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Learning to Speak Spanish in Lake Chapala

Not speaking Spanish may sometimes be a deal breaker for people when they think of coming here to live. The first and most important point in this article is to say that you don’t have to be able to speak Spanish in order to enjoy living here. Because there are so many expats here, a great number of the Mexicans have learned to speak English. They know that is the way to get ahead. So it is no problem to find an English speaker no matter what you are trying to buy or otherwise accomplish. The English speakers are proud of their skill and include this in their advertisements for their businesses. We Speak English. It might not be as clearly as you speak it but you will most likely be able to understand it.

Where can I learn Spanish?

At the Lake Chapala Society there is a drop-in class. It is on Tuesdays from 10:30 to 12.00 in the afternoon. Members are welcome to join in and participate. You can get more information by visiting the LCS at 16 de Septiembre 16-A, Ajijic, Jalisco, MX or call them at 766-1140.

Just remember that sometimes the English speakers are used to dealing with Americans and Canadians and they adjust their prices accordingly. Speaking Spanish is an advantage on your side, especially if you want to get the lower priced services and goods.

Speaking a little Spanish has it’s advantages.

Like it or not, there are sometimes two prices here, Mexican prices and Expat prices. It isn’t as bad as other places in Mexico. I heard a story from a friend about going to a restaurant in another Mexican town and being handed a menu in English only and then seeing a different menu in Spanish. The same things in English were priced much higher than in the Spanish menu. You won’t find that here. But you may be quoted a higher price for services if you can’t speak Spanish and are not willing to negotiate. This is just human nature. A little two-room casita that might cost a Mexican fifty dollars a month could cost an expat two hundred a month. But, think about it, you make a lot more money too. So, proportional to your income, you still have a good deal. That is always a good thing to keep in mind here.

From what I have experienced, most Mexicans appreciate the attempt to speak their language, even if you make a lot of mistakes. They will sometimes tell you the correct way to say it or else they will smile and ignore your mistakes. They are generally polite people.  I have read that over 90% of communication between people is by body language. Remembering that makes it easier, but it also doesn’t help when it comes to communicating on the phone.

There are other advantages to speaking Spanish. Did you know that learning a new language makes new synapses grow in your brain and keeps it healthy and young? Here is something else to consider. If you exercise for an hour or so, your brain gets more active too and the next hour after your exercise is the best time to study. What you learn is more likely to stay in your brain. One of the things I like to do is to listen to romantic Mexican music on my iPod while I am walking all over town. I try to understand the words of the songs. I have learned a lot of Spanish that way and listening to music makes walking more fun. I also love to listen to the Mariachi singers.

Sol y Luna Spanish Courses in Ajijic.

There is also a language school, Sol y Luna. It is in West Ajijic Mexico. Their e mail address is: hugo@solylunamexico.com and their phone number is: (52) 376- 766-5850 and from the U.S. A. it is 954 234-2531

Mexicans speak Spanish very fast.

I have several friends who are advanced in speaking Spanish. When I listen to them, I usually can understand what they are saying but many times I have a hard time understanding the Mexicans because they talk so fast. A friend told me that is because Mexicans learn Spanish as children in phrases, not individual words. He said his Mexican friend writes English the same way. She writes entire phrases on the computer and then goes back and separates the words.  When we learn Spanish, it is usually in separate words and then we put those words together in sentences.  So, if you are an advanced Spanish speaker, don’t feel bad if sometimes you can’t understand a native Spanish speaker. This may be the reason.

If you learn Spanish, then you can have many more friends here. You may get invited to their celebrations and homes. A whole new life will open up for you.  I was once told that when you learn a new language you develop aspects of your personality that you never knew you had. This is because every language expresses different values. Spanish is a fluid language. Tenses change. Word endings change. It reflects the values of the Mexican people. From what I have seen, their lives are more fluid than ours. Things aren’t nailed down like in the English language.  Take the word  Manana for example. Now Manana means tomorrow. But it also means the day after tomorrow or it could mean next month or maybe it means never. So, if a Mexican uses that word to tell you something will be done Manana, please don’t take it literally. It could mean anytime in the future. Or never. You have to learn to go with the flow here.

Is that Mexican time or Gringo Time?

This is a sentence that people here laughingly use: Is that Mexican time or Gringo Time? Because M.T. is fluid. If you are going to meet a Mexican at let’s say three in the afternoon, that may mean five to him/her. What does it matter anyway? Sometime in the late afternoon is good enough for the Mexican.  Or maybe it means it will be tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.  The more Spanish you know, the better you will understand the Mexican people.

I know several expats who have been living here for twenty years and have not learned any Spanish. They just don’t want to bother. I also know Mexicans here who have been doing business with the expats all of their adult lives and have not learned any English. Learning a new language takes effort and time and some people just don’t want to make that effort. The ones who do choose to make an attempt, do their best by participating in one of the many Spanish classes offered in the area, such as the ones at the American legion

The American Legion Spanish Classes.

If you like classes, there are many choices here. The American Legion often has a class in Spanish and the fee is nominal. Their address is: Morelos #114. It is just a few blocks off the main Plaza in Chapala. Their phone number is: (376) 765-2259.

The Rosetta Stone Spanish learning?

How do you learn another language? That all depends on you. Some people learn from their heads. They like to take classes and study language books and take tests. One step at a time, learning all the rules and tenses. (One of the most popular methods is The Rosetta Stone. It is a CD and available here in the markets.) Others like to learn from the heart. I have a woman friend here who told me she learned Spanish with her Mexican lover. She insists that there is no better way to learn words than in the bedroom. Okay, but short of having a lover, what other ways do people learn?

I like to watch videos or television programs with the Spanish words on the bottom of the screen. Sometimes I watch programs in Spanish with the English words at the bottom. I also like to keep my ears open on buses and in crowds and I try to understand the conversations around me. My way of learning is more immersion than classroom. I can’t stand to sit in a class. I get too restless and I put too much pressure on myself to learn. I feel like a failure when the words don’t stick in my brain.

Learning Spanish for Love.

Learning the language isn’t the most important part of being with people. I know of two couples here who have fallen in love and married without being able to speak to each other verbally. One couple was a Canadian man and a Mexican woman. She heard that he was lonely and looking for a wife and she showed up at his door. They dated for a year and married. In another year she had learned enough English words to talk to him and he had learned enough Spanish words to keep up with her.  When they are in their home, she speaks English and he speaks Spanish. Neither of them has mastered the new language but they are enjoying the process.

The other couple have been married for many years. The Mexican woman learned English but he never learned Spanish. He spoke about it with me once. He was angry at her because she corrected him too much when he was trying to learn. So he gave up. But they are still together and they seem happy most of the time. I am mentioning this because of the importance of patience with yourself and with others when you are trying to learn a new language. As I said earlier, usually the Mexicans are very forgiving when an American or Canadian tries to speak Spanish and makes mistakes.  Maybe it was a husband and wife thing going on between them that made her so critical of him.

Expats who adapt with a Mexican family.

I know many older American and Canadian men who have come here and fallen in love with and married much younger Mexican women.  Usually the women have young children. So these men take  on the responsibilities of raising a ready made family. Maybe they already raised their own children. Starting over again seems to keep them young. At least they look happy. Speaking Spanish is very helpful when you are living with a Mexican family. One of the best ways I know of to learn another language is by listening to young children. They are also learning the language so they speak short phrases at a time and they are very expressive when they use the phrases.

There are also many private tutoring opportunities here. Just ask around and look on bulletin boards for the advertisements.  I think the most important thing is a willingness to try and a lack of fear of making mistakes. I like the saying—Progress, not perfection.

If you would like more information on this subject, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help.

By, Evelyn Walker

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