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Do You Speak Spanish?

Millennials huddling together
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Robert Nelson Co-Founder of Expats In Mexico
Credit: Robert Nelson

One of the most asked questions of expats in Mexico is: Do you speak Spanish? Learning the language of the country in which you live is not just about communication. It’s about cultural integration and getting the most out of living in your local community.

In our new article, “Do You Really Need to Learn Spanish,” we speak with an expert on the subject, Robert De Keyser, a professor of second language acquisition at the University of Maryland.

He told us there are many expats in the world who have very limited language skills and seem to get along just fine in their local communities, particularly if they live in expat-dominated neighborhoods. Most often they are not working, employed by a company that uses primarily English for business or work for a company that caters to English-speaking tourists.

But learning and using even a little of the local language, De Keyser said, goes a long way. “Being able to communicate in the local language even a little bit sends a message of respect. Even in the areas where most people speak English well, if you truly want to integrate, if you want to go beyond communicating and if you want to be part of the social environment, then you should learn the local language because there is a big difference between being able to communicate about practical stuff and being able to participate in all aspects of social life.”

Most expats in Mexico understand that true cultural integration really doesn’t happen until you can communicate in Spanish. Take Puerto Vallarta resident Tim Hawkins, for example. Hawkins moved to Vallarta from New York in 2014 and recognized early on that he wanted to be part of his local community, not just the expat community.

One of his motivations for learning Spanish was to enable his travel throughout Mexico. “You really need to speak Spanish if you are going travel or move to a city that is not a big tourist destination,” Hawkins said. “It is not about the communication. It really is about respect for the people and their culture.”

After several friends recommended Expats In Mexico cultural bloggers Maria and Fernando Garibay, long-time Spanish teachers, Hawkins began private Spanish lessons with Maria. They meet for three hours each week at different times and places. When he travels or it’s more convenient, they use Skype.

How is Hawkins doing? After a year or so working with the Garibay’s, he is able to follow dinner conversations and even understand movies without subtitles, although not every word.

If you want to understand why and how expats should learn Spanish, you should read this article.