Is Spanish needed?

“We speak English and Spanish…”

Today I had an interview with a young woman who is doing a study of the international community in Merida. She’s a lovely person with her whole life ahead of her. She is respectful and sensitive to others. The questions she asked me were well thought out and to the point. If you run into Nikki or one of her classmates, I hope you’ll give them some of your time… they need as much information as they can compile.

A lot of her questions had to do with language – specifically Spanish. She asked me if I thought it was important for people from other countries to learn the language when they moved here. Is it?

When I really thought about it, I supposed it would not be necessary if one frequented shops, restaurants, and so on where there were always English speakers around. And there are lots of those places now. And lots of Merida’s citizens speak English. Especially the young kids…

“We can sing in English and Spanish!”

I am reminded of when I was in Holland two years ago… (Now there’s a HARD-to-learn language!) A soccer ball was barreling down the narrow street, heading straight for me and I could see a small boy giving it his all, trying to catch the ball. I stuck my foot out and detained it in its tracks. The boy caught up and I handed it to him. The little fellow was about 6 and in perfect English he thanked me. “Are you parents English?” I asked him. “No, we’re Dutch but we speak different languages every day.” EVERY DAY?  “Why yes,” he said, a frown wrinkling his brow… to him this was the most natural thing in the world. He had no chauvinism about his own mother tongue. He simply used languages as communicative tools – No more… no less.

Now, at a basic level, Spanish is NOT a hard language to learn. To acquire enough of the vocabulary, verbs and idioms is not difficult, especially if you don’t set unreasonable expectations. Even with just basic vocabulary, you’ll be able to buy fish from the fishermen as they bring in their catch… say hello to your neighbors… Explain what you want for dinner…  It is nice to gain fluency but even enough Spanish “to get by” is sufficient to open up a whole new world.

There are many websites that have lists of words that are identical (or really similar) in English and Spanish. The following list of “A” words is from

I have pasted the list here and maybe you’ll be curious to see how many words there are that begin with other letters. The website even has a button you can push to hear the pronunciation.

English Spanish
abandon abandonar
abbreviate abreviar
abdomen abdomen
absolute absoluto
absorb absorber
abundant abundante
abuse abuso
academic académico
acceleration aceleración
accept aceptar
access acceso
accessory accesorio
accident accidente
acid ácido
acoustic acústico
acrobat acróbata
action acción
adapt adaptar
adjective adjetivo
adult adulto
agriculture agricultura
air aire
alarm alarma
alcohol alcohol
animal animal
appear aparecer
applaud aplaudir
application aplicación
apply aplicar
architect arquitecto
archives archivos
assault asaltar
attack atacar


Filed under Vida Latina

10 responses to “Is Spanish needed?

  1. You’re so right, Richmx2–the formatting in Algarabía is great! Aside from being interesting, visually, even my aging eyes do not need a magnifier, (UNlike some of the medicine labels I’ve TRIED to read of late. )

    And Joanna, I’m so glad you and Jorge like the magazine. It’s kind of like favorite restaurants–keep the good ones going so we’ll get to return.

  2. Algarabía, by the way, is a wonderful resource for not just PAINLESSLY increasing your vocabulary, but for immersing yourself in the nuances and by-ways of Mexican culture. And — with excellent typography and design — it is simply a joy to peruse. It’s sort of an intellectual’s version of Reader’s Digest, often with quirky little articles on things like the history of cannibalism, or the various terms for hangovers, or Mexican art deco, or… well… anything and everything.

    • Yes it is Richard. Alinde introduced Jorge and I to the magazine and we are hooked. I had actually stopped buying most of my old favorites because they all seemed to feature the same flavor of the month… but now we have a new option… Hurray!

  3. Wow, Joanna! I could write a small book on this subject. But I’ll just say that for people who want to have Mexican friends, or who live by themselves, or outside of “gringo gulch”, I believe learning Spanish is imperative. Sure, the “get by” fluency level is OK, but there are definite limitations, and even serious mistakes can ensue.

    It’s true that many locals speak English, but of the two VERY proficient ones that I know, one even admitted to me that she, like I in Spanish, becomes really tired after an hour of speaking English. So, having a close relationship with an hour limitation on a visit, is complicated. And then there are the speech nuances, idioms, and outright mistakes presented in dictionaries. The magazine named Algarabía is now offering a section on MEXICAN Spanish, and my teacher often offers me insight along this line as well.

    I do become quite discouraged at times. I keep thinking–“When, if ever, will I be capable of having a really intellectual conversation with a Mexican, in Spanish.”

    • Yes, the topic does raise heated feelings on both sides. You are right, as is Barry that Spanish (good Spanish) is certainly desirable. I speak Spanish but I do understand that for some people, for whatever reasons, learning a new language is really hard. They start to feel guilty because they’ve been here one… two… three… plus… years and still have not got a handle on things. To them I say, don’t aim for the sky… get to the point where you can be polite and go on from there if you want to. If you don’t, at least you have the basics… Often the level of language proficiency is on a “need to know” scale…

      • Thanks, Joanna–you sure have a knack for the positive. In fact, right after reading your post, I managed to find the definition for “algarabía”. (I probably misspelled it in my prior attempts.) I remember the Spanish speaker I referred to asking me what “gobbledygook” meant, a word my parrot has easily learned. Had I only known “algarabía” then, it would have been nice. So, “live an learn.”

        Thanks again.

      • My pleasure… I always think there are many good reasons why situations exist… sometimes they are not what we consider good reasons but they are to someone!

  4. Yes, one should learn the language of the country in which you are living! And, in the case of México, not just tourist Spanish. You really don’t know what is happening without it. Like, what’s the uproar concerning the fountain gloretta? Is someone coming to sing here in the middle of July? Did the federal legislature change the rules for FM2s? For my part, I feel cheated by the US school system in that I graduated knowing only English. Learning another language can be fun and frustrating, but well worth the time spent. As a result of practicing my Spanish on unsuspecting locals I’ve found that most Mexicanos here in Mérida speak English quite well, so be quite careful of what you say in public.

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