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Learning Spanish in Mexico

By November 30, 2012

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Preparatory to another year in which my travels will take me to countries where Spanish is spoken, I'm making my usual and usually unsuccessful attempts to improve my limited (okay, terrible) grasp of the language. I generally leave a confused trail of baffled waiters ("You want how many thousand wild boars for breakfast?") in my linguistically challenged wake in Latin America because I tend to forget every iota of any language I've studied when using it alone abroad.

This season, though, I added a new twist to my educational efforts (which, aside from classes, formerly included independent study like obsessively reading phrasebooks while watching El Mariachi dubbed in Spanish): I attended a local intercambio, or exchange. Each week, a group of folks whose native tongues are either Spanish or English and whose home countries span North and South America gathers at our local bookstore to drink coffee and speak each other's language: the Spanish speakers must speak English, and vice versa. And it's successful because learning language in the context of general life works.

Suzanne Barbezat, About's Guide to Mexico, has written a terrific piece, "Learn Spanish in Mexico," in which she mentions intercambio as one of the many tools for learning the lingo in the land where it's spoken -- Suzanne suggests taking language classes in Mexico and having your language school's administration arrange an intercambio for you with a Mexican who is learning English. Check out the rest of Suzanne's suggestions:

I found myself speaking and comprehending Spanish (for a brief and heady period, anyway) on my last trip to Mexico partially because I was traveling solo and it was sink or swim patois-wise -- I had to ask for help, and I had to talk. Intercambio is a similar principle: having to speak a language with people who will help you tends to untie your tongue and (hopefully) all that vocabulary you memorized magically emerges as conversation.

Read up, get motivated and viaja a Mexico, pronto.

More on learning Spanish in Mexico:

Related Reading: Studying Abroad | What is an exchange student? | "Learning the Lingo" | "Yo suis perdu..." | Language and Travel | Beginner's Guide to Mexico Travel

Photos © Kathleen Crislip

    "Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages." -- Dave Barry
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