Live in Mexico Without Spanish?
¿Donde esta el baño? ¿Como esta usted? That pretty
well sums up two years of high school Spanish taken as a college prep
course almost 50 years ago! Of course, why would anyone ever need to know
Spanish having never met a Mexican, let alone thought about going to Mexico?
My, how times have changed!
After living in Houston for 25 years, we discovered that Mexico was only
two hours away and that it had some very intriguing qualities to offer.
In 1984 we bought a condo in Mismaloya, south of Puerto Vallarta, and
made semi-annual visits to Vallarta for 13 years before buying a villa
in the foothills of the Sierra Madres, overlooking Banderas Bay and El
Centro, the downtown area of PV. When we moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico,
known as PV or Vallarta by the locals, ten years ago, our Spanish vocabulary
consisted of about five words. Fortunately, a few taxi drivers, most restaurant
waiters, and some caddies spoke, or at least understood, a little English.
In order to survive here, it was imperative to understand and speak some
degree of Spanish. During our first month in Vallarta, we purchased text
books, manuals, dictionaries, and hired a tutor to come to our villa twice
a week. We worked diligently for almost six months, learning Spanish words,
paraphrases, tenses, etc. so that we would have a chance of communicating
with the locals. To assist our learning process, we watched our Mexican
TV which had about five channels; CNN, Mexican shows aimed at sixth graders,
and American movies with Spanish subtitles. We would then turn off the
volume and try to understand the movies by reading the subtitles. Not
much fun, but the price you had to pay in order to live in Paradise where
the average daily temperature during the “high season” of
November through May is 73°F with virtually no chance of rain!
We spent that first summer back in the States and upon returning to PV,
we got lazy and discontinued our studies. Satellite TV became available
in Vallarta and we no longer had the five Mexican channels, but instead
had 350 channels from the US. Fortunately for us, the tourism boom in
Vallarta was just beginning to occur ten years ago. During the past ten
years, there have been thousands of new houses and tens of thousands of
new condos, new hospitals, a new University of Guadalajara campus, new
airport, new maritime terminal, etc. built in Vallarta. As tourism increased,
so did the requirement for speaking English by the locals. If they could
understand and speak English, they could obtain the higher paying jobs
where interaction with tourists is a routine occurrence. Jobs such as
waiting tables, caddying, taxi driving, police department, clerking at
front desks in hotels, offices, hospitals, airport, etc. and management
positions in stores and other businesses could pay three times as much
as construction work, daily labor, cleaning, etc. where there is no requirement
for English speaking skills. The difference in wages was so obvious and
substantial that during the past ten years, most all of the younger generation
of people in Vallarta are taking English classes in school and understand
and speak basic English. Even those that haven’t had a day of classroom
English have a good understanding of “Espanglish” and we therefore
have absolutely no problem communicating with anyone in Vallarta.
Virtually all educated Mexicans in PV such as doctors, lawyers, engineers,
architects, bankers, nurses, teachers, etc. are fluent in English. In
fact, the majority of these people seem to prefer speaking English with
Americans and Canadians. Typical music in restaurants, bars, hotels, and
even dental offices are the popular American songs. American magazines,
newspapers, and books are available throughout the city, whereas ten years
ago they were virtually non-existent.
In summarizing, having knowledge of Spanish is no longer a prerequisite
for visiting or retiring in Vallarta. The majority of the retirees that
live in PV have little Spanish speaking ability and get along just fine.
Most all tourists by plane or cruise ship have no knowledge of Spanish
and they too have no communication problems. Obviously, Vallarta is not
typical of Mexico, however for those considering a trip to or retirement
in Vallarta with no Spanish speaking ability, should not be concerned
about a language barrier here. At the rate things are changing in PV,
who knows, English could become its primary language in another generation!