When I moved to Mexico, one of the first commitments I made to myself was to learn to speak Spanish. The importance of this became incredibly significant as I progressed through the country on my journey from Texas to my new home on the Riviera Maya.
I can count exactly two times during that 2,000 mile road trip that I was lucky enough to bump into anyone who spoke English. The first was at a Subway in Querataro, where an employee spoke reasonably good English, but only enough to help me order a sandwich.
The second time was at a toll booth in the jungle between Villahermosa and Minatitlan. I was getting nervous about reaching Minatitlan, where I’d planned to sleep, by nightfall. I rolled up and asked the booth attendant in terrible Spanish if I was on the correct route. He replied in full-blown English. “Yeah, dude, just stay on this road. It’s about 60 miles from here.”
“Miles” I thought. He didn’t express it in kilometers, he told me the distance in miles! And sounded like someone from the United States!
I commended him on his excellent English. He smiled and said he’d studied for 8 years at UCLA, and when he saw my Texas plates, wanted to take the opportunity to speak some English.
That young man was like a refreshing oasis in the desert for me. I bid him goodbye and he wished me good travels, and as I pressed on toward home, it reinforced the lesson that I was in a foreign country and, if I was to be successful, would have to become proficient in Spanish.
Even here on the Yucatan Peninsula, in the Riviera Maya region, you will be lucky to find English speaking locals outside of the resort areas.
So here are a couple of recommendations for learning to speak Spanish.
If you’re traveling here for a week-long vacation, and will be staying in a resort area along the Riviera Maya, you’ll be fine speaking English, but I encourage you to learn at least a few Spanish terms. Here is an excellent link that will give you 56 Spanish phrases from Fluentu that you absolutely should know. While not completely necessary in resort areas, these are sufficient to get you by should you ever choose to venture off the resort, where you will find the real Mexico.
Another option is to download Google Translate onto your smartphone. I’m not sure if there’s an iPhone version, but I can tell you that this will get you by in a pinch. All you have to do is type or talk into your phone, and it will provide a Spanish translation that you can either repeat or show to the individual whom you are attempting to communicate with. It helped me more than a few times on my drive down.
However, those are just band-aids. If you want to truly begin to become fluent in Spanish, you must commit. This involves not just learning, but speaking it regularly and becoming proficient in listening.
All languages are learned contextually. That is to say, all words, be it in your native or foreign tongue, are learned in accordance to your environment and situation.
Let’s break that down for a second.
Do you remember how you learned your native language? Most of us never really think about it, but try to remember your earliest days of learning to speak. We associated things with words, spoken to us by another person. We were also taught by another person to associate pictures and people with words, and, in time, were taught the meaning behind those words.
We learned by immersion. There was no other way. We were taught how to associate images, objects and people with words, learning intuitively the meaning, function, or importance therein.
We were later taught to write down those words. Individual words at first, and then, elementary sentence structure. We were then taught to say those sentences, and later taught to use those words and phrases to construct new sentences that meant something.
Living here in Mexico, one of the best lessons taught to me by a neighbor was this:
To learn Spanish, you must forget English.
This man is very proficient in Spanish and is now learning Mayan. He is also very well versed in French, so he knows a bit about learning new languages.
Essentially, you must stop translating in your head.
This takes work, but once you begin to learn to get your native tongue out of the way and intuitively know how to see a word in Spanish, and see the associated image, and know what it means without having to engage the English translator in your head, and once you know how to say a word or speak a sentence, turning images into words, you’re on your way.
I’m sure all of that seems like a really hard thing to do, but I assure you, it’s not.
First, you must simply want to do it. If you’re moving here, it is essential that you do it. If you’re coming down here for vacation and simply want to interact with the locals, it is still beneficial in that you show good will to your Mexican hosts, who will most definitely appreciate your attempt to speak their language. They will sometimes attempt to correct you if you’re pronouncing a word wrong, but they will do so in the most friendly way.
Often you will order food in English and they will repeat the order back to you in Spanish. This is a gift and opportunity to repeat it back to them in Spanish. Before you know it, you’ve had a mini-Spanish lesson. Remember that!
Listen to them and learn.
Finally, if you speak English, did you know you already know thousands of Spanish words?
You just need to know some very easy patterns to change English words into Spanish.
As I said before, I’ve studied many Spanish courses, all of them good, but I finally found a source for learning Spanish that is intuitive and immediately functional. Most courses try to teach you Spanish by learning individual words, but never teach you to place those words into meaningful sentences that are in any way helpful if you’re in a foreign country. Those that do wait so far into the learning process that many lose interest by the time the course advances that far.
I’ve finally settled on a course that I’m convinced is the best introductory means to learning Spanish I’ve ever seen. It has absolutely worked for me, because it begins with the Spanish words you already know, you just didn’t know that you knew them. It then takes you from knowing those words you already knew to creating sentences and questions out of them.
I’d just like to say that this is not an advertisement or in any way endorsed or affiliated. I just believe in supporting quality products. This is simply a recommendation based on what has worked for me.
For less than $40 USD, you can get a complete audio course along with a 230 page action guide which will have you speaking fluent Spanish in 31 days. It will unlock and teach you to speak the Spanish you already know.
Once you begin learning, I encourage you to begin total immersion in Spanish.
Read Spanish websites. Convert your Facebook newsfeed to Spanish and attempt to read it. The more you learn, the more you will understand.
There are some places here in Mexico that offer a total immersion experience in learning Spanish. I’ll discuss them here soon.
Most importantly, simply begin.
As you learn, this will begin to train your brain into word and phrase recognition. It’ll go slowly at first, but the more you learn and the more you read, the more your brain will begin to recognize Spanish words, and you’ll understand what you’re reading without having to stop and translate.
Now, off to the beach… the Caribbean awaits!
A su éxito!!!!