The One Thing Most Folks Who Move to Mexico Say They’ll Do, But Rarely End Up Accomplishing

Linda and I have been at this blogging thing for almost five years now and in that time, we’ve interacted with thousands of current and aspiring expats. We even stay in touch with many of them via email or social media to see how their new life in Mexico is going.

The majority of these expats are from either the U.S. or Canada, and although their reasons for heading to Mexico vary, there is one common goal that most seem to share, and that is to learn Spanish. Some say they would be content with just being conversational, while others say that they will settle for nothing less than being fluent.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the truth is that very few people actually follow through with this one.

Sure most of them start out strong. They download language apps like Duolingo, start binge watching lessons on YouTube, listen to podcasts, and some even sign up for in-person Spanish classes. But much like the majority of people who join a gym on New Year’s Day expecting to be buff in a matter of weeks, when the results don’t come fast enough, they quit.

This brings me to a common question that I get from our readers:

If I Don’t Speak Spanish, How Difficult Is It to Live in Mexico?

Obviously, you would be at a disadvantage not being able to communicate effectively in Spanish; however, the truth is that you can probably get by just fine with minimal Spanish skills if you fall back on a tried-and-true technique utilized by immigrants across the world for centuries…

You move to an area where there is a large population of folks from your home country. 

Yep, it’s really that easy. Not only will you have fellow English-speakers to hang out with, you’ll also have a built-in support group to help you learn the ins and outs of your new country.

And, whenever you have to do something that might require some mastery of the local lingo, like opening a bank account or filing a police report, chances are good that someone in your community will be bilingual and willing to help you.

However, if you envision your new life in Mexico with you immersed fully in the Mexican culture, making friends with locals and living far from your compatriots — you better plan on hitting the books.

Let’s Wrap This Up

No matter what anyone tells you, It’s not easy to learn a foreign language, especially as an adult. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.

I think it helps to think of learning Spanish as a continual process where your primary objective each day is to know a little more than you did before. That way you’ll become progressively better at it without burning out or becoming frustrated. Six months or a year down the road, you’ll look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

If you’re an absolute beginner, or pretty close to it, you might be interested in our free course to help you get started, Two Expats Mexico’s Spanish Course for Beginners.

We also have a YouTube channel where we post lessons for both beginners and intermediate level students: Learn Spanish with Qroo Paul.

Well, that’s it for today. ¡Qué tengas un excelente día! Hasta luego.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

28 Comments on "The One Thing Most Folks Who Move to Mexico Say They’ll Do, But Rarely End Up Accomplishing"

  1. Leland W. Warner, III | November 27, 2020 at 12:57 pm |

    Thankfully, I lived in Mexico for 8 years as a boy/teenager and I’ve never lost any of my Spanish speaking ability. Being an American State Department brat did have advantages. At 71 it would be hard to learn a foreign language.

  2. David G Purcell | November 27, 2020 at 12:58 pm |

    Gotta say, Mr. Paul. I found that one interspersed with a bit of humor!! LOL

    Your ole friend (wanna be gun builder in MX) that you saved from La Carsel ~ and still stuck stateside!! Hope you and Linda had a great T-Day

  3. What is the status of the Covid 19 where you live ? We have been coming down every winter since 1988 but probably not in 2021. What do you suggest ?

    • Like most places in the world, there are new cases popping up but the overall number of cases remains low and the hospital occupancy rates are also low. Here’s a link where you can get updated COVID data from the state of Quintana Roo.

  4. The best way to learn Spanish is to go to class. Or, if you don’t want a class, get a private tutor. Life here is much easier if you can converse even a little in Spanish.

  5. When we were considering which city to live in here in Mexico, we chose Motul because there are so few other “Gringos” living here full time. We did that to force ourselves to learn more Spanish. It would be too easy to live in Merida or somewhere else with a large Ex-Pat population and we never would have learned as much Spanish as we have, albeit some of the Spanish is words from our Albaniles which can tend to be crude. As an added bonus, our friends here continue to teach us Mayan as well. Still, I need to learn even more. Thanks Paul.

  6. We were watching Taco Chronicles on Netflix the other night (a MUST-SEE if you haven’t seen it) and thought, wow, how much more fun it would be to go to these tacos stands if you could actually converse with the taqueros? You could learn how the tacos are made, and order them the way you want them. Do you want it wet, with more of the fat, with rib meat, or with or without onions and cilantro? Knowing the language would completely change the experience. This is the reason we will continue our quest for fluency in the language of our adopted home.

  7. I will say that’s Paul’s lessons are really well done. He packs just enough information into each session so you feel like you are actually learning something without being overwhelmed. His style is easy to understand and gets you conversing sooner than you realize.
    I’m a long way from being (kind of) fluent but his lessons help a lot. I wish my high school Spanish had been taught in this way.
    Thanks Paul!

  8. I’m still stuck with the Spanish I learned back in High School. There are 3 year olds that speak better Spanish than I, but I’m never giving up! I live immersed in a Hispanic neighborhood here in Milwaukee, WI with some neighbors who speak very little English. My inability to speak Spanish sure helps me understand WHY it’s so difficult for them to learn English! We help each other with new words and we laugh at each others mispronounciations. Google Translate also helps! Hope to live in Mexico one day. Wisconsin winters are getting more and more intolerable.

    One day I was stumped. A friend kept saying “skimo”. Finally dawns on me…Eskimo!

    Also I am a smartie panties.
    Too funny!

    Love your blog Qroo Paul. Thank you.

    Barb

  9. Just watch novelas (soap operas) on TV in Spanish or on YouTube with English subtitles and you will learn Spanish fast. Learn phrases that you hear over and over and start using them in real life.

  10. I’m an Expat from NY and taught Spanish for many years there. Firstly, yes, if you join an Expat community you will need minimal Spanish to survive, but as previously mentioned, there are times you will need someone to assist you in navigating the legal issues. Secondly, the Spanish we learn in school helps, but it is far from every day spoken Spanish and that is part of the difficulty in acquiring mastery. Thirdly, as I have hear many times before, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Older adults are able to develop good speaking abilities if they are motivated and have the need. Lastly, I have had a standing joke among fellow language teachers, namely you should discuss religion, politics, or fl pedagogy! In my years of teaching and learning, it’s all about the method. Basically, texts help but only so much. It’s the way you are taught. Grammar and vocabulary are important, but should not be the focus. In very short terms, situational communication is key.

  11. I have been doing Duolingo for 739 days straight. If I had not missed one day, it would be over 800. I don’t have anyone I can practice live conversation with now, but I do feel that I could manage better than I ever did in the past.
    However, I know that I am far from fluido. But I can have simple conversations. It is much harder as we age to learn a language.
    Your videos help me also. I am subscribed to your YouTube channel.

  12. MARTIN LOZANO | November 27, 2020 at 2:20 pm |

    Very well said and written. Learning a new language as an adult is challenging, but not impossible. I can attest all that Paul points out, being myself an immigrant in the US and having to learn English. Now my wife and I have been living between the two countries. She started learning Spanish late in life as well, but has never quit and is persistent. Every time we are in Mexico she can easily get by interacting with the locals. She is now fluent and her hard work has more than paid off.

  13. Thanks, Paul, for always sharing valuable information. I do have a question, not related to this topic, that I would be interested in your perspective. We are considering vacationing at Akumal Bay Wellness Resort, that you have blogged about and stayed at. Currently they have attractive offers to pay now and travel up to 2023. My concern is if they go out of business or sell the business prior to traveling post vaccine, since they are holding the cash for so long. I know you don’t have a crystal ball either and can’t speak for them. But since you are in the area and are very familiar with the resort, would that be a concern on your part if you were vacationing from Florida in the future? Thanks in advance. Doris from Ocala, Fl

  14. This is a very relevant informative post. Living in Sinaloa, there isn’t much of an expat community – other than areas of Mazatlán – to reply upon. Over time I have found that language deficiency is more exhausting & limiting than the routine challenges & frustrations of trying to learn Spanish. As you and other posts emphasize – necessity motivates, 1 day at a time acknowledging every advance & achievement regardless of how basic, and focus upon communication skills by endless practice in the community, whom I have found to be very supportive & forgiving.

    Your online learning resources are outstanding. Thanks!

  15. The bonus to learning Spanish is that one earns a lot of respect from the locals. I feel as a resident it is my duty to learn and it’s actually fun. I have a long ways to go but I don’t mind stumbling along the way. I just jump at the chance to talk to anyone.

  16. Did duolingo for 2 years. It’s ok, but I found that actually conversing with native Spanish speakers is the best overall. Especially, when mexican spanish is different than regular Spanish. I learn something new everyday just talking with locals as I travel around Mexico. And I watch videos in spanish to be able to pickup words easily.

  17. Thank you and so timely. I have done so many courses either in person or online in different formats. I love your videos, but when walking, too hard as I don’t want to trip. I have been searching for beginner Mexican Spanish while walking. Would that be something you could offer?

  18. Marylou Patari | November 28, 2020 at 7:49 am |

    Gotta add my two cents Paul. After living here in Merida for over 3 years, I have found that it is way better to keep speaking my limited Spanish than to not try at all. So many expats are afraid of making mistakes, so they do not even give it a try. First, the locals really appreciate it and will respect you for trying. Second, your Spanish will start to improve dramatically.
    My only advice is to learn how to pronounce every letter in the alphabet correctly. If you aren’t pronouncing it correctly, it doesn’t matter how many words you have memorized, no one will understand you. And the cool thing about Spanish, is every letter only pronounced one way (unlike crazy English) so once you get all the letters memorized, you can pronounce every single word.

  19. Paul, you are absolutely correct. I have been telling people for years that learning spanish will change your life if you are planning to live here. I live in Cancun, and when I first arrived I spoke no spanish. Most of the gringos I knew back then are long gone, because they never learned the language and stayed within the expat community. Over time, everyday life became tedious for them, so they moved back home, because they just could not communicate, which complicated their lives daily.
    You can learn spanish the same way a child learns to speak. ONE WORD AT A TIME. A perfect example is the word “agua”.(water) How many times a day do you want a drink of water? A child says “agua” when they want a drink. then the next step is “quiero agua”. (want water)…then “I want water”….then… “I want a drink of water”…You learn progressively and build your verb and adverb usage, and your vocabulary. Soon the child is saying “please give me a drink of water”…….in a few months, if you start with those one word cues, you will be amazed what you learn….
    the most important phrase I learned in spanish was “como se dice” which means “how do you say”?….Use it often with any spanish speaker…you can be at the fruit market, and you point to a watermelon, and you use “como se dice?..a spanish speaker will tell you “sandia” (watermelon)….if you keep doing that till sandia is in your memory…you add another word to your vocabulary…next you will be saying …”cuanto es la sandia”? ……and you’re
    on your way just like that child…

  20. Hi Paul, My husband and I are thinking of moving to Akumal, we’ve even visited some properties. My question is, do you know anything about Puerto Aventuras? We weren’t able to make it there the last time we visited and wonder if more expats which would maybe give us some extra time to learn Spanish.
    We love your blog! Thank you for the information you provide!!

  21. Hello Paul, just saw your YouTube video on your plan to produce many more videos during the coming year. This is the first of your blogs I’ve read. Just a comment here about Mexico and Spanish; todos Mexicanos hablan español muy, muy rápidamente! Es totalmente loco, serio, loco. Mexicans speak very rapidly, and so do Americans, so Mexicans that don’t speak English have a hard time. But visiting Colombia I found that todo los Colombianos hablan español muy despacio, muy claramente. Es mas facil para intiendo. It might be worthwhile to spend six months in Colombia studying Spanish. And with all the money folks will be saving living in Mexico, they can afford a working vacation to study the language.

    One other note, I just ran across a piece of information I never knew, Mexico has more UNESCO world heritage sites than any other country in Latin America. You can spend your entire retirement just visiting all of them!

  22. rogerramjet3rd | January 11, 2021 at 12:53 pm |

    Absolutely wonderful YouTube video and blog. I have been looking for this for years and was just turned on to it by an ex pat I met in Cabo. TY!!!

  23. John in Hermosillo | January 19, 2021 at 12:51 pm |

    When I moved to Mx in 2009 I really put in time to learn Spanish. Got good at it too.
    But the more time there I found that Mexicans knew English to some degree or other. So I didn’t have much practice like I wanted. If I did meet someone that did not speak English, we still were able to communicate and we both had a good time and liked the effort.
    Now I just use what I remember and can get by.

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