Seeking the Path to Speaking Spanish

Speaking Spanish when travelling to Mexico or wherever it’s the primary language, is a wonderful tool to have. I’ve taken two semesters of Introductory Spanish at Calgary’s Continuing Education. Both classes had excellent teachers. Even with some impressive gains in class, I found that without constant practice, it’s challenging for me. Prior to travelling, I focus on some of the basics that I need and it’s made a positive impact. If you’re fluent in Spanish you may chuckle. If you’re not, you may pick up a thing or two. Hopefully, when next in Mexico, your confidence while using Spanish will result in you wearing a grande smile.

Helpful Use of Spanish Tutors

As we begin to travel to Colima, Mexico several times a year back in 2007-2009, we are fortunate to meet several Mexicans who speak English fluently. As a result, we make too little effort at learning Spanish as communication was easy. It would be far more beneficial to bear down and learn the language with the able and willing assistance of these folks. Granted we make attempts each day to practice greetings and many general uses of the language but cautiously evade conversational Spanish at all costs.

Our Mexican friends alternate speaking Spanish and English constantly. We are envious and marvel at the ease with which they do so. When we know the topic of a conversation taking place in Spanish it’s easier to capture a few words and phrases and follow along. Our contribution to the conversation was always lacking.

Now we try to take advantage of every opportunity to use Spanish while in Mexico. Greeting people in various ways and under varying circumstances. Asking or answering basic questions of everyday life. Counting, days of the week, money exchange at stores, colours, directions, ordering in restaurants, speaking with taxi drivers, bank personnel, etc. Practising frequently and often failing establishes the layers of confidence necessary to become even marginally competent.

Successful after Dismissing English for Decades

Xavier, a close friend in Colima attended primary school several decades ago. There he was taught English by his Jesuit teachers. He can remember thinking “why in the world will I need this difficult language?” Kids in school everywhere ask this same question about one subject or another every term. Rarely do we analyze how many of those subjects become useful and even important as life moves along.

But he did successfully learn English. But once Xavier was on his academic path to becoming an incredibly talented architect he promptly stopped using it. Much like folks whose physics textbooks have gathered dust in the attic for years. He didn’t speak English for many years because his career flourished in Mexico dealing almost exclusively with Spanish speaking clients and colleagues.

When starting our first residential project in Colima in 2008, Xavier was highly recommended as the architect we should consult. We did so and recognize that we each faced the same ‘initial’ challenge of dealing with each others’ main language.

That is where the challenge ends! Due to his formative education, Xavier’s ability to draw on his English studies was done with ease and once again he effectively speaks both languages. Predictably, this wonderful gentleman constantly apologizes for what he believes are faults at his English. His is excellent while we limp along in Spanish. We are delighted we are working with Xavier on the Concierto Resorts project.

Our Teachers Preached Practice Your Spanish

Always love staying at the quaint Mision Colima Hotel when visiting the capital city, Colima. Have been there several times and have good relationships with staff members. We spend a good deal of time joking with two great people from the restaurant serving staff, Ernesto and Julianne. They’re much cheerier than this photo! I asked if this was a required “couples” passport look in Mexico.

One evening I decided that my acquired Spanish had prepared me to order dinner without English or pointing at a menu. I tweak the plan and decide not to use a menu at all. I’m being cautioned not to do this but head off to the restaurant to order intending the meal be sent up to the room.

Melanie has only one request, no enchiladas mole. No problem, I just won’t mention it. We’ve been on the go all day and are very hungry. Julianne lifts a menu and asks where I’d like to sit. I tell her in English what I’m doing and she gets just a tiny hint of a smile on her face as she takes out her pad and pen.

I confidently proceed with my order. Uno enchiladas verde, quatro tacos de camarones, dos quesadillas de carne, tostadas de ajo and quatro cerveza. Rolls off my tongue. Julianne, in turn, and tells me in Spanish when we can expect the meal to be delivered. I take 2 of the four bottles of beer and head back up to the room without the slightest clue when the food will arrive.

A Decade Later the Fail Remains Vivid

It’s taking so long for the food to be delivered that I’m about to head back down when there’s a knock at the door. There we find tiny Julianne with a tray on her shoulder stacked with covered dishes. The sheer numbers of these set off major warning alarms in my brain. It’s implausible that this is My order. (stock photo right is 1/8 of the covered dishes Julianne delivered to the room)

She tentatively gets the tray off her shoulder and onto the table with a thud. I stand with a look of wonder on my face and am very aware of the huge smile on Melanie’s face. We expected two enchiladas, four tacos, two quesadillas and an order of garlic toast and two more beers. What we have before us is a feast for a small yet tasteful wedding party!

Julianne’s expression darkens as she observes ours. There are obviously many items here did not order regardless of what language I used! We assume returning with trays of food would not place her in good standing with the management so we tell her we’ll keep it. She is about to leave when I recognize there is no garlic toast. Melanie says, “forget it,” but I ask her to bring it up just in case this feast fails to fit the bill. Ah, the bill! That story will only bring tears to your eyes.

We enjoy the food while watching Spanish soap operas and nodding and laughing at what we think are the appropriate moments. We avoid the elephant in the room, the fact we have enough food to start the most elaborate Progressive Dinner to ever hit Mision Colima. I stubbornly maintain that my speaking skills are superior to Julianne’s listening skills. I decide to enrol her in Spanish lessons.

Next morning I enter the restaurant to get coffees and lock eyes with Ernesto. The sound of his chuckling arrives shortly after. Julianne found this so funny, she sent him a text at 10 pm. Low blow! I immediately decide to cancel her Spanish language registration.

Oh, there are two additional quirky results from this language experiment. Twenty minutes after leaving the room Julianne returned with a full basket of toasted bread with jam condiment packets. And one of the meals we received was enchiladas mole.

Semi-Professional Advice

The Spanish language, like English, has many subtleties that only careful study and practice that prepares you for understanding and conversation. There are a few standard words and phrases that are most helpful when in Mexico. Visitors are highly regarded when trying to use the language even if it’s a dismal attempt. It’s an expression of respect. The times when a conversation starts for a Spanish novice that lasts positively for 60+ seconds is a memorable occasion.

Even folks trying to practice their Spanish tend not to address other English speakers using Spanish. Three “cómo estás (es)” (how are you?) in a row to Mexicans passing and then it’s a “hey how’s it going?” when Canadians walk by. It’s done because you (1) don’t want to make a mistake, (2) think they won’t understand or (3) think they’ll judge you for showing off. I feel “each” chance to practice Spanish on someone you think is worse than you is a great moment!!

Simple Phrases & Words with Helpful Hints

When answering the question, cómo estás (how are you?) use  (bien)“B Yen” (fine). or if you”re really feeling it you can respond, (muy bien) “Moo We B Yen” (very good.)  To ask about the other person, use (y tu) “Eh Too” (and you?) Easy for Canadians. “Thank you” is well known but often expressed incorrectly. It’s (gracias) “Graw C Us,” not Grass C Us. When saying, (a little bit,) like I’ll have just a little bit of tequila, it’s (poquito) “Po Key Toe.”  Chicken- “Po Yo” (pollo), Shrimp- “Come Odd Own” (camaron), Beef- “Car Nay” (carne). 

Expressions such as (Happy)- “Cone Ten Toe” (contento), (Pretty)- “Bow Knee Toe” (bonito),  (Tired)- “Can Sad A” (cansada), (In a moment)- “Moment T Toe” (momentito),  (Do you have?)- “Tee Any” (tiene) and (What do you want?)- “Kay Key Ed Die” (Que quiere) may prove helpful.

A few key relatively easy ones are: (Hospital)- “Hospital,” (Restaurant)- “Restauran Tay” (restaurante),  (Airport)- “Eye Rope Where Toe” (aeropuerto),  (Ocean)- “O C Ano” (oceano),  (Beach)- “Play Ya” (playa), (Bank)- “Bang Ko” (banco) and (Taxi)- “Taxi.”

I’m fine with Buenos Dias (Good morning) Buenos Tardes (Good afternoon) and Buenos Noches (Good evening). But I need someone to tell me the exact time things change during the day? Is it the sun’s position, clock time or a random timing just to keep me humbled?? Try as we may, the one phrase that we continue to use often is (Cómo se dice) “Comb O Say D Say” (How do you say?).   Hope your efforts at learning Spanish goes very well!

“Gracias por leer nuestro blog, ya sea que esté en la playa, en un restaurante, en un taxi que vaya al aeropuerto o en un vuelo hacia o desde el hermoso México.”

Challenge: try to translate the message above with no person’s or technical assistance and send your answer to us at:

Twitter: @conciertoresort

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