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Speaking the Language

Peru - Speaking the Language


Latin American Spanish is the dominant language in Peru, and is used for official purposes. However, the country is large, and has many indigenous populations who often have their own languages. The language of the Incas, Quechua, is still used in the countryside of the Sierra. Aymaram, the language of the ancient Tihuanacu people, is widely spoken on the Altiplano.

If you are going to on holiday to Peru and are sticking to popular tourist areas, it is likely that the staff at a Spanish speaking hotel as well as nearby restaurant staff will all have a grasp of basic English. Some waiters’ English skills may be limited to taking your order, but many will have made great efforts to develop their language skills, as this is seen as being essential for employment in the tourist market.

Meanwhile, licensed tour guides will be well-educated and will usually speak several languages. English, German, French, Italian, Spanish or the ancient Inca language Quechua are some of the languages commonly spoken by licensed tour guides. These guides can speak fluently about their country’s history, artefacts, natural history, religion, politics, architecture and art. It is difficult to become a licensed tour guide, even for those who have obtained the relevant university degree. These high standards maintain the quality and reputation of the tour guide industry in Peru. Guides spend a lot of time with international visitors, so can help with just about any request or problem you are have during your visit to Peru.

Even if you are sticking to the tourist areas, and especially if you are planning to venture out independently, you should be aware of the safety advice issued by the UK foreign office. A lack of cultural awareness can put you at increased risk of being targeted by petty criminals. That said, many experienced travelers have fallen prey to criminal ploys, and some long haul bus routes are vulnerable to armed robberies which target everyone on board, so do stay alert throughout your stay in Peru.

If you are the victim of a robbery or attack, make sure a police report is filed, even if you are struggling to communicate. Authorities may try to persuade you to file a report elsewhere, and can be persuasive about this, but you will need a local police report to claim insurance. Make sure all your essential documents have been scanned and emailed to friends or relatives, and check your photos are backed up to the cloud every night. Never take anything to Peru which you cannot risk losing, and never wander into an area alone.

For anyone visiting Peru independently or planning a relocation there, learning Spanish will be essential. Outside of the tourist areas, most people will have little or no English.

The form of Spanish spoken in Peru is slightly different to the standard language of Spain. There are grammatical differences, it has its own slang terms, and the pronunciation is distinct. However, if you use the standard form, it will get you through any negotiations without problem, as you will be understood.

A phrase book comes in handy. You can learn simple sentences from it or use it when out on the streets. Smartphone access is invaluable, but you may not always have access to 4G, or you may be in an area where it isn’t wise to get out an expensive phone.

If you carry a pen and paper about with you, negotiations over money can be more easily concluded without misunderstanding. This is particularly useful for taxi rides, where failing to negotiate before getting in the car will cost you dearly. If you have the name of your hotel written down, this will also help.

When undertaking business in Peru, it is important be at meetings in person and not to send a representative or rely on digital communications. However, if you cannot speak Spanish well, you can also bring an interpreter. If you have an employee or colleague who speaks fluent Spanish as well as English, bring them along, as they will help generate business and significantly assist ongoing projects. Since the traffic in Lima is terrible, hire a driver for a set rate per day and leave plenty of time between appointments.

Negotiations in Peru can be difficult if your home culture is one of polite conversations. The business style in Peru is aggressive, with a lot of haggling to get the best price possible. There have been difficult periods in Peru’s recent history which mean that people are wary of new ways of working and seek shorter term profits rather than considering longer term prospects. In the summer of 1990, for example, hyper-inflation led to a daily inflation rate of five percent per day, meaning prices doubled every 13 days. An experience like this will of course color business practices. You may find that employing the services of a local negotiator with a proven track record will help your side of the negotiations.

If you are looking for opportunities to teach English as a foreign language, Peru is a good destination. The local population does not have significant exposure to English in their day-to-day lives, but speaking English can be a vital skill for securing service sector jobs. There are plenty of private language skills providing a range of courses for local people. You can find a directory of them on ESl Base, giving you a head start. Qualifications related to TEFL, teaching or other relevant training will also give you a better chance of working at a reputable school, and may positively affect the wages you can negotiate.

Most English classes will take place before and after the working day. You could be expected to start teaching at 7am, and given the traffic conditions in cities such as Lima, that means you will be best off living near the school. Evening classes take place between 6pm and 9pm. If you are traveling home alone at this hour, be wary and stick to busy roads. Keep valuable possessions out of site and do not stop to talk to anyone you do not know, whatever the reason. A simple request for the time can sometimes be an opportunity for your watch to be stolen.

Be wary of any conditions or targets the language school imposes. You may be asked to pass students through a module when their English language skills are still very weak. The schools need to generate income and may want you to motivate students to pay for the next course. If they fail a module, they may go elsewhere. You need to be comfortable about such practices. When you are being interviewed for a school, make sure you discuss these issues during the interview. As much as you want to might want to be offered a job, the school in question has to be the right one for you.

Watching local TV can be a great way to learn the language. Peru offers a selection of state owned and commercial television channels through more than a hundred broadcasters. They are located across Peru, meaning there is not one centre of national broadcasting, although about a fifth of all broadcasters are based in Lima. There are also three cable networks offering a range of channels.

Digital television was first aired in Peru in 2010 and is expected to entirely replace analogue broadcasts by 2020.

All television broadcasters in Peru operate in Latin American Spanish. Since most of the content is imported, usually from the US, you can sometimes catch a film aired in English with Spanish subtitles. However, many English speaking expats will be looking for a more English language shows, meaning satellite TV packages are a good option.

It is possible to obtain a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, which circumvents the location blocks on UK and US broadcasting services. Using a VPN is legal as long as your use of the services is legal. However, many broadcasters who impose location limits require you to agree to the terms and conditions, and using a VPN to avoid the limits violates those terms and conditions. For example, the BBC iPlayer will not work outside the UK, because only license fee payers have access to the service, and international subscriptions are not available. By using the iPlayer abroad via a VPN, you are violating the BBC iPlayer’s terms and conditions of use.

Peru has a large selection of newspapers and magazines printed daily, weekly and monthly. They are all printed in Spanish. There are imports of UK and US newspapers available in busy city centers and popular tourist spots, but they will be expensive and a little out of date. The internet provides access to a number of UK and US newspapers for free, with others available behind a paywall. Obviously these will give you information about your home country and, depending on the paper, international affairs. Their coverage of Peruvian domestic stories is unusual.

The Andean Air Mail and Peruvian Times is an online news magazine in English. In addition to reporting of national stories, it also has an international outlook through its opinion pieces.


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