So, you’ve decided to take the leap and move to Mexico City. But there’s just one problem: you don’t speak Spanish. Not to worry! There are plenty of ways to learn the language without breaking the bank.
How to learn Spanish in Mexico City –
Before you go:
Practice, practice, practice! Even if it’s just starting with a little bit of Duolingo every day, getting some initial exposure to the language is a must. Mexico City isn’t a tourist destination in the way that Cancún or Los Cabos are, so definitely have your bare necessities down before going.
While la Ciudad de México does play host to a large expat population, only certain parts of the town will have many English speakers. Don’t expect to get along in town with no Spanish skills – and don’t only hang out with other English speakers, either!
Want to learn survival Spanish? Check out our Spanish classes online.
Read some books, listen to podcasts, or check out the latest shows on Netflix. Watch the news in Spanish, get down to reggaetón and even find a favorite telenovela. My recommendations for Mexico City? Rosario Tijeras tackles all sides of the city, while Rebelde takes you into the life of the DF’s upper-class in the early 2000s. Both are available on Netflix.
Once you’re there:
Find a place to live
Don’t get stuck in the expat bubble! I know it can be tempting, but staying in La Roma, Condesa or Polanco with other foreigners just means you won’t get the full Mexico experience. Check out websites like Dada Room or Roomgo to find rooms available -- I recommend neighborhoods like Navarte, Del Valle or Doctores if you’re looking for a charming-yet-authentic (and less-expensive!) atmosphere. I’ve seen shared, furnished apartments for rent in the city starting around 3,000 pesos all the way up to 15,000 pesos per month.
Live with the locals: okay, okay. You may be saying that you’re too old for this, or that you like your privacy. While it may be comfortable living with other English speakers, you’ll only stunt your learning progress. Instead, what better way to learn a language than to live with people who speak it?
And, on the plus side, they can show you the best spots around town.Want to experience even more cultures outside of Mexico? A large number of young Colombians, Argentines, Venezuelans and Peruvians live in the city, too, making it even easier to learn Spanish in Mexico City.
On that note – make friends! Check out Meetup groups that fit your interests, or try apps like Bumble BFF (or just Bumble, if that’s your thing). One friend and I meet twice a week to practice Spanish and English together. We spend the first half of our time speaking in English, then switch to Spanish and correct each other along the way. It’s been one of the best ways for me to learn Spanish since coming to Mexico City.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, either. Go to the markets, try the food, and bask in the sun at one of the city’s many plazas. Mexico’s food has something for everyone – but be warned, Mexico City’s quesadillas don’t come with queso! Besides showing you their favorite places to go, your newfound friends can teach you all the Mexican slang, which can sometimes feel like a language of its own. From greeting them with a “qué onda” to stopping to grab some chelas, you’ll be sure to talk like a chilango in no time!
Get a job or volunteer -- but make sure you’re doing this legally! Despite some misconceptions, you do need a work visa to have a job in Mexico, and will most likely need an employer to sponsor you. You can volunteer in Mexico without a work visa, and some nonprofits will even sponsor you for a volunteer visa after a certain amount of time. I spend my weekends working with Casa Refugiados, an NGO that helps refugees and asylum-seekers adapt to life in Mexico City. It’s helped my Spanish so much, and I’ve even picked up on phrases from other Spanish-speaking countries that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Lastly, have fun! There’s plenty of weekend trips just hours outside of the city. In my six months of living in Mexico City, I’ve already visited Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and Cuernavaca for quick jaunts. If you’re looking for day trips, Teotihuacán and Tepoztlán are also great options. And, you can do this inexpensively. Bus tickets can go for a couple-hundred pesos round-trip! Stay on-the-cheap in Airbnbs or hostels for a few dollars a night, or look into couchsurfing and volunteer work exchanges to keep your costs low.
Does this all sound like a lot? Sure, you can always take the easy way out and enroll in an immersion class at schools like CEPE or Universidad La Salle, but these classes can get expensive quickly. By pinching pennies, learning as you go, and throwing yourself into the quick pace of life in Mexico’s capital city, you’ll be sure to pick up the language in no time, with a little help along the way from your new friends.