Bienvenidos to the fourth post in the series where I compare our pre-move expectations to what actually happened. Today’s topic is the Spanish language.
My wife and I already knew Spanish when we moved to Mexico, although her Spanish is much better than mine. She was born in Colombia and Spanish is her first language.
As for me, I learned Spanish on my own out of necessity while working as a deputy sheriff in Florida. That means that I knew how say things like search warrant and spent shell casing in Spanish before I knew how to say dishwasher. Even after all these years, I am still more comfortable speaking about legal issues in Spanish than I am sports.
I thought that once we were in Mexico, my Spanish would get much better because I would be completely immersed in the language. I expected to have to speak Spanish to our neighbors, friends and at local businesses.
The reality was a sharp contrast to what I had envisioned. It turns out that almost all of our neighbors are English speakers. Even the few that do speak Spanish, also speak English fluently. So much for practicing Spanish with my neighbors.
When we leave the complex, it’s more of the same. We hear English being spoken at most restaurants and shops throughout this area. If we enter a business for the first time, we are often greeted in English as though it were the default language for the area. Once we respond in Spanish, they usually look a little embarrassed and start speaking Spanish back to us.
I know that this has a lot to do with the area where we live. We are in an area that attracts a lot of English speaking tourists and expats. When we travel away from the coastal tourist areas, the need to be able to speak Spanish increases dramatically.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Several readers have told me that they would love to move to Mexico, but they are afraid that it would be too difficult because they don’t speak Spanish. The fact is that if you settle in a tourist area like Cozumel or even Cancun, English will get you by in most situations.
On those rare occasions when you absolutely need a translator, you will probably be able to enlist the help of a bilingual friend. We have helped several of our friends with translation over the last year.
I still encourage English-speakers who move here to learn Spanish. By not speaking Spanish, you will miss out on a lot that Mexico has to offer. That being said, at least you know that you will be able to survive in the meantime while you are learning the language.