Focus On Mexico

The Spanish Language

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  •  Spanish is the official language of Mexico. 

    The official language of Mexico is Spanish...

    ...although Mayan, Nahuatl and other regional languages are still spoken by some people in some areas.

    You may be a little surprised, however, at the number of Mexican people who speak English, especially in the major cities and tourist areas. That’s because English has been taught in private schools in Mexico City at least since the 1950s, so most of the middle to upper class people in the major cities speak English. In private universities in the bigger cities, students are required not only to know English, but also other languages like French, which are also taught there. In some high schools, you need to get 500 points in the Toifel Exam to be able to get in. The Toifel Exam is an English Exam that is used internationally. It is used as a standard in all the schools and sometimes as a requirement for a job.

    There are many schools in the area where English is a prominent part of the curriculum. The American School Foundation in Guadalajara is celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2008. There are high schools that are Bilingual, Bicultural and International. The Francis Bacon School in Guadalajara, which is ranked as the best primary school in the Guadalajara Municipality, only teaches English in its Kindergarden.

    Still, considering that most of the Mexican people that live in the Lake Chapala Area are lower class, you might think that they don't speak English, but there are several places where they can learn English, as an example, the Lake Chapala Society gives free lessons. On the other hand, the children who have the option can attend one of the four private bilingual schools in the Ajijic Area.

  • Additional Information

    Do I need to speak Spanish while living in Lake Chapala?
    Learn to speak Spanish with children in Lake Chapala

    Though you can “get by” without learning to speak Spanish in the tourist areas and the larger foreign settlement areas, learning Spanish can be compared to learning to read. If you learn Spanish, you will be open to lots of possibilities understanding the vast and wonderful culture of the people and the country, as well as what is going on in the area and the country. Also it is a lot more fun and interesting if you learn Spanish, because the Mexican people are very friendly and fun, and you can miss a lot of nice experiences if you don't understand what they are saying.   You do not need to be fluent but it helps if you can speak at a conversational level and the Mexican people really appreciate it if you try to use their language; even if you do get some words wrong (usually elicits a nice smile). Try it, it's fun!

    Having said that, I can tell you story after story about the trouble I have gotten into with my Spanish, or rather – lack of it.  A number of years ago we were just moving into a rental property.  We had just sold our condo and were building a new house which wasn’t going to be ready for some months.  I decided I needed to have all the dishes in the kitchen cupboards washed, even though they were obviously already clean.  I didn’t know how long the house had been vacant and I can be a little finicky. 

    So I was in the kitchen trying to tell the maid what I wanted.  When she thought she understood what I was “trying” to say, she got very excited.  I thought she must be happy at washing clean dishes – no trouble at all.  Fortunately, Ray listening in the other room came into the kitchen and asked me what I thought I was telling her.  When I told him “in Spanish” what I had said to Olivia he laughed and said, “no wonder she sounds happy; you just told her to take all the dishes in the cupboards and throw them away.”  Olivia wasn’t quite as happy when Ray properly translated what I wanted.

    I can also tell you, from experience, that it really helps to use charades (body language) to reinforce what you are saying in Spanish. I have had a lot of good laughs with the maids and gardeners trying to get my point across.  They do really appreciate my trying, however.

    Nevertheless, we recommend that you make your own commitment to learn the Spanish laguage to get the full experience of another culture.  Read "Shooting the Breeze."

    Where can I learn Spanish in Chapala?

    There are many opportunities to learn either in group settings or through private lessons at very reasonable costs.  And if you want to get really serious, you can go to Guadalajara for more intensive training and live with a Mexican family during your training.  We, at Focus on Mexico, have lots of contacts we can recommend to you, at whatever level you are considering.

    One way to jump start the process and also is great for continued learning, is to buy some Spanish tapes or CDs.  As long as you are listening, you are learning, and although some are better than others (Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone) – at the beginning, all of them are good.  You will be amazed at how quickly you can get the basics and ask simple questions and even understand some of  the answers.  Learning to listen is harder than learning to speak.  The more you listen, the better you will speak, and before you know it, you’ll be carrying on actual conversations.

    Travel guides and phrase books are helpful and allow you to practice asking questions.  They do not, however, prepare you for the response when a Spanish-speaking person fires foreign words at you at a very rapid pace, especially as you get better with your speaking than your listening.

    One observation I have made is it seems to be easier and faster for people with an ear for music to learn to speak Spanish.  And, of course, if you speak other languages, it is easier to learn a new one. Children are like sponges and can also pick it up very quickly.  They aren't as inhibited as we are and therefore aren't afraid to try.

    Just to give you a little head start, here are some simple greetings that are easy to learn and you will find you will use often.

    Good morning/Good Day
    Good afternoon
    Good evening/Good Night
    Happy to meet you
    My name is
    How are you?
    Very well, thank you
    See you later


    Buenos días
    Buenas tardes
    Buenas noches
    Mucho gusto
    Mi nombre es/Me llamo
    ¿Como está?
    Muy bien, gracias
    Hasta luego

  • In focus,  the free, online newsletter that Focus on Mexico publishes monthly has a semi-regular column called Spanish 101 that, we hope, helps you with the basics of Spanish. We have gathered all those columns here for your convenience.
  • 10 Facts About Spanish Adverbs

    adverbiosA Quick Guide for Spanish Students - Here are 10 facts about Spanish adverbs that will come in handy to know as you learn Spanish: 1. An adverb is a part of speech that is used to modify the meaning of an adjective, verb, another adverb or an entire sentence. In other words, adverbs in Spanish have basically the same function as they do in English. 2. Most adverbs are formed by taking the singular feminine form of the adjective and adding the suffix -mente. Thus -mente is usually the equivalent of the "-ly" ending in English.

    Common Errors in Spanish

     Common Errors in Spanish"Un otro" for "another": 

    I think English speakers make this mistake by mentally dissecting the word "another" into "an" "other." But in Spanish, it's always "otro" or "otra" and NEVER "un otro" or "una otra." Here are some examples of correct usage:

    Little Tricks for Learning Spanish

    Learning SpanishCan you learn a word a day? We think you can. Like our Facebook Page, and you will get a Focus on Mexico Spanish Word/Phrase of the day with practice sentences. Here are a couple of little tricks for learning a new language.

    Spanish 101 At the restaurant in Spanish

    Buen ProvechoIf you’re planning on dining out in a Spanish-speaking country, don’t miss this. Vegetarian? Not what you ordered? No problem! After this article, you’ll be ordering from the menu in Spanish like a pro, and impressing your Spanish-speaking friends with your Spanish language skills.

    Spanish 101 Expressions Using Ir
    Spanish 101 Using IrBy far the most common expression using ir is ir a followed by an infinitive. For most purposes, it is the equivalent of the English "to go to" followed by a verb. Thus "voy a estudiar" means "I am going to study." This use of ir a is extremely common in Spanish, so much so that in some parts of Latin America it is the de facto future tense. So a sentence such as "Vamos a comprar la casa" can be translated as either "We are going to buy the house" or "We will buy the house."
    Spanish 101 Here and There

    2013 March Spanish 101The three choices are aquí, roughly the equivalent of "here"; ahí, roughly the equivalent of "there" when speaking of an object or action that is close to the person being spoken to; and allí, roughly the equivalent of "there" or "over there" when speaking of an object that is distant from both the speaker and the person being spoken to. Note also that ahí is sometimes used to refer to something emotionally close rather than simply physically close to the listener, so allí can suggest emotional as well as physical distance.


    Spanish 101 It pleases me

    Spanish to LikeExpressing likes and dislikes in Spanish is challenging for English speakers, because Spanish does not have a verb which can literally translate as “to like.”  Instead, you must use the verb gustar goo STAHRR, which means “to be pleasing” to someone.

    Spanish 101 List of Fruits
    Learn the names of different fruit in Spanish and the pronunciation for English speakers learning Spanish.
    Spanish 101 Meet the Tener Family

    Spanish 101 TenerTener is one of the verbs in Spanish that can be combined with several prefixes to form new verbs. Like many other common verbs, tener (which usually means "to have" in the sense of "to possess") is irregular; fortunately, all the verbs derived from tener are conjugated in the same way.

    Although tener doesn't have a cognate (an equivalent word with a common ancestor) in English, the verbs derived from it do, and they are among the English verbs ending in "-tain." Thus detener has the same origin as the English "detain," mantener is related to "maintain," and so on.

    Spanish 101 Of Course

    June 2013 Spanish 101If you want to indicate that something is obvious — just as you would do in English with the phrase "of course" — here are some words and phrases, some of them from the lesson on adverbs of affirmation, that you can use. Of course, when translating such sentences to English, you aren't limited to the phrase "of course" or those used here; depending on the tone of the conversation, you can also use words such as "obviously" and "certainly."