Top Tips: Volunteering with Little or No Spanish
With the right attitude and great communication skills volunteering without speaking the native language can be very possible. Obviously we all know that the more Spanish you speak whilst volunteering in Mexico the more varied and profound your experience will be. However, during my time working as a Volunteer Coordinator in Oaxaca I saw many people with just a basic grasp of Spanish really being able to help out. Here are my top tips for making it work:
All About the Attitude
If you lack language you can make up for in facial expressions and body language and a positive attitude. It is common to feel embarrassed or shy about not speaking Spanish, which can show in your body language. Try to counteract this by smiling a lot and being expressive, after all over 55% of communication is through body language and not verbal expression. From experience, I have seen that volunteers that go into their organizations with a really positive, ‘can-do’ attitude succeed despite the language barrier. Sometimes these volunteers had a more mutually beneficial experience in their placement than those with advanced Spanish.
Working with Children
Working with children is a great thing to do if you lack Spanish because children communicate well without language and the language of play is universal! Many of the children’s homes in Oaxaca are overwhelmed and would love an extra pair of hands to play with the kids, to change diapers and to help with feeding the children. So if you are great with kids then this could be a fantastic option.
Teach English/German/Italian etc
Don’t underestimate the value of your native language, especially English. There are many organizations in Oaxaca that provide free or highly subsidized language classes with the help of volunteers. It actually helps that you don’t speak Spanish because it will force your student to make themselves understood in another language. Some organizations to check out are: Oaxaca Learning Center, Fundación de Apoyo de la Educaión, Fundación EnVia
Don’t forget to ask
If there is an organization whose work really interests you, get in touch and ask if they would value your help despite your level of Spanish. It is possible that there are jobs that you can do without needing a command of the language. It is always worth asking and after all, what better way to improve than immersing yourself!
Author: Susannah Rigg