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Spanish, Mexican style

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Jim’s pretty good in Spanish, but, for me, it has been a real chore—and, for Matthew, forget it. Jim’s big advantage is that he learned Spanish by talking to people on the job. Nothing academic about Jim!

The problem with learning Spanish, Mexican style, is that it contains expressions or collocations that you may not find in Spanish as it is spoken in Spain, or elsewhere.

What is a collocation? Well, a collocation is two or more words that often go together. These expressions just sound “right” to native Spanish speakers, who use them all the time.

On the other hand, these expressions may be totally unnatural to someone learning the language. Think of expressions or collocations as being like slang. Just as in English, Spanish slang can vary not only by country, but by location within a country.

Here’s an example that I came across today—”Ya casi!”

“Ya” is a word that you will see all over Mexico. It has several meanings—already, anymore, by now, before, and beforehand. That covers quite a range! “Casi” can mean almost, nearly, about, quasi, much, half, all but, next to, nigh, and next door.

So what does “Ya casi” mean?

In Mexico a tortilla is a flat bread

In Mexico a tortilla is a flat bread

Well it means almost. But doesn’t “casi” alone means almost, so why the “ya?”

The “ya” adds emphasis. Kind of like saying “just about here.” Does that make complete sense—no. In English does the expression, “a quick meal” make complete sense—no, not to someone learning English, at least.

The best way to learn stuff like “Ya casi” is to memorize it as one word.

Here are some more. “Basta ya” is kind of like “enough yet,” and translates into “enough is enough” or “cut it out.” Of course “cut it out” is an English expression that could confuse a lot of folks learning English.

“Casi nunca” means hardly ever—literally, “almost never.”

When you hear Mexicans speaking a mile a minute, you will hear a lot of these word combinations. Learn them and treat them as a single word, and you may just find yourself keeping up with the Mexican way of speaking.

Spanish varies all over the place. The Spanish word “tortilla” in Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba and South America, means an omelette.

In Spain a tortilla is an omelette

In Spain a tortilla is an omelette

But in Mexico, “tortilla” refers to a flatbread made from corn or wheat.

So if you want to speak Spanish, Mexican style. You had better learn good old Mexican Spanish, as Jim calls it. Picking up a book on Spanish written for Spain won’t get you to Spanish, Mexican style—not by a long shot.

Now here comes the commercial, but it really it is not a commercial at all. It is the best hint you can have if you want to speak Spanish in Mexico.

There is a course written by Marcus Santamaria, written especially for those of us who want to converse in Spanish with our Mexican friends.

He calls some of the Mexican collocations, comprehension killers.

I got his course, and you can get it through the link on our left sidebar—Spanish Lessons Completely FREE. It really teaches you how to speak Spanish – Mexican style.

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10 comments to Spanish, Mexican style

  • Elva

    I’ve always loved learning new languages. Here in the Philippines, we have a language that is also called ‘broken spanish’ or Chavacano. A lot of words are similar but the grammar is totally different. Muchus Gracias for your post:)

  • vannie

    That’s what I’m trying to do for the past few months. I can’t pay language teacher so what I did is self-study. I was challenge to learn because of my Spanish friend.

  • Robert

    Hehe, Mexicali is in fact my destination. I have been there before and I have a few friends there and I love it as a vacation spot 🙂
    It shows Mexico’s real face with all it’s pros and cons, and not just a fasade. That’s a good tourist spot in my opinion anyway, hehe 🙂
    Thanks for the tip, I’ll def. check it out! Thanks again for your blog!

  • James

    Awesome. Again many thanks for your insights, MaryAnn!

    Jay

  • Jay: I don’t know of any vacation rentals here in Mexicali. There are some very fancy motels on the road to the airport which go for about $20 a night – not too bad for a short stay.
    No – we have no Mexican insurance. We don’t use Costco in Mexicali, as there is a Super Walmart real close to us. If you don’t have kids or cats you should be able to make it in Mexicali for $1,750 a month. I don’t know the prices in San Felipe. The big expense can be electricity for air-conditioning – unless you decide to live on the Pacific coast of Baja, or La Paz where it is not so hot in the summer. I hear that La Paz is really nice.
    God Bless,
    MaryAnn

  • Robert: From Stockholm no less! My guess is that you won’t be visiting Mexicali, as it is not a vacation spot, but an industrial city. Mexican Spanish is not quite like they speak it in Spain. So my advice is to learn it here in Mexico. My advice is to get, what we use, and consider the best and only course in Mexican Spanish – there is a link to it at the top of our left sidebar – “Learn Spanish in 138 words.” Take a look – the guy teaches Spanish with the key expressions used in Mexico stuff like Ya Casi – which as a word combo makes no sense, but treat it as one word and Mexicans will understand that you are saying “just about almost.”
    God Bless,
    MaryAnn

  • Robert

    Hi MaryAnn,

    I am just like you a big fan of Mexico, it’s language and people. A place wich I try to visit as often as I can, even tho I live on the other side of the earth 🙂

    I will be travelling to Mexicali (2nd time) this summer and will be staying there for three weeks. During this period I want to study spanish with a teacher. Do you know anyone who can help me or who I should ask? Any information would be helpful! 🙂

    Thank you, and thanks for a great blog!
    Best regards,
    Robert – Stockholm, Sweden

  • James

    Hi Again MaryAnn,

    Thank you so much for your kind, prompt and helpful reply. Mary and I are trying to arrange a visit to the San Diego area in the October time frame to check things out. Yuma is still in the mix but SD works better for both our jobs. I can take early retirement in 2 years and want to seriously start scoping Mexico out. Do you know of anyone trustworthy I can contact in Mexicali about vacation rentals for 1 to 3 weeks? We usually try VRBO.com but only two came up and they were in San Felipe.

    Also, I noticed that you pay for your medical as you go. Do you also pay for the Mexican national plan as a backup for, say, major medical?

    Have you ever tried the Costco in Mexicali? Weird addiction of mine, I must admit.

    And finally, I know that my missives tend to the long side and I apologize, in my last reply I mentioned 1750 a month for retiring in La Paz. You verified that but, just to clarify, do you thing that is a realistic number for Mexicali also?

    Thank you, MaryAnn. You have been more than patient with me as I bombard you with questions but yours is the most helpful and realistic site I have found on the subject of Mexico warts and all. There are so many sites and “services” all over the web that tell of incredible life all over Latin America but, frankly, they leave me with the impression they want to sell me a chunk of land or something.

    Again, many many thanks!

    Jay

  • Jay:
    Thank you for the kind words and for reading my blog. I think you are right, you may well need as much as $1,750 a month. One of the advantages of Mexicali is that it is right across the border, where you may be able to find a job. For instance, many people from Mexicali work at the Super Walmart in Calexico – if fact, it seems that most of their employees come from Mexicali.
    However, I am sure that La Paz is a prettier town, and being on the sea, the weather would be better. What ever you choice – considering the prices in the US, you are wise to be considering Mexico.
    God Bless,
    MaryAnn

  • James

    Hi Mary Ann,

    Love your blog! My wife (also Mary Ann) and I have been talking of retiring in Mexico for some time but as I will only get 1300 from ss at 62, I am thinking of continuing to work in, say, San Diego while learning more of the Mexican lifestyle and language. We currently live in Southern Oregon.

    One site I found said that the cheapest place for us to live in Mexico would be La Paz Baja Sur but that we would still need at least $1750 or so a month. Does that sound right to you?

    Being in high tech the temptation is to stick with it for the money but get out of it to relieve the stress and to write the great American novel.

    Sigh. Decisions, decisions.

    Your insights have been very helpful. My wife lived in Arizona for a number of year and loved Algodones so we made a point of going down the last time we were in Laughlin, NV visiting her twin sister. I think that is the side of Mexico I could enjoy. Further, Mary’s older sister went there last year for dental work.

    Anyway that is a little background. If you are too busy enjoying Mexico with your family, I totally get that. I just really enjoy your blog and love sharing it with Mary.

    James (Nickname: Jay)

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