning Spanish to go to Latin America in the summer. This week I met some people from Argentina on the bus. I started communicating with my broken Spanish and they were pleased with it. All of a sudden some other people around us joined the conversation. We all were surprised to see that in Slovenia Spanish has been in lately.
—Guest Nusa

It's how you learn

To my humble opinion to initiate a conversation in Spanish is the only way to practice the language
—Guest Meyer

It depends on the person

I live in New York and have lots of opportunity to speak Spanish with native speakers, especially from Latin America. However, I only attempt it with people I see regularly: our building's super, the guys who work at the deli, etc. They know I'm studying their language and they know they're helping me out. I even think they get a kick out of my progress. I don't do it with people I don't know unless my Spanish is substantially better than their English. It can seem a little condescending and intrusive. That said, my husband and I travel a lot in Spain and Argentina and people often try to practice their English with us. Most of the time it's a good-natured exchange, a good back-and-forth and cultural exchange.
—SharonFrost

Responding with a smile

I always say in Spanish that I am trying to learn to speak Spanish and will you help me? Our cleaning staff always respond with a huge smile and they are happy to help. I believe it gives them a sense of self that they can teach me instead of the other way around.
—Guest terri

I have been offended

So, when the tables are turned, I don't care for it. I am a native speaker of Spanish but of European descent. I have traveled to Spanish-speaking countries and I am often automatically addressed in English and I can't stand it. I know no harm is intended, but I have not even been addressed in the local language before assumptions are made. My general rule is, speak in the language of where you are unless: 1. The person with whom you are speaking is having trouble and would like to change languages or 2. One of you has overheard the other and asks where they are from and introduces a curiosity. Don't assume we don't understand and don't assume another feels the same.
—Guest Emilia

Throw out a test word or phrase

Here in Los Ángeles, it is almost as if I am immersed in a traditional Spanish-speaking country most of the time, and I am especially grateful. But although I speak Spanish really well, I am not fluent. So generally I'll respond to something when with a Spanish-speaking business employee by saying "perfecto" or "muy buenos días." If they bite then IT'S ON! But I start off respectfully hesitant because I don't want to come across as arrogant. However since I'm a repeat customer at some many places, ¡the conversation is now always in español!
—marquitos

Watch their body language

Of course, I must say this upfront: My native language is Spanish, so I never feel that I am making a fool of myself by initiating a conversation due to improper use of my language. I let the person dictate, by body language, whether or not it would be appropriate to speak, and if they seem accessible, I go ahead and talk to them.
—Guest Yolanda

Never a bad experience

I used to be hesitant and worried about that but I would initiate the conversation anyway. Every time I have spoken to someone in Spanish, the person has been grateful and just happy that someone tried to speak to them in their native language. I have never had a bad experience with it and it's really great to practice!! I definitely recommend it and tell all my students to also!
—Guest Alissa

Go for it

I never feel I should miss an opportunity to speak Spanish to a native. I like to see their response; they know you are trying and that is all that matters. Don't be afraid to try.
—Guest edward

Don't bde afraid

I've been using Spanish with native speakers since I first started learning Spanish. I was 16 at that time, and I am now a semiretired senior. I speak Spanish fluently, and I'm using Spanish in my current job. Don't be afraid! Native speakers are very happy to talk with you in Spanish.
—Guest Marilyn

I always engage!

The only person who is uncomfortable is my husband, and now that he knows a bit of Spanish, he joins in too. I have never been rejected by a Spanish speaker. I love the culture; their graciousness is nearly guaranteed.
—Guest Mary

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