Besides being the official language of more than 20 countries, Spanish is the second most popular language worldwide, after Chinese (#1) and before English (#3). In accordance with this—and considering my slight bias, as Spanish is my first language—I will share my love for this musical language in an effort to motivate you to learn it. Even if all you know today is how to order dos cervezas and ask for el baño, I invite you to look at the sources linked here and let the literature, music, and exotic destinations inspire you.
1. Writers like Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, and Borges
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Most students in Spanish-speaking countries are first introduced to Gabriel Garcia Marquez around the same time students in English-speaking countries are introduced to Shakespeare. Also known as Gabo, this Colombian novelist won the Nobel Prize in Literature 1982 “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.”
The literary genre alluded to in the previous sentence is magic realism, and I can assure you reading Gabo’s work feels realistically magical (I have cried on multiple occasions while listening to the audiobook of Love in the Time of Cholera, or El amor en los tiempos del cólera).
I assure you that, by reading some of these quotes, you will be hooked by his spectacular style of writing. For the ones looking for something longer, if your level of Spanish is either intermediate or advanced, try reading One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad). If you identify more as a beginner, try reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Crónica de una muerte anunciada).
Mario Vargas Llosa
This Peruvian writer and professor also won a Nobel Prize in Literature, in 2010. This prestigious honour was awarded “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Evidently, his interests go beyond literature and into political activism, as depicted in one of his most recent articles published in El Pais, a popular journal based in Madrid, Spain. As an eloquent political activist, his arguably most known phrase is “Mexico es la dictadura perfecta” (Mexico is the perfect dictatorship), referring to the PRI political party, which was in power from 1929 to 1989.
Jorge Luis Borges
Although Borges, an Argentinian poet and essayist, never won the Nobel Prize in Literature, he was nominated for this illustrious recognition on eight different occasions. Borges is known as the father of postmodernism, a literary genre characterized by an attitude of skepticism and irony. He once said, “The original is unfaithful to the translation,” so he is somehow also encouraging you to learn Spanish, in order to appreciate his work faithfully.
2. Music by Shakira, Soda Stereo, Natalia Lafourcade, and Joaquin Sabina.
Learning a second language can be both inspired and fomented by lyrical comprehension (or lack of it). Admittedly, listening to music by Carla Bruni and Zaz and wishing I could understand the lyrics was a great motivator for my FFL undertaking (French as a fourth language).
Here, I present various artists I would encourage you to listen to.
(Old) Shakira – My personal favourite
Genre: “My music, I think, is a fusion of many different elements,” she once said to Rolling Stone. “And I’m always experimenting. So I try not to limit myself, or put myself in a category, or . . . be the architect of my own jail, you know?”
The Colombian singer and songwriter is internationally known for songs like “Hips Don’t Lie” and “Can’t Remember to Forget You” arguably because they were both collaborations with English-speaking artists: Wyclef Jean and Rihanna, respectively. However, I would recommend listening to her albums Piez Descalzos and Dónde Están los Ladrones?. As you will see, besides her beautiful lyrics—inspired by religion, politics, and social activism—Shakira has a fairly neutral accent and relatively slow tempos.
Soda Stereo – A favourite of rock enthusiasts
Soda Stereo was an Argentinian band that took its last breath in 2014 with the death of the lead singer, Gustavo Cerati. Although the official band separation was in 1997, there were constant rumours—mainly fed by their most zealous admirers—of a reunion. Fortunately, their legacy will live on with Spanish and soon-to-be Spanish speakers forever. “De musica ligera,” “En la ciudad de la furia,” and “Canción animal” are some of their most popular songs, which I would encourage you to listen to.
Natalia Lafourcade – Natalia could be considered the Spanish version of Dua Lipa
The Mexican singer and songwriter is the perfect indie guide to your Spanish venture. Her most recent albums, Musas and Hasta la raíz, will allow you to better appreciate Latin American folklore through her profound lyrics, soothing voice, and catchy rhythms.
Joaquin Sabina – The Elvis Presley of the Spanish world
This singer, songwriter, and poet from the Iberian peninsula fled during the 1970s to London in order to avoid persecution by the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. He then returned to Madrid to work on his music, and although his fame has been somewhat limited to Spain and Latin America, Sabina has several Grammy nominations and a documentary to brag about. After suffering a stroke in 2004, he has now recuperated fully. With his guitar and his rusty voice, Sabina continues to captivate listeners all around the world.
Most of us with a cultural appreciation drive are not satiated by visiting the international restaurant downtown. Fortunately, with Spanish as a second language, your international adventure prospects look promising. Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Spain are among the most common travel destination for Canadians, and airlines such as United Airlines and Air Canada often offer good deals to these destinations. Besides visiting museums and other famous buildings and landmarks, you will be able to engage in conversation with locals. Even if said local speaks English, enjoying a story told by someone from a different culture than yours in their mother tongue is a pleasure that monolingual people miss out on.
Finally, you will improve your job prospects by gaining leverage in a competitive market as international markets grow and Canada’s free trade agreements with Mexico, Costa Rica, Panamá, Honduras, Colombia, Perú, and Chile are maintained.
I will end with some words of encouragement. Admittedly, I am still learning English. I have been learning English for a little over 15 years, and I add new words to my vocabulary almost daily. Nevertheless, the process of learning a language is part of the fun: if I knew every word in the English language, why would I ever read or listen to anything new?