Before you go onto think that “living a language” is the best way to learn it, let me correct you in the politest manner possible. That, my friend, is not 100% true. Or at least, not for everyone. Why do I say that? Because I have personally tried this theory. And I can say from experience that when I was learning Spanish in Mexico, it didn’t work out quite well for me!
My personal experience
A couple of years ago, I moved to Japan and I fantasized about speaking Japanese with the locals. I lived there for a year, and to be honest I can’t remember having a conversation with a local for more than twenty seconds. That’s how I realised that living a language does not necessarily mean that you get to learn it. It is true that listening to locals speaking helps to attune the ear to the language. But that doesn’t mean you will be able to put together grammatically accurate sentences without any academic aid. And especially, if the language you are trying to learn is very different from your native language. Listening to locals won’t be enough, you will need to make a bit of an effort.
View this post on Instagram
Here are a few ideas that helped me to learn Spanish while living in Mexico:
Set up realistic expectations
When I decided to move to Mexico, I realized that I needed a better strategy if I wanted to speak Spanish fluently. The first step is not to expect too much from yourself. Learning Spanish in Mexico is not an easy task. You’re teaching your brain to think in another language and that is going to take some time.
If you have realistic expectations of yourself, you’ll find it encouraging to achieve small goals instead of lamenting at not being able to write a piece of poetry in Spanish. By nature, I am an extrovert. I love surrounding myself with people. And while Spanish natives are loving and understanding, they LOVE to talk as well.
Take classes to learn faster
The reason why I picked up on Spanish faster than Japanese was the fact that I took a course in Spanish in my high school once. I faintly remembered the basic, I could count to ten and introduce myself, but that was it. My first two months in Mexico went awful in terms of being social. I ordered food by highlighting the item on the menu with my forefinger.
That was when I realized I needed to take classes in Spanish. I talked to my husband about it who was already taking a two-hour long class of Spanish at his workplace after work hours. He encouraged me and told me that I would be able to learn faster in no time. So I took up five hours a day Spanish course from Monday to Friday.
Practise, practise and practise
Learning Spanish in the classroom helped me in many different ways. First of all, it helped me build confidence. Part of the reason I couldn’t imitate the words and sentences I heard or never tried to communicate with other people was the fact that I never actually spoke this language before. In my class, the teacher would force us to speak. We regularly had oral tests so speaking in Spanish became unavoidable.
After I aced my first oral test, I realized it wasn’t that difficult to speak Spanish after all. Over time, I started to speak Spanish at home with my husband, and I realized the best way to learn Spanish is by speaking it. You can only live a language if you understand it first. And understanding the people around me became so much easier after I started taking classes.
Interacting with locals
Since I lived with my husband, I couldn’t take up a residential language learning course. In these types of courses, after you’re done paying the fee for the course, the administration finds you a family that you can live with. It means that you are immersed in the experience of listening to, understanding and speaking Spanish every day, and it helps.
But as taking a residential language learning course wasn’t the best option for me, I started talking to my maid as often as I could. And when she realized that I could comprehend what she was saying, she became very talkative and began to tell me all about her family and her life. It was great!
At that point, I started noticing how I was interacting much better with the farm market vendors and the shopkeepers. If I was in a cab going for sightseeing, I was able to talk to the cab driver about the beauty of Mexico. And I started to really learn about the delicious Mexican cuisine and Mexican culture while enjoying this amazing country!
I remember a marvellous moment when I felt really integrated. I was at the nearest diner to our home when the waitress smiled brightly at me after I praised the meal and her service.
Altogether, my experience with Spanish people and learning Spanish in Mexico has been great so far! I am keen to know your story about how are you learning Spanish. Please leave a comment below and let me know!