So, you’ve decided to embark on a life-changing language exchange journey and you’re on your way to Mexico to learn the Spanish Language? Before you board that plane, however, there’s a handful of to-dos you’ll need to sort out to ensure you benefit as much as possible from the experience!
In this post, we look at some considerations to keep in mind while planning your Spanish language immersion in Mexico!
#1 – Start by Deciding on the Length of Your Adventure in Mexico
Language learning programs vary in length. While some programs for learning Spanish are just a few weeks long, others can last an entire year. The shorter Spanish programs are less intimidating, but they might be more intensive. These are great for language learners that haven’t spent a lot of time abroad and those that don’t have an entire year to dedicate to learning a new language. The extended Spanish learning programs, on the other hand, offer a cultural exchange along with a language immersion experience. These programs allow you to start feeling like a local and are often best suited for language learners looking to achieve fluency along with cultural competence.
#2 – Learn Some Basic Mexican Spanish
Yes, you’re heading to Mexico to learn Spanish. But did you know that less than 10% of Mexican locals are fluent in English? This means you’ll need to have a basic stockpile of Spanish words and phrases that you’re familiar with to help you find your feet once you arrive on foreign soil.
It’s worth remembering that Mexican Spanish isn’t the same as the Spanish they use in Spain either. Albeit the major differences between the various Spanish dialects lie in pronunciation, and not so much a different set of words. Get acquainted with some basic Mexican Spanish words and essential phrases like hello, good night, good afternoon, thank you, excuse me, and I don’t speak Spanish before your trip. Not sure which phrases of Mexico’s national language to focus on when learning Spanish? Here are some ideas:
- Puedo tomar una foto? – Can I take a photo?
- De nada – No problem!
- Habla usted inglés – Do you speak English?
- Buenas noches – Good night!
- Cómo estás – How are you?
#3 – Sort Out Your Academic Evaluations
The education system in Mexico might be different from the one your home country uses, and as such, you’ll need to have your academic and professional credentials standardized for official use in Mexico. Academic institutions and certain authorities from the Mexican government might want to validate your certifications as part of your visa application process, so it’s essential to sort out this admin task. You can submit your certificates and degrees to an academic evaluation services provider for this to ensure that your documents will be accepted and acknowledged in Mexico. Essentially, this is a specialized translation service that should form part of the basics of planning your trip.
#4 – Mentally Prepare Yourself for the Journey
Before you embark on a language immersion program in Mexico, it’s important to wrap your head around the idea and prepare for it. Make a point of watching Spanish TV shows every day or set some time aside to read or listen to the news in Spanish. Although your language exchange program will usually include intensive classes, you must be eager to learn and receptive to the experience. And you can only reach that state of mind by mentally preparing for the experience a few months in advance.
#5 – Get Clear on Your Mission for Learning to Speak Spanish
You need a realistic and attainable goal in order to achieve what you set out to do with the language learning experience in Mexico. If you have something to work towards, it’s much easier to stay focused and not lose sight of the reason you traveled in the first place, which is to learn the Spanish language.
#6 – Commit to Dining in Social Settings
This one might sound a little odd. But socializing and food go hand-in-hand, and socializing is one of the best ways to soak up a new language and the cultures that are tied to it. The language course you enroll in might enhance your vocabulary and grammar, but socializing with the locals will drastically improve your language fluency. Try ordering food in Spanish in a restaurant in Mexico to help improve your linguistic knowledge and insights into the culture! Can you say una cerveza por favor? And that’s Spanish for “can I have a beer, please”?!
#7 – Invest in a Notebook
You’ll need to carry a notebook with you throughout your travels in Mexico as it’s a great way to capture useful words. Of course, you won’t be jotting down every word you hear. Instead, you’ll take note of interesting words and phrases that you pick up from the locals. Your language learning course might be intense and resourceful, but you need to help yourself succeed to, and this simple method of continuous study and review is one of the best ways to do it!
#8 – Commit to Minimizing Opportunities to Speak English
There’s something very special about an ex-pat community of fellow countrymen that speak English. Nothing can help you feel as rooted as hanging out with people that share the same culture and native language as you. But it’s also a sure-fire way to miss out on the cultural exchange on offer when traveling to Mexico. Plus, only conversing in your native language will see you avoiding Spanish conversations, which is definitely not the aim of the game. When you meet new people, be sure to ask them “de dónde eres”, which means, ‘where are you from?’ so you’ll avoid falling into the comfort zone of expat chat.
#9 – Plan to do Serious Touristy Things During the First Week
This isn’t so much about sightseeing as it is about experiencing the Spanish language in action. Tour guides have impressive vocabularies, know their way around sentence structures, and can communicate clearly and loud among a group of people. They’re the perfect examples of formal-yet-still-informal Spanish conversationalists, plus there’s a cultural exchange up for grabs as well!
Ready to Embark on a Life-Changing Journey in a Spanish Speaking Country?
There’s a language learning experience for every kind of person in Mexico, and the unique opportunities to learn Spanish here should be taken advantage of. However, before you embark on the immersion program, it’s essential to plan your journey carefully, all the way from your visa to the kind of clothing you pack for your trip, to ensure it’s as fun and educational as possible!
With the tips we shared in this article and some basic phrases up your sleeve, you should be armed with enough know-how to plan a great new adventure where you’ll get to make life-changing decisions and improve not only your Spanish skills but your cultural competence as well!
Sean Patrick Hopwood is a language polyglot and the President of Day Translations, a translation services company.