Learning Spanish: Intercambios

By: Douglas Bower

What got me started on an Intercambio jag was learning how Mexicans in the tourist industry on Mexico's Gold Coast learn English and achieve an amazing level of proficiency. They do it by engaging in Intercambios! This is where you exchange an hour of helping a Mexican struggling to learn English with an hour of him helping you with your Spanish. This is not just a good idea for learning Spanish but also an excellent way to master the culture. Far too few people stress a bicultural proficiency along with a linguistic fluency. You need both.

Many American companies, laboring under the false assumption that familiarity with Hispanics in general makes one an expert in Mexican culture, learn quickly this doesn't work. Some of the companies that want to begin a Mexican branch of their business will hire a fluent Spanish speaker to go to Mexico to run it. The person may have kept up his Spanish fluency with his American Hispanic family. However, the family might be second or third generation American Hispanics that, though Spanish fluent, has no Mexican cultural fluency. Though the family members can speak, read, and write Spanish, they have become so Americanized that they no longer understand the Mexican culture. The company finds it would have done better to send the person's grandparent or even great-grandparent to run the Mexican branch.

Linguistic fluency does not guarantee cultural fluency. One needs both to successfully interact with Mexicans in Mexico.

This is where the Intercambios rise to the occasion.

My wife learned more about Mexican culture through teaching ESL than the students seemed to learn English. Her students also made the comment at how thankful they were to have learned some American culture within the framework of their ESL classes. You've got to have both. The language is the portal to the culture.

The best part of an Intercambio?

It's free! No money exchanges hands. It's a barter gig.

I love free!

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