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Nov 10 2017

Driving the road into Sayulita, anxious to get to the beach as most of us are, it's easy to pass right by the walled gardens of the Costa Verde School. But those who stop and venture inside will find Hola Sayulita Spanish language school; a sort of of golden key that can help English speakers unlock the very best of the town. Sayulita is the perfect place for English speakers to learn Spanish. A bold statement? Sure. But I think it's true. Hearing the Spanglish that's spoken all over town is encouraging for anyone wanting to test drive a Spanish word here or there, just for starters. My family has met 'teachers' in virtually every tienda and restaurant in town; people who manage both patience and enthusiasm as we trip over our kindergarten level Spanish vocabulary. (Ok, that's generous. Perhaps preschool vocabulary is more accurate.)

Sayulita, overflowing with friendly and encouraging people who are happy to bounce back and forth between English and Spanish makes for a very hospitable learning environment. 

Some people argue that full immersion - spending time in a place where your native language is virtually unknown - is the best path because you're forced to adapt rapidly. Grated, that's a surefire fast track to bilingualism. But not everyone wants to get thrown straightaway into the deep end of the learning pool. On the other hand, it's all too easy to simply sit next to the pool, order perpetual rounds of cervezas frías, and have a lot of fun not making too much progress.  

For those who, like us, are seeking an experience somewhere in between these two scenarios, Sayulita's an ideal spot. 
Our Sayulita morning ritual is an hour of Spanish class, every day. The 8am class is a family affair including my husband, myself, and my tween-aged stepdaughter. "Good grief, you make her study every day!? On vacation?!" is a common refrain from skeptical friends. Well the truth is, despite the occasional grumbling when our brains feel study-weary and worn out, classes are always a highlight of the trip. 

For the past two years we've studied with Evelia Padilla Arzate, a radiantly charming maestra extraordinaire from Mexico City who's a full time elementary teacher at the Costa Verde School and who we met through the tutoring program at Hola Sayulita. It's an understatement to say that we adore this woman. Evelia swoops into our living room every morning like a petite superhero, wielding magical tools disguised as ordinary markers and a dry erase board. Among her astonishing superpowers: making gringo accents vanish into thin air and subduing that terrifying nemesis known as "Teenage Attitude". 

Evelia encourages us through the moments of negative internal dialogue that are inevitable in the learning process. ("Ugh, I'll NEVER understand reflexive verbs!" or "Would it be SO bad to just speak in the present tense forever?") When we push through to the other side, we always find that the results - those moments of illumination - are more than worth the effort.

Those little victories, the glimpses of clarity; that feeling that the studying is paying off and that being bilingual is within your grasp... it's priceless.

If you're ready to dive into Spanish and to start experiencing Sayulita and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world on a whole new level, here are some tips to get you started. 

- TAKE SOME CLASSES: Get in touch with René at Hola Sayulita about their private or group classes. They have a professional, flexible, and truly fun Spanish program for all levels. Classes are taught in the lush, relaxing setting of the Costa Verde School, or you can arrange for classes at home. Check out their many five-star reviews here

- GRAB THE REMOTE: C'mon, what's easier than watching TV? This is fun, zero-stakes practice in comprehension. Netflix offers a ton of telenovelas with English sub-titles. Cue one up, then hold on tight because those ladies talk FAST. If you enjoy a throwback, there's Destino, a television show developed JUST for teaching Spanish. It was made in the '90s so it'll make you nostalgic for watching an educational program in a dark classroom on one of those big, rolling combo TV/VCR things. 

- THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT: For building vocabulary, it's tough to beat Duolingo. It's free, and because it's structured like a game, time on the app flies by. For students like me who struggle a bit with comprehension, FluentU can also be helpful. The app charges a monthly or yearly subscription (but offers a free trial) to access short videos with English AND Spanish subtitles, followed by quizzes about the content. As you start to have longer conversations in Spanish, iTranslate is a super handy day to day tool for filling in the gaps and offering quick access to any needed word or phrase. 

- LEARN A SONG: Make a project of memorizing the words to a simple song. Learning the lyrics to "En El Mar" is what FINALLY got me to understand reflexive pronouns! Maybe you already *kind of* know the words to La Bamba, or Despacito, or Bidi Bidi Bom Bom from "Selena". (Admit it, you sing along and just mumble nonsense over the words you don't know, right? Is that just me?) Google the full lyrics with the English translation and enjoy finding out what's really "behind the music". 

- PLAY A GAME: La Loteria is the bingo-style game played with those iconic, colorful playing cards with drawings and words on them. It's a vocabulary builder that features words that are practical (La Rana: Frog), slightly arcane (El Cantarito: Old-timey water pitcher), and downright hilarious (El Borracho: Drunk guy). 

- PRACTICE TALKING TO PEOPLE IN TOWN: Scary? A little!! But essential! Not to worry, the huge majority of people in Sayulita will listen, help you out, and maintain a great sense of humor.