Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Do I have to know Spanish?

Xalapa is not like the resort towns and cities of Mexico. In Mazatlan, for example, you find a great many hotels, restaurants, and shops that have employees who speak English. There is a large expatriate community of permanent English speaking residents and the place is swamped with tourists when cruise liners make port. Accordingly, you can survive quite well in most situations if your Spanish is limited or even non-existent.

Xalapa is not a big tourist destination like Mazatlan, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and the like. Although you will meet many people here who speak English it is much less common. Another difference is the fact that Xalapa is very cosmopolitan, probably because of the many universities located here. You will find people from all over the world living here.

For most situations you encounter in shopping, dining out, and site seeing you can probably get by with a pocket guide that has lists of common phrases organized by topics. Learn Spanish pronunciation rules and these little guides can be your lifeline. A different approach is a digital language translator, but these can get expensive if they are at all comprehensive. The best answer is to learn as much Spanish as you possibly can and work at it every day.

The good part is that the Mexicans you meet are extremely friendly, courteous and patient. Don't be hesitant to try out your Spanish on cab drivers, store clerks or just people you might encounter standing in line at a bus stop. In the big cities of the United States strangers rarely speak to each other. The exact opposite is true here in Xalapa (I cannot speak for Mexico City, it may be different there.)

Rest assured, there are strategies you can use to help get over the language hurdles.

TIP: Ask people to write down anything you don't understand. Most people find reading Spanish easier that interpreting speech.

TIP: Have trouble with pronunciation? Check out this unique University of Iowa website:

that contains animated libraries of the phonetic sounds of English, German, and Spanish. You will be amazed, entranced, missing many hours of your life practicing Spanish pronunciation. I promise.

Keep watching this post for more tips and information. You can easily subscribe to The Free End either by email or by a syndicated feed.