A Road Trip and Artisan Furniture…Adventures in Learning Spanish

You want to move abroad. You want to retire, buy a second home, or expose your grandchildren to a different environment, or start a business overseas. But…but…the language.

How will you ever get a job, run a business, or make friends if you can’t speak the language?

You’ve heard all the excuses from friends or, more likely, in your own head—I’m too old to learn a new language. I don’t have a gift for languages. I’ll never be really fluent. It’s just too hard. But it doesn’t have to be.

With a good teacher and an excellent system, learning the language of your new country is not only possible; it is fun and very fulfilling. And it will change your entire experience of living overseas for the better.

I began developing my Spanish course for expats over 25 years ago at my school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I’ve developed a system that works well for anyone, but it’s particularly good for baby boomers.

With this system, you can learn to be polite and express your needs quickly…which changes the quality of your life in your new home. Your confidence improves and, once you begin to communicate, your Spanish skills and knowledge grow on their own.

In no time at all, you can be chatting with a grocer, giving directions to a taxi driver, and making friends with your neighbors…or making plans to have custom-made furniture built for your home…just like Clay and his wife did.

Clay and his wife were students of mine, and here he recounts the tale of them setting out on an adventure to discover a Mexican town of furniture artisans and how they managed to put the Spanish they had learned to good use.

“Both my wife and I had come to live in San Miguel de Allende with no experience speaking Spanish, but learned the basics from Warren and had been pushing ourselves to practice.

“We had heard of a place outside of town known only to us as ‘the mesquite town’ (mesquite is a type of tree that’s native to Mexico and is used to make high-end rustic furniture). So, one day, feeling adventurous, and wanting to have a mesquite bar custom-built for our home, we decided to head out and find the town.

“We finally ended up in a small village that was full of little wood shops working on mesquite furniture. We got out and began walking and poking our noses in here and there. We struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow who had a little room full of furniture he had made. So we showed him the design of our bar.

“Now, he didn’t speak a word of English, so I figured this would be the true test of my Spanish skills and all I’d learned from Warren. And it worked. Sure, there was some drawing and hand waving, but we ended up with a finalized drawing and a handwritten contract for him to make exactly what we wanted, and a date for us to call back for our custom-made piece of furniture.

“As we pulled out on to the highway to make our way back home to San Miguel we looked at each other and said, ‘Wow…we did it.’ We ventured out into unknown territory, found good artisans, we’re going to have a unique mesquite piece of furniture that will last forever…and we did it all in Spanish.

“We could not have done anything like this before we started learning Spanish. In fact, we would never even have contemplated doing it…which gave us a real feeling of being very proud of ourselves.”

Time and again, I’ve spoken with my baby boomer students, like Clay, who have said that learning Spanish has changed their live-overseas experience. I’ve seen them create magical, fulfilling lives for themselves, and have the kind of experiences with locals like Clay and his wife had, that enriched their lives.

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