Español, por favor

One challenge every expat faces is “what to do about the local language?” Do you just ignore it, speak English very loudly, and hope for the best?  Do you learn a few phrases, so you can ask for another beer, or where the restrooms are, and just get by? Do you rely on Google translate and hope we get the Universal Translator before you croak? Do you just keep trying through experience and osmosis to pick up the language? Do you go online and try the free or pay language training sites? Do you take language classes in person?

We always assumed we would learn Spanish, just to be comfortable in our new home. We both have foreign languages in our past: I spoke German and some French; Judy also spoke German and had four years of high school Spanish. We thought we would find some immersion training in Guadalajara, since it has a major university and is known for immersive language training. However, most of the immersion training is aimed at college students, and we weren’t interested in moving into a dorm for six weeks (imagine that!).

We found many great language aids online. YouTube is full of decent instructional videos. We weren’t partial to Rosetta Stone, but we did like Synergy Spanish and look forward to following Destinos when we learn a little more vocabulary. We really like free apps like Memrise or sites like, which can really help with practice or training aids. Judy has done a great job putting new vocabulary words on flashcards on Quizlet.

In the end, we needed more structure: we learned many phrases and short questions/answers, but we weren’t learning the language. So we decided to try a local language school, Olé México. We meet three times a week, for 1 hour and 45 minutes each class. Our class is just four students and one teacher, so we get ample opportunity to practice speaking.

Class, L-R: Judy, Nadia, Darcy, Penny

We started with the alphabet and pronunciation drills, and then began conjugating regular verbs. We keep adding vocabulary by learning sets of words, like directions, or adjective pairs (strong/weak, short/tall), or noun groups (Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter, Family). We just tackled the ever-difficult “when to use Ser versus Estar” lesson. For those who don’t know, Spanish has two different versions of the English verb “to be”, and they are used for different qualities of “being.” Ser is for essential characteristics, and estar is for more transitory characteristics, mas o menos.

I always heard from language teachers that Spanish was the easiest foreign language for English-speakers to learn, because many words translate almost directly (like anything ending in -ion), and in Spanish the vowels and consonants have only one sound and you sound them all out.

Our teacher, Nadia, has done a great job. We enjoy lessons where she asks us to describe our favorite actor or singer, and the class has to guess who it is. We just finished describing our extended families. Or sometimes she asks us a basic question like “where were you born?” and then asks us to describe the differences between that place and where we live now. It is a lot of oral practice, but we can already see a difference in our language capabilities. We can hold basic conversations with merchants, exchange pleasantries with people we meet, and at least make ourselves understood, even if we don’t always know the correct terms.

Perhaps I will try out a dual language post in the not too distant future!

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