If I didn’t speak Spanish, I would have missed a great opportunity.
I’M IN MEDELLIN COLOMBIA! The City of Eternal Spring. And no, folks – they don’t speak English everywhere.
Lots of people believe that wherever they go, people will speak English. In the past couple of months, I’ve been to England, France, Italy, and now Colombia. I can tell you that’s not the case at all (other than England, obviously…Duh) [The Europe experience is a different story – that was all pleasure, with no “business objectives”.]
This month, I am in Medellin Colombia to check out whether there is potential for The ShareLingo Project* to help the people down here. So, even though I’m looking forward to the personal side of this trip and getting to know Medellin, I’m here for business.
I arrived on Thursday, and had a great chat with the cab driver on the 40-minute ride from the airport down into town – who, guess what, didn’t speak any English except “Taxi Taxi?” (we worked on that – he’s much better with the “Would you like a taxi?” phrase now…)
But the next day, Friday, I was fortunate to be able to attend a speed networking event hosted by a new co-working space here called Siembra (which means sow, or sowing, as in seeds).
It was an amazing meeting with about 30 participants that ranged from lawyers, to web designers, to Social Entrepreneurs, plus the hosts (Al and Mala), of course. Within that group, there were a few who spoke English – including two or three from the U.K. But I think I was the only American (though one of the Colombians did grow up in Miami) and most of the people spoke little or no English at all. But I really wanted to meet them all – because they were young, and passionate, and ready to change the world. It was very exciting.
The thing about speed networking is you change partners every few minutes. So I wouldn’t have had the option of only talking to people who spoke English and just hanging out with them. Thanks to ShareLingo, my Spanish is pretty good. In fact, it was good enough to have great conversations with everyone as we changed partners.
I met a great lawyer that helps startups navigate the Colombian requirements. I met a great accountant that helps startups as well (every business here that isn’t a personal business has to have an accountant.)
And I made some great contacts who we may be able to partner with in one capacity or another down here for web design, creating a mobile app, etc. I’m also pleased that pretty much everyone in the room was excited about what ShareLingo does and could personally relate to how much it’s needed. Especially the ones that don’t speak English yet and know they need to. Not only was this networking, it was market research!
I COULD NOT HAVE DONE SO MUCH IN ONE EVENING WITHOUT SPANISH. PERIOD.
It would have been a great opportunity lost.
Also on this trip, I’ve managed to find a lot of great restaurants, and places to shop. I picked up some new polo shirts, complete with ShareLingo logos, for about $6 each. I’ve purchased clothes and shoes. And I have found out where to find printing, and stationary, and lots of other services. I looked for apartments. I even went to church. All in Spanish. And all in just a couple of days. NONE of the shop keepers I worked with spoke English.
So if you are thinking about working with any of the central or south American countries – or, indeed, if you’re thinking about working with the Hispanic community in the U.S. you owe it to yourself to make the effort to learn Spanish before you go. And you can – believe me. I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. I’m a normal white guy, and I was over 50 when I started learning Spanish. So I know that anyone can do it. Start with Duolingo or another program to learn some vocabulary and get your feet under you, and then find a practice partner.
You will be so glad you did. And you won’t miss out on lots of great opportunities as you travel![If anyone wants information on Colombia or Medellin while I’m here, send me an email or private message. I’ll do my best to find you an answer.]
*The ShareLingo Project is a Social Enterprise that helps English and Spanish speakers come together and teach each other – face to face – which helps break down cultural barriers.