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Becoming Bilingual in Ajijic, Lake Chapala, Mexico

One of the things that people planning on retiring or moving to Ajijic worry about is that they think they have to learn another language. In this case it would be Spanish.

We were concerned about this too when we moved here in 1994. Prior to making the move we had a tutor come to the house who was attending the University of Toronto from Vera Cruz and we tried to learn the basics.

Also we wanted out children then 10 and 12 to be able to enter school at grade level so we also got a tutor when we arrived here in June to get them up and running for entry into school in September.

We were successful and they did enter at grade level. I also wanted to sit in on the classes as I wanted to be able to help them with their homework. I also took lessons from a very nice lady in Upper Chula Vista for several months and used the book “Madrigal’s Key to Spanish” which was very easy and helpful.

The first three months in school was very stressful for the children even though they had English speaking friends to sit beside them and help. The school was supposed to be bilingual but was 90% Spanish.

They persevered and did eventually learn the language and by the time 6 months had passed they knew enough to be able to handle their school work with relative ease.

They are now fully bilingual and our daughter even thinks and dreams in Spanish and loves it because she says Spanish is a beautiful language and has so many more ways to express oneself.

I found it very exciting to be learning something new at this age and I still try to speak to everyone in Spanish but they usually answer me in English which I try not to find discouraging. The locals are just as eager to practice their English as we are to practice our Spanish.

The fact is that as there are so many ex-pats in Ajijic, Lake Chapala one can manage very nicely without becoming proficient in Spanish. I still think it is important to try to learn this beautiful language as we are lucky enough to be guests in this country.

I found that, at first, I learned most of my Spanish from our maid and gardener in order to keep the house running properly. Over the years we have developed a very efficient level of Spanglish which seems to get the job done. Also I found that after a glass of wine I am much more fluent.

When the children are here I find it is easier to have them help me with more difficult conversations but when they are not here I am able to get anything done that is required.

After 16 years of living here in Ajijic, Lake Chapala I feel guilty that I am not fluent but I continue to try and learn new words every day and look up any word I am not familiar with.

The best way to learn the language is to go into some deep immersion course in Guadalajara or marry a Mexican.

I remember when we were contemplating making the move to Ajijic, Lake Chapala and I was worried about bringing my children up in a foreign country, my wonderful mother-in-law said to me “At least you are giving them the gift of another language”. This has certainly been the case and our children are very grateful that they are multi-lingual (they were in French immersion in Toronto) which has and will continue to open doors for them around the world.

For us it would be great to be fluent too but it certainly is not necessary to enjoy life to the fullest in our beautiful village in the sun.

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