Learning Spanish The Easy Way

Ha! There is no easy way. But try this In Todos Santos, anyway
BY: ANDREW STACK

Learning Spanish is at the top of Loren Dutton’s to-do list. He recently moved to Todos Santos from Seattle, Washington. Loren has been surviving daily life using Duolingo, an app that teaches and translates Spanish. But Loren, like so many other new arrivals to Baja, wants to do more than survive. He wants to assimilate.

“My wife speaks nearly fluent Spanish but even she is taking advanced classes,” he says. “We both love Todos Santos and the locals really appreciate when Gringos make an effort to speak their language.”

Lizeth Estrada is Loren’s teacher at Hablando Mexicano, the small language school in Todos Santos where he is taking classes. She, along with her fellow teachers, are among those who appreciate it when foreigners try to learn Spanish. “I love that people who are not from Mexico have the willingness and desire to learn Spanish,” she says.

While there are many tutors in Todos Santos, Hablando Mexicano claims to be the only official Spanish school for native English speakers, according to its director, Ivonne Benitez. Ivonne, who has two masters degrees - one in bilingual education with an emphasis in occupationally specific language and the other with an emphasis in child development. She says they always try to have small groups so the classes can be personalized, even in high season. When there are eight people in a group, they divide it and start a new group. That goal has been harder and harder to meet with the steady influx of new residents to Todos Santos.

“In November and December, we have a lot of people on a waiting list,” Ivonne says. Many, like Loren show up on the school’s doorstep after being directed there by word of mouth. Two years ago, demand for Hablando’s classes drove Ivonne to search for a larger space. She eventually moved Hablando Mexicano to a building on the corner of Rangel and Zaragoza, in the heart of Todos Santos.

Ivonne attributes much of the demand to the classes she designed for specific types of Spanish. “In winter, we offer Spanish for grocery shopping and housekeeping, or for mechanics and construction with specific vocabulary for these situations,” she says.

The school has two teachers that speak fluent English and two that deliberately don’t speak any English, forcing students to speak Spanish. It’s a very important part of the learning process, Ivonne says, because it immerses them in the language. However, there are those who get frustrated with the charades required with teachers who can’t speak your language. How are you going to explain the damn reflexive verb thing if you can’t explain it? We say, after the dozen or more classes we’ve attended at various places, try to negotiate a class with an English speaker; around here you will get plenty of practice in your new language on the streets.

Ivonne and her instructors are currently creating new course materials for introduction in November. The text will focus specifically on Spanish verb tenses, pronouns and nouns. (Did you know there are 501 verbs in the most common text book? And that there are no less than 14 tenses? Do the math, you’ll be learning this language the rest of your life).

 Ivonne hopes the timing of her new work/textbook combination is good, because they’ll be released at the same time as a tuition increase. Right now, the price for eight classes is about $56 USD, but the cost has to keep up with inflation so there will be a  price increase to roughly $70 per month. Those prices apply to group classes, which meet for one hour twice a week.

The school starts one new class per month. People pay monthly, and the program is ongoing. Most of the students study for six months.

In addition to group lessons, Hablando Mexicano also offers immersion classes during the high season, November through April. The intensive classes are total immersion and include the workshop formats for cooking and salsa dancing and other specifics of daily life. They consist of three hours of Spanish class per day for one week. According to Ivonne, students can advance one month or two months in one week, compared to the regular class structure.

If you’re ready to tackle this, check out Hablando Mexicano’s website at www.hablandomexicano.com.