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Last updateFri, 22 Mar 2019 1pm

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Español, por favor

¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Now that 2019 is under way, I hope expats have put buffing up their Spanish skills high up on the list of New Year’s resolutions.

Why bother, you say? After all, expat life at lakeside revolves around the activities of thousands of people who speak your language. Besides, many local folks who provide goods and services speak fair to fluent English.

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Razón Número Uno: You’re living in México where español is the national language. No one is obligated to cater to foreigners who have trouble communicating. Thank your lucky stars that most Mexican people kindly tolerate your ignorance and make every attempt to catch your drift without wincing, no matter how badly you mangle their vernacular. 

Some years back I overheard an expat standing at the meat counter in a Chapala grocery store. “Ocho, tocino,” he told the butcher. “Perdón, señor,” the puzzled carnicero politely replied. Trying to narrow down just what the man wanted, he asked,“¿Ocho pesos? ¿Ocho kilos? ¿Ocho rebanadas?” The customer only raised the volume while insisting, “Ocho tocino, ocho tocino.” The butcher patiently sliced away at the slab of bacon, holding up the growing stack with a quizzical look until the demanding foreigner said, “Ok, that’s good.” He grabbed the wrapped package and walked off. The word gracias never crossed his lips.

Número Dos: Whether you need it to get by or not, dominating some level of Spanish will enrich your life here. Interaction with the local people helps foster integration into the community and build bonds of friendship. You will gain greater appreciation for the culture and understanding of the Mexican value system. For example, you’ll get why a plumber may miss an appointment to fix your leaky sink because his child fell ill or a beloved relative dropped dead.

A former Ajijic priest explained priorities this way: Primero Dios, luego la familia, luego el trabajo y después todo lo demás. God first, then family, work and all the rest, in that order. It’s that simple

Número Tres: You have multiple options for studying Spanish here. The Lake Chapala Society, various academies and private tutors offer classes, with different methods and group sizes available to match your particular needs.

If you prefer going it alone, there are electronic gadgets and internet resources to help you along. (Beware: Google translate reliably interprets single words, but often garbles the fine points and nuances of extended texts.)

Sure, the older you are, the harder it seems. Scientists say the human brain’s window for acquiring a new language starts closing down at puberty. But it’s never too late to give it the old college try.

Spanish pronunciation isn’t hard to master. Its vast vocabulary includes thousands of cognates that are almost identical to English equivalents, though there are some pitfalls to avoid.  For example, compromiso (commitment), éxito (success), delito (crime), embarazada (pregnant) and preservativo (condom).

Por favor, start by getting a handle on everyday courtesy phrases that are woven into this country’s social fabric. Next, learn what to say in case of emergencies. The rest is gravy. Imagine the progress you’ll make by learning just one word or expression each day. ¡Suerte!