The first time I tried to talk to a Spanish speaker from the Dominican Republic, I was extremely confused.
I got a text that said klk and I was like...
I didn't know that klk was short for ¿Qué lo que? which is a very Dominican (and informal) way of saying "What's up?"
At first I thought I was slow or stupid for not having learned this before.
I mean, this is a pretty basic and common greeting.
But it wasn't my fault.
Regional Spanish is an afterthought in most Spanish programs. The idea that "all Spanish is Spanish" is what makes it hard to really get the information you need in an academic setting.
Even the most popular apps only give you the generic option of "Latin American Spanish" or Castilian Spanish.
But the truth is, this generic category of Spanish doesn't really help you speak Spanish to real people.
The fact is, every country has its own culture, history, accent, slang, and regional vocabulary. (Don't believe me? Just ask your friends from different countries in Latin America to translate the word "banana" and you'll start a debate.)
That's the reason behind the Caribbean Spanish courses. There is no such thing as "bad Spanish," people speak the way they do in the real world.
And that's what I was confronted with when I got that text.
If you want to learn Spanish the way it's really spoken, you have two options:
Keep using some Spanish app and learn "generic, neutral" Spanish that you can only find in the newspaper and in a classroom, and stay in the dark when you hear Spanish conversations in real life
Sign up for the Dominican Spanish 101 course and learn the way people really speak Spanish in one of the most popular travel destinations in the world
It's up to you.
But if any of the islands are on your bucket list and you want to be able to talk to (and understand) the locals, this is really the only way to do it without a LOT of frustration and blank stares.