Medellin Free City Guide


Whilst the government is currently pushing English language education in schools (many universities require students to study English) you may have trouble finding people on the street who speak conversational English.

In more affluent and tourist friendly neighborhoods, such as El Poblado, there will usually be someone at the hostel, hotel, bar, or restaurant that speaks English. It’s also common for menus to have an English description or English version altogether.

The locals in suburbs such as El Poblado are more likely to speak English having had more opportunity to live, study and/or work abroad. Elsewhere, despite the language barrier the locals are friendly and will do their best to try and understand you. Body language goes along way.

Toucan Tip: Colombian Spanish

Colombian Spanish is supposed to be the purest and most neutral Spanish there is. This is why Colombia is often touted as the best place to learn Spanish in South America. It is spoken without the distinct lisp that is heard in Spain and is spoken at a slower pace making Colombia an excellent location for studying Spanish.

Let’s quickly review some noticeable differences in Spanish spoken in Colombia compared to other Spanish speaking countries.

The double “L” in Spanish from Spain or Mexico sounds like a “Y” (for example, “Medellin,” would sound like Me-De-Yeen). However, in Medellin, the double “L” is more of a “J” sound. For example, a Medellin local, a Paisa, would pronounce Medellin as Me-De-Jeen. If you go around saying Me-De-Yeen it’s an easy indication for locals to know that you’re a newbie in town.

To ask someone how they are in Spain you would ask “Cómo estás?” or “Qué tal?”. However, here in Colombia, it’s more common to ask “qué más?” or “bien o no?” when greeting others.

If you didn’t understand someone speaking, instead of asking “Qué?”, or “Mande?” in Mexican Spanish, it’s much more common to ask “Cómo?” in Colombia.

Terms for time have a slightly different meaning as well. In Spain “ahora” means “now”. However, in Colombia, this may mean “in a little bit” or even “much later”. If Colombians don’t want to do something now they’ll often say they’ll do it “ahora”, which may mean later or it might just be a convenient excuse not to do it.

When visiting restaurants or shops in Colombia, you’re also bound to hear “A la orden!”, which is to say, “At your service!”

“Pues” is also frequently spoken at the end of sentences. Oddly enough, it doesn’t really mean much.

“Parce” means “mate” and you’ll hear this quite often.

All in all Colombia is a superb place to learn the Spanish language. Spanish is spoken relatively clearly, but more importantly, it’s much easier to learn the local language in such an affectionate and warm country. Even if your Spanish is terrible but you carry a smile, strangers exude patience and might even compliment your Spanish. This local Colombian morale boost, alone, will surely get you through a potential language barrier easier than in other Spanish speaking countries where they might be more reserved and unapproachable.

Of course if you want to learn Spanish in Medellin you are more than welcome to join us at the Toucan Spanish School. We’re the largest Spanish School in Medellin, classes start weekly at all levels.

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