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You’re Never Too Old…

Do you ever pay attention to how you speak to yourself?
What are your thoughts are saying?
What do you hear?

For as long as I remember I heard my thoughts and voice say, ‘I’m not good at learning languages’. With this thought reinforced over and over, there’s no doubt it became a well embedded belief.

I don’t consider myself ‘old’ and I’m ecstatic I can still say I haven’t hit that half-century milestone yet, but isn’t it all relative? I remember sitting in a Oxford pub a few years ago and my girlfriend said, ‘do you think ‘they’ think ‘we’re’ old? ‘They’ being the twenty-something year old university students.

My Response: Oh, course they think we’re old, we could be twenty-nine and they’d think we’re old! Remember when you thought your parents were ‘old’?? Now, we’ve passed their ‘old’ and still consider ourselves young, very young in fact. If you’re still young enough to think you’re parents are old, well, just wait, it’s all relative.

Your age should have little to do with your ability to grow, learn and change, however we sometimes have these crazy beliefs and sayings ingrained in our systems like ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.

All that matters is what you tell yourself and what you believe.

I got it in me this year [2016] that it was about time I learned a new language and once I overcame my debilitating thoughts, I could see that, yes, I can learn to speak a new language!

WOW, when I started researching Spanish immersion courses abroad I came across so many articles on the benefits of learning a new language, such as "your brain grows", "staving off dementia", "boosting memory", "better multi-tasking", "increased attention", and more, so who wouldn’t want to learn a new language!

The biggest motivator for me, however, was wanting the ability to communicate and integrate with different cultures. I want to see the world from a different light. I want to talk more, I want to ask questions, and I want to understand others perspectives and ways of living.


Lesson at Na'atik

So, here we go, one step and one day at a time or in this case, one word, phrase and sentence at a time.

Along with a very basic class at a community college, I decided to study at  Na’atik Language and Cultural Institute in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico.

Not only did they have great reviews, they offered intense classes and I was able to live with a local family: after all, I was looking for culture and integration and Carrillo is not on your tourist path. I also liked that Na’atik supports Maya language and culture as well as supporting the local community and children by teaching English. You can learn more about Na’atik from their website.

I found Na’atik well organized and Poppy & Layla ensured all went smooth from the time of booking to getting me settled into my home-stay to my ‘graduation’ day. I arrived in the pouring rain on a Sunday afternoon and Layla took me to my home stay. My family included three children, Shirley [9], Leo [11] and Aris [14], mom, dad, grandma and friend [Lupi, Marcus, Antonia, Ricardo].

Oh dear, this is awkward, did I mention, the family doesn’t speak English and I only speak a few words of Spanish, not enough to construct intelligible sentences let alone have a conversation!   How is this going to work? I should have paid more attention in my community college class, why didn’t I practice more! Oh, wait, I do remember ‘mucho gusto’.   Well, sometimes words are just not needed and to break the ice I asked [with my hands] if they played UNO; to my pleasant surprise and relief, they were thrilled, over the moon!

It was a treat to have my class size made up of only three people, allowing for great personalized service. I supplemented my daily classes with a couple hours of private lessons with Jose. Jose is in his early twenties, more like barely twenty, and I just loved the way he mixed up the teaching style in order to reinforce the ‘verbal’ aspects.

One simple and strategic approach he taught is to ‘start with a small sentence, then, ask the question ‘why’ or ‘how”. This enables you to expand your sentence from a simple to a more complex sentence. Thank you Jose !

Lovely handicrafts made my Lupi & Antonia

Night out in Carrillo

Not only did I immerse myself in Spanish lessons, I immersed myself with the family. It was an incredible experience to be so welcomed in their home, a complete stranger, and become a part of their family unit in such a short time. They were so open and giving and it was amazing how the ‘small’ things meant so much.

1st day back at school

While I was there, the children had their first day back to school, we spent a lovely night out in Carrillo and a nice weekend at the grandparents ranch outside of town.

Group dinner, loved the food & laundry décor !

I was amazed at how creative Lupi and Antonia were with EVERYTHING, from crocheting, drawing, plants and so much more.

Ricardo was our designated chef and we had the best meals! Quesadillas in Chili’s, TGIF, Senor Frog, or any such place will never look or taste the same again. It was also quite funny to see the family bring out the silverware, just for me, at meal times given they eat everything with tortillas. It reminded me of eating injera in Ethiopia.

Balam Nah

Na’atik arranged a dinner out for the students from abroad attending classes and a nice afternoon trip to eco-friendly and peaceful Balam Nah. We kayaked through the mangroves enjoying the calm and nature.

Cooking lesson w/Edwin & classmates

My professor, Edwin, invited us to his home and provided us with a local cooking class, teaching us how to make the best guacamole, fajitas and more! He even took our lessons to the local market to select the most delectable and freshest ingredients!

Carrillo is ideal for learning Spanish as there is little to no English spoken. It’s off the beaten path but there are plenty of opportunities before, during or after your stay to see the Mexican countryside and Inca ruins.

For instance, Tulum which has beautiful cenotes and ruins, is approximately 1.5 hours away. Bacalar, with its seven-colored lagoon is approximately 1.5 hours. There’s Chetumal and Sian Ka’an and so many more accessible and wonderful areas to explore. The bonus is that the local buses Mayab and ADO and the local collectivos are so easy to catch.

As you can see learning to speak a second language is much more than ‘speaking’ a new language. It’s about new experiences, relationships, learning about new cultures and being able to communicate.

Is it always easy?   Of course not!
Are there days of frustration and times of discouragement?   Absolutely!

I had days where the lessons were just not sinking in. I’ve had days where I felt I wasn’t as far along as I should be, days where I felt I wasn’t making progress.  Is that normal? Yes!

We both survived !

As much as we want things instantaneously, learning something new is a process and everyone has a unique way of learning. For as many times as I felt frustrated, I also saw the light.


For instance while swimming in the lagoon in Bacalar, there were two young girls on their dock. They were so excited to have company and started chatting away in Spanish.

Two months before I wouldn’t have even had the slightest clue what they were saying let alone converse, regardless of how imperfect. It was the highlight of my day, they were absolutely lovely.

Another example, I returned to Cancun and Carrillo in November and I was able to hold a limited conversation with the taxi driver. Again not all was perfect and the conversation was limited but it was much more than I could/would have just earlier this year!

You know you’ve come a long way when the locals can understand you and are surprised you speak it and at times assume you actually speak the language fluently, not quite sure how that happens, but it has a couple of times when I was at the station booking my bus.

Progress? Yes indeed! I’ve also found that just making an attempt goes such a long way !
What have you been holding back on learning?
What beliefs do you need to stop and question?
You’re never too old to change your beliefs!   You’re never too old to learn!

Love & Light,


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Balam Nah

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