Spanish Immersion Challenge: Two Weeks In Mexico

Every year, I take a special language-focused trip abroad, with my friend and travel buddy Jan van der Aa.

We document everything on camera and upload it to YouTube, so you can see what we’re up to and take inspiration from our activities.

Last year, you may remember, we spent 2 weeks in Thailand, studying Thai.

After just two weeks of study, deploying everything I know about language learning, I could hold an extended conversation in Thai – something I was super proud of.

So, now that 2017 is upon us, it’s time for the next trip.

Update: This trip is now complete! To view the entire video series, head over to the special playlist on YouTube here.

But where to go?

Well, there are a few criteria that factored into our decision:

Useful For You

First and foremost, these trips are language-based.

Sure, we like to travel, but we like language learning just as much (it enhances the travel experience, after all), and so every trip has to have a clear linguistic purpose.

Last year, for example, my aim was to learn “travel Thai” in 2 weeks, so I could travel round the country and not have to use English.

You got to see exactly how I set about learning a new language from scratch – the methods, tactics, tools… everything!

Many people wrote to me, in fact, to say how they were inspired to start learning Thai again, after many years of taking it (rather too) easy.

That’s exactly the effect I wanted to have.

So, the focus of the trip needs to be useful for you.

But it also has to be realistic – the kind of thing that most people would be able to replicate themselves. Two weeks in Bangkok, for example, is something within reach of many people. 3 months in Japan, on the other hand, wouldn’t be.

Jan’s 100th Country

Jan has a goal to visit 100 countries before his 30th birthday.

His current status:

  • 98 countries
  • Only a few weeks to go before his 30th birthday!

Therefore, we thought it would be a great opportunity to celebrate his achievement together – but of course, that meant visiting two countries, not one!

So we knew we’d have to cross at least one border.

I Don’t Want To Start Another New Language

I’ll be honest, I’ve been up to my neck in work recently.

Not only am I focusing 100% still on learning Cantonese, but I’m extremely busy with all my online activities…

In addition, I also learnt some Thai and German last year – from scratch.

Suffice it to say my brain is full, and I don’t want to start learning a new language.

So, this year’s trip couldn’t involve a new language – it would have to be to a country where I already speak the language.

Introducing: Spanish Immersion In Mexico

Jan, on the other hand, has plenty of time and doesn’t work much.

Only joking 😉

He does work sometimes…

After much discussion, we decided that Central/South America was the best place to go. It’s an area that neither Jan or myself know very well, and we both already speak some Spanish.

However, this is where the focus of the trip becomes interesting.

Whereas last year was all about learning a new language, this year will be about something totally different: Language Immersion.

It will be a different experience for both of us:

  • For Jan, Spanish is a fairly new language. He speaks some Spanish (maybe to an A2 level), but has never really focused on it
  • My Spanish, on the other hand, is quite strong, as I’ve “lived” the language for many years (even though I’ve never lived long-term in a Spanish-speaking country).

As such, the challenge for Jan is going to be to take his very rusty Spanish and improve it as much as possible in 2 weeks through complete immersion in the language.

For me, it will be the fascinating experience of becoming familiar with a new variety of Spanish – Mexican Spanish – with which I’m not very familiar. (Here in the UK, we have more contact with Iberian Spanish).

So, the gameplan will be:

  • Fly into to Cancún
  • Spend some time travelling around the area, visiting some of the beautiful islands and ancient ruins
  • Head down the coast towards Belize
  • Cross the border and pop the champagne as Jan visits his 100th country

Along the way, we’ll be taking every opportunity to speak Spanish, film everything, and discuss our experiences getting used to Spanish and the Mexican variety in particular.

We’ll try hard to relate everything we do to the more general challenge of visiting a foreign country with the aim of getting immersion.

We’ll discuss our experiences talking with people, challenges we face, and draw lessons about how to get the most out of an immersion experience.

Follow Along Behind The Scenes

If you’d like to follow along with the trip, you’ll need to head over to our YouTube channels and social media accounts.

Please use the links below and be sure to subscribe:



If you have any requests of us on the trip, suggestions, or things you’d like to see in particular, please let us know in the comments below!

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  • Irina Kontsevaya

    Good luck with the trip, Olly! It is going to be not only a useful language-focused journey, but also a lot of fun! Looking forward to seeing your adventures on YouTube!

  • Ashley T (Yuuki)

    I’m so happy you’re doing this! I am learning Mexican Spanish. 😀 This will be great motivation. ^_^

  • Andy R

    Just the area of Mexico that I would visit. Mayan culture fascinates me. (Did you know that the ancient Mayans were literate? Or that they were one of the more mathematically advanced ancient civilizations, relatively speaking?) Cancún sounds rather touristy, though. You might be forced to use more Spanish if you go to nearby Mérida or someplace like that. But you both know how to seek out the stores and restaurants that locals frequent, so maybe it won’t matter. I’m looking forward to watching this series.

    • Hey Andy. I think we’ll be figuring things out as we go along, and certainly have no desire to be too touristy!

      • Andy R

        OK. I thought I heard one of you say that you’re in the planning stage of your trip, but maybe you’re just planning flights and hotels and other basics.

  • It will be interesting to see how you get along with Mexican Spanish. It’s not very difficult to understand they just have an accent and tons of slang. If you were going to Cuba or Dominican Republic I’d say you definitely need some prep lol.

    Good luck on your trip I look forward to following along. I may visit Tulum this summer to check out their language school there (they have Spanish classes and activities for children so I wanted to have something for my son to do since he’s not as much into the beach as I am)

    • Yeah I can’t imagine it will be completely different, but I’m sure it’ll take some getting used to nevertheless. I haven’t read the guidebook yet… need to do some research!

  • ElfinW

    Will be fun and interesting to see you adapt to Mexican Spanish! Can’t wait! Post something on Instagram too?

    • Yes, I’m looking forward to it too! Never spoken any Mexican Spanish… I guess it’ll be quite different! I’ll be reviving my Instagram account for the trip 🙂 @iwillteachyoualanguage

      • Andy R

        I finally signed up for Instagram this morning. (Actually, someone had already created an account under my e-mail address, so I took over it. Isn’t that strange?) And then I went through all the photos from your trip last year. Great photos! Looking forward to following you guys this time on Instagram.

  • Jeannie Kezlan

    great! looking forward to seeing on youtube.

  • Sally A Wallace

    Interesting, though not inspiring. I cannot resist asking a grammar question. “me and my buddies”? Really? What has transpired in terms of the English language when it comes to the use of “me” vs. “I” in the proper usage when referencing ones self in a sentence? This trend of “me” being used where “I” would be grammatically correct is beyond trendy, it seems to now be an accepted norm. It still sounds “uneducated” to me. Have fun, nonetheless.

    • Hi Sally. You’re absolutely right, and if I were writing in a different medium I would express it in that way. However, with the blog, I try to write as I speak, which makes for more engaging reading in a world with short attention spans.

      Now, it would of course be true to say that “me and my buddy” is equally incorrect in spoken language, but it’s such an established form of expression now that I think the boundaries between correct and incorrect are beginning to blur.

      • Sally A Wallace

        Thanks Olly. Such is change 🙂