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Learning Spanish Before Heading South

By Thom McDonald

I must admit to having had no formal training in Spanish or the teaching of Spanish, (although I have had both for German), nor do I speak Spanish very well. What little Spanish that I have managed to pick up is self-taught. These facts should be kept in mind as you consider the following opinions.
While I have always found Mexicans, as a people, to be polite, friendly and helpful to foreign visitors in their country, I have also witnessed, on many occasions, a subtle but noticeable difference in their reaction to tourists who make no attempt at Spanish, and to those who do make some effort, however successful.
As languages go, Spanish must be one of the easiest for English speakers to learn. It’s grammar and structure are relatively simple and have much in common with English grammar and structure. With minor differences in pronunciation, there are hundreds of words that are very close to, or identical to their English equivalents. So why would anyone who intends to travel and/or live in Mexico not make a serious attempt to learn Spanish?
Once you’ve decided to go for it, you should first decide upon a learning approach. There are always night classes at community colleges, or you can choose from one of dozens of self-instruction offerings at your local, well-stocked bookstore. If you choose the latter approach, I have a few suggestions.
Most of the books, cassettes, CD’s, etc. that I have seen are not very well suited to someone who wants to learn how to converse with Mexicans. Many take the 'phrase book' approach, e.g. "I wish to buy two first class tickets to Barcelona." "I need a, dentist, grocer, undertaker, etc." While these books may be useful for unilingual tourist who want to merely point to a phrase or two when they are cornered, it’s my opinion that no one has ever learned any language from these books.
Another type of book is the classroom-type textbook/workbook. These may work for someone with a lot more tenacity and self-discipline than I have, but I believe they probably work better for most people in a structured, classroom environment. Then there are those that take the "quick and easy" approach, concentrating mainly on the fundamentals that one needs to "get by" and keeping discussions on the finer points of grammar to a minimum. These seem to work the best for most of us, or so it would seem, judging by the large number falling into this category.
I have spent a great deal of time examining and, in many cases, trying several from the last category. I am disappointed to report that nearly all of them


Editor's Note: When asked for a bio, Thom responded with: “Ah shucks!......I’m just another one of those children of the 60’s, dreaming of the day when I can permanently join the laid back lifestyle that I have heretofore only experienced in the 60’s and later while on vacations south of the border. “