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Chuck Bolotin of Best Mexico Movers – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Old woman in Ajijic, MexicoThere is no doubt that you can live quite comfortably in the Lake Chapala / Ajijic area and not speak more than a few words of Spanish; expats do it all the time.  Most doctors speak English, and you can always find housekeepers, gardeners, repair people, waiters, etc., who also speak English.  I even know of several business owners who don’t speak any more than second year High School Spanish who seem to get by just fine.
 
The people in the service industries here in the Lake Chapala / Ajijic area will tend to cater to English-speakers because its good for business.  You will also find lots of local Mexicans who have lived in the US and as a result, either speak good, or fluent English.
 
All that being said, I recommend that you try very hard to learn some Spanish, for several reasons, including that doing so is polite (you are, after all, a guest in Mexico) and you will get so much more out of your interpersonal relationships and overall experience if you do, like being able to talk with the woman above, who did some sewing for me in the village of Ajijic.
 
At a minimum, you should know how to say things like “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “thank you,” and “good bye.”  The locals in the overall Lakeside area (Jocotepec to Chapala, including Ajijic) will tend to be more traditional and more community-oriented than you may be used to, because Lakeside is really just a series of villages, where most people know each other and are more interested in each other as human beings, so it would be rude not to acknowledge another person with a warm “Buenos dias” or something similar.  You will find that almost all the locals here greet each other that way and greet you that way, too.  And if you can muster a “buen provecho” (essentially, “hearty appetite”) to a couple of visiting Guadalajarans sitting in a restaurant as you walk by to your table, you will be greeted with very warm smiles and a reply greeting of goodwill to you.
 
If you do learn Spanish, you will be able to have more in depth conversations with the local Mexicans here, which is a very enriching and human experience, and one very much worth having.  You may even make some genuine friends, which is always a good thing.
 
The local Mexicans are thrilled when you make any attempt, no matter how bad, at speaking Spanish.  They will do their best to understand you and encourage you to speak and learn more.  It is not at all unusual for a local Mexican to tell you that while you are trying to learn Spanish, they are trying to improve their English, even though they are in Mexico and Spanish is the official language here.
 
So, to summarize, yes, you can get by without speaking any Spanish in the Lake Chapala / Ajijic area, but it would be better for you if you learned to speak Spanish.  You don’t have to be anywhere near perfect, and anything you learn will pay you big dividends in understanding, a feeling of competence, and some real friendships.
 
Interested in moving to Mexico?  Check out Best Mexico Movers.
Michael Kavanaugh of Continental Realty – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
For sale sign in Spanish and English for a weekend cottage, Lake Chapala, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingYes, you can get by just speaking English in the Ajijic – Chapala area because of the mix of Americans, Canadians, and Mexican nationals. Mostly in the service areas, everybody speaks a little English and everybody can learn a little Spanglish to get by. It’s not a problem.
 
Most people take Spanish lessons to get a little grip of the language.  However, most of the service providers speak a little English and hand gestures go a long way.
 
(For sale sign in Spanish and English for a weekend cottage, Lake Chapala, Mexico, pictured.)
Mark O'Neill – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Logo for Google app for androids, pictured – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingYou can get by in Chapala and Ajijic if you just speak English, depending on where you are. Because the bulk of the population in Chapala and Ajijic is Americans and Canadians, the restaurants most certainly have somebody who speaks English, if not everybody who speaks English. The same holds true for a bulk of the stores, gas stations, department stores, and other service oriented places.
 
My Spanish goes back to 7th grade, so it is very limited. I have occasional an challenge here and there but everyone seems to be focused on helping or trying to communicate. I have found that it is most helpful to have a translation app in your cellphone. There are some apps that do not only translate the written words but also the spoken words, which makes it much easier. 
 
(Logo for Google translate app, pictured.)
Luzma Grande of Ajijic Concierge Services – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Concierge services offered by Luzma Grande – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingYes, you can certainly get by in Chapala and Ajijic if you only speak English.
 
Ironically, a lot of people think that if they come here they will learn Spanish, they start and they have the will to learn, but they never learn because most people talk to you in English. This is one of the reasons why people come and stay here. If you ever have an emergency such as if you need to go to a private hospital, the receptionist at the hospital would speak English, the doctor at the ER speaks English, and the nurse speaks English, too. Expats don’t usually go to the IMSS (Mexican Social Security Institute), which is the Mexican healthcare service. Wherever you go for an emergency or wherever you go for something that you need, English is usually the language spoken. 
 
I offer services for people who do not speak Spanish who need to deal with Mexican offices. As an example, we went to get the driver’s license of a couple the other day that were afraid of their exam because they were studying in English but the exam would be in Spanish. We traveled from Ajijic to Guadalajara, which is a very large city about an hour away.  The exam is a computer-based exam. Of course, they had hesitation on which were the right answers but the exam was very easy. They provide you with a translator when you do the exam even if it is for a Mexican driver’s license. That’s very cool.
 
Sometimes people feel like when you need to process a document in a Mexican office, everything is really slow. It’s not like that anymore or at least, it is not like that when you go with somebody who knows how it works. Because if you arrive at a Mexican office and you don’t know what copies of your documents are required of you and you don’t know the procedure, it would take you longer but if there is somebody who could tell you the procedure, even if they don’t personally come with you, but if you know what to do beforehand and you bring the right documentation, then your transaction would be faster and easier. The clients I just wrote about had an easy time because everything was smooth and they didn’t take over an hour and half for both the written exam and driving test. They got their driver’s licenses so quickly and easily and were so happy about it that they decided to treat me out to lunch.
 
I know a lot of good restaurants in Guadalajara and Guadalajara has a good traffic system but you need to know where you want to go, so I always tell people to check Google Maps first before going to Guadalajara because just depending on your GPS is not a good idea. As a result, we preferred to have our lunch back in Ajijic. There was not even one Mexican in the restaurant where we ate in Ajijic. That happens most of the time. Ajijic is full of expats and tourists even now that it is not peak season. Half of the rental houses in Ajijic are empty now. That’s huge compared to how it is during wintertime. But even at this time, the restaurant that we went to had no Mexicans in it. The menu at the restaurant is in English and you will place your order with a waiter who speaks English. This happens in Ajijic but I couldn’t say the same for all of Mexico. This area is a bubble of protection for expats to live here and feel like they’re home.
 
(Concierge services offered by Luzma Grande, Ajijic, Mexico, pictured.)
Santiago Hernandez of Chapala Med – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Dr. Santiago Hernandez of Chapala Med serving the expat communities in Guadalajara and the Chapala lakeside – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingYou can definitely get by with just speaking English here in Chapala and Ajijic. It is rather ironic because I probably spoke more Spanish when I was practicing in Chicago than I do now here in Mexico.
 
95% of the office visits that I do here are in English so you can certainly get by with just English. You can go to the banks, restaurants, pay your bills, and find that their staff speak English. I was just in a telephone company office because I got a contract for a pre-paid cell phone and they have staff there that speaks English even though it is not a requirement. In Mexico, the service people are supposed to cater to foreigners, but in Chapala, I see that they really go out of their way.  
 
(Dr. Santiago Hernandez of Chapala Med serving the expat communities in Guadalajara and the Chapala lakeside, Mexico, pictured.)

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