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Learning Spanish (and Maya) in Yucatan

Learning Spanish (and Maya) in Yucatan

1 August 2015 Yucatan Survivor 2

About two or three times a week, we are asked why we moved from California to the Yucatan. And when we answer, we are reminded that one of the main reasons we came here was to learn a second language. We briefly considered setting up shop on the island of Bali in Indonesia, but decided that speaking Indonesian was not going to be very helpful outside of Indonesia. Spanish, on the other hand, is spoken around the world. In fact, according to a recent study by SpanishSEO, 6.78% of the world’s population speaks Spanish. On a web page entitled “Ten Facts About the Spanish Language“, we learned that with 329 million native speakers in the world, Spanish ranks as the world’s No. 2 language in terms of how many people speak it as their first language. There are actually more people speaking Spanish as their first language than English (328 million) but far less than Chinese (1.2 billion). So it seems like a particularly useful language to learn, don’t you think?

In 2002 we arrived with a lot of English writing and speaking skills (Working Gringo even has a degree in English!), and might have even been considered erudite in certain circles. But with only California place-names and one semester of a UCLA Spanish course under our collective belts, we were at a preschool level when it came to speaking Spanish. This was nothing if not a humbling experience.

As we were just normal gringos when we first arrived (we weren’t Working Gringos quite yet), we spent our days in the streets of Merida exploring, paying bills, finding needed items, and learning about our new community. We would come home exhausted at the end of the day with the stress of trying to communicate in this new foreign language. We would huddle in the living room and watch the Warner Channel on television just to hear spoken English. The comfort value was almost as good as a cup of hot tea with milk and honey and a cookie.

But the next day, we’d be ready again to brave the language immersion, and indeed, immersion is the best policy when it comes to switching idiomas (languages). Years later, we no longer need to watch the Warner Channel, though the voice of the announcer reminds us fondly of our early days here. We are far from fluent, but we no longer dread making a phone call to order pizza or inquiring about a strange charge on our bill at Telmex. We can even hold passable conversations with our Spanish-speaking friends about everything from what our children are studying in escuela (school) to what we think about current events. Though all this is true, we are still relieved when a conversation with Mexican friends is switched to English for our sake (and humbled…). We still have a lot to learn, and we are now convinced it will be a lifelong pursuit.

How did we get this far? When we first moved here, we took formal classes. We chose the Benjamin Franklin Institute because at the time, they provided the only classroom situation we could find without having to ask directions or get in our car. The three of us (one of our daughters was here with us) took classes three mornings a week, struggling through grammar and pronunciation in a ckriends at.w2fuatihawitchdon). -pin beltsn we ). We maems li noh a l, and leaon isasicsfluentscomethree , and mights. Wetiondiffeut curenuys her dat-pin learned eThoug, we lediffeut cld honeytiondiffeut cupniaucatanbe speatuce seen ciondarkn in a ckrift two or hnishionday in tvse unden ca voice o"push-way a lot torience.

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