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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkNews from Around Banderas Bay | September 2007 

So You Really Want To Learn Spanish
email this pageprint this pageemail usPolly G. Vicars - PVNN

Melchor Cortés has been teaching Spanish to Puerto Vallarta locals and visitors for 18 years. You can find the complete schedule of classes and course descriptions at

Maestro Melchor and his wife and assistant, Martha, own and operate Melchor's Spanish Language School in Puerto Vallarta.

Martha works with students individually during the three hours of instruction.
Puerto Vallarta - I wrote this a couple of years ago, and got lots of feedback from folks who decided to give learning Spanish a try and found it wasn't nearly as daunting as they had imagined. Lately I've been with several of my ex-pat friends who love Puerto Vallarta and Mexico and tell me how much they would love to be able to speak the language, but feel that just can't do it. So I thought I would try again to entice them (and you) to give it a try.

Some say you can live in or visit Puerto Vallarta without knowing Spanish as most of the professionals speak English. While that is true, I can't put into words the joys of being able to chat with the guy on the corner, or the folks that keep your home or building running so beautifully, or those vendors on the beach that are incredibly interesting people once you get past "No thank you" or "how much?" So here I go again...

Want to be able to tell Transito that you didn't see that stop sign? Tell Immigration that you must have your FM3 by next Tuesday? Ask how to find baking powder (they call it Royal) at Gutierrez Rizo? Know if you are being praised or insulted by the guy on the corner? Of course you do! I can almost see nodding heads. But I can also hear all the excuses. "I just can't learn Spanish!" "It's too hard!" "I'm too old!" "I don't have time!" "It can't be any fun!"

Let me dispel those arguments and introduce you to a maestro (if you know that means teacher, you already know some Spanish) whom those readers of my books or articles already know as our Spanish teacher and best friend, Melchor Cortés Cortés. So indulge me! Read on, and I promise you that you will be as excited as Husband and I are over Maestro Melchor's latest answer to us Gringos who say, "We want to learn Spanish, but it's too hard."

Only days after selling our "Old Kentucky Home" and moving lock, stock and everything else to Puerto Vallarta in 1988, we went in search of someone who would try to teach Spanish to Kentuckians of advanced ages (Husband 60 and me 56), total ignorance of any furrin' language, and not even a great command of our native English.

We were directed to a little school run by a Gringa who taught English to Mexicans. She had taught Melchor English in that school, found immediately that he had a true talent for languages and as soon as he mastered English, she hired him to teach Spanish to Gringos. We were warned that only serious students need apply, as this was a school that didn't tolerate slackers.

So nineteen years ago an odyssey began for us that is still on-going. We immediately found that not only was Melchor an excellent teacher, but that he was a kind, patient young man of high integrity, large heart and a penchant for fun.

When we first met, he was dating Martha, a lovely young lady with whom it was evident he was very much in love. As we learned Spanish, we also learned to love Melchor. He and Husband immediately bonded as they have many things in common, not the least of which are their quirky senses of humor.

As our Spanish improved our friendship with Maestro Melchor expanded to include his entire family of nine siblings, mother, father and then his lovely bride, Martha and her family.

The school where we then studied and where Melchor made his living abruptly closed one day without warning to Maestro Melchor nor his students. Talk of shock! Now Melchor had a wife and his precious first child, little Yesenia to support. But, common to most Vallartenses we know, he didn't panic. He took it in stride, contacted each of his students to make arrangements to continue one-on-one Spanish lessons in homes or condos.

Life moved on and little Melchor Alejandro Cortes Flores was born. Melchor continued teaching in students' homes and even in little cafes or restaurants that allowed him to use a little space for his classes. He dreamed of a real school, but again, common to most Vallartenses we know, he tucked it in the back of his mind, and soldiered on. His first priority was a home of his own.

With the help of his brothers, friends and students he built a lovely little home on a lot he had prudently bought long before he even met his Martha. When I say "he built" that is exactly what I mean. He literally dug the foundation, put up the walls and everything else himself. He built until he ran out of money, then stopped construction until he had saved enough to buy more supplies to build a little more. Finally it was done enough to move in and Los Cortés had their own home!

He and Martha continued the work on the home and later even added a second floor so that the family of four had room to roam and some privacy. You have to know that not many families here have that luxury. Many homes are brimming with children and extended family members in very small spaces!

In order to have that home, both Martha and Melchor worked. Of course Melchor continued teaching us gringos his language and Martha worked in a prestigious downtown store. Despite they're both having to work, it took nothing from their children, always managing for one or the other to take the children to school, to make all of their events in kindergarten and then in school.

Once we found a part-time job for Melchor that he could do during the traditional two-hour lunch time here. When we talked with him about it, he didn't think long before he said that even though they surely could use the extra money, he just couldn't give up that time spent with his family.

That time and love showered on those two children have paid big dividends. Yesi, now 15, is in her second year of high school and Alex, now 13, is in his last year of junior high. Both children have made straight A's, are polite, loving, fun and exhibit all of the traits that come from a family that has always put them first. They are not spoiled, they wouldn't think of acting up in school or talking back to their parents, yet they are typical children who do all the things children of their ages do.

There is something magical about the way Vallartenses raise their children. They are a part of all grownup activities including fiestas, patriotic and religious events and dining in restaurants large and small. At a recent 50th anniversary party the best part of the evening for me was watching the more than 75 children run and play and make their own fun without needing supervision as the grownups dined and danced.

Time marched on and several of Melchor's students began discussing with him a language school in San Miguel de Allende that had wonderful materials and methods of teaching Spanish more efficiently.

Though he was intrigued and many students urged him to investigate, it was a couple of years before he began to think seriously about this school. He corresponded and talked with the gringo, Warren Hardy, Maestro of the school, who wrote books for teaching the Spanish language to other gringos and ran a very successful school.

Finally, after much talk with Martha and the children, he decided to go to San Miguel and observe Warren Hardy and his methods. That meant at least six weeks away from home and family, without income from his own teaching. But that is exactly what he did!

He came home excited, and full of plans to use Warren Hardy materials for classes for up to 20 students at a time. Mr. Hardy was also excited, supportive and happy to have a school in Puerto Vallarta using his materials. Melchor's first task was to find a place for his classes. Lovely Shelly, who owned the local Curves, was his student and one of the people urging him to open his own school, offered space in her studio that was unused during certain hours of the day.

Word of mouth advertised his first class where more than 25 students showed up! Ay Carramba! The space simply wasn't large enough, so a frantic search was instituted by Melchor and his students.

After a couple more missteps, he was lucky to have the owners of the, at that time, new Asian Fusion restaurant, Boca Bento in his class. Their upscale restaurant was only open for dinner so they offered their facilities for the daytime school. Success! It was a wonderful locale and the high season saw the series of three-week classes filled by locals and visitors who finished the classes full of praise for the materials, the system and most of all the teaching of Maestro Melchor.

Warren Hardy's materials are divided into four levels and Melchor had only observed the first two levels and many of his students wanted to continue to the higher levels. So after careful planning and saving of dinero (another Spanish word you already know,) he made the decision to spend the time needed to return to San Miguel to observe the last two levels.

He carried out his plan with a large degree of financial difficulty as his private students had to be put on hold. But the most difficult thing for him was the time he spent away from his family. And of course, it wasn't any easier for the family or his friends to have him away for most of the summer. But that behind him, he started looking for a permanent place for his school. Just a few days before his first level classes were to begin, he found the perfect place, rented it, furnished it ,and in early October he began his first class in his very own school!

I know you are wondering if I am ever going to give you the keys to learning Spanish as I promised. Well, here they come with a small digression. As I told you, Husband and I started studying Spanish almost immediately after moving to Mexico and I would venture to say that we have bought and studied every book written to help gringos learn Spanish. But it has been due to Melchor's extreme patience, excellent teaching ability and now the Warren Hardy materials that we now speak the language well enough to handle any situation involving only Spanish speaking people. I must add that Husband's impeccable Spanish plea to the Transito cop that no cars were coming and he hadn't even seen the turn arrow did not keep him from getting a ticket!

More convincing evidence comes from past students who completed Melchor's classes using the Warren Hardy materials. So listen to a few who were asked what did they like best about this class.

"After the first class, I was able to speak Spanish in sentences!"

"The instructor and assistants made the class enjoyable."

"I like the materials, especially the tapes to hear the Spanish spoken properly."

"The way it is organized is very good. You can say things to people in Spanish right away."

"Easy method for fast learning. Repetition was very good."

"Very organized, very easy to understand and fun."

"Well organized, educationally sound material plus teacher is easy to understand."

Here are some additional comments from former students.

"I learned a lot. I wasted my time seven years here in PV listening to friends tell me I should be only 'practica.' I could learn on my own. Had I found Maestro Cortés and this course, I believe I'd be speaking like a national by now. What I don't retain from this course is solely my fault. I have, however, been inspired by Maestro Cortés and assistants to take the next level after a short sabbatical. I intend to review this entire course until then and practice on my neighbors and friends."

"The fact that I looked forward to doing my homework indicates how much I enjoyed the course."

"I enjoyed and appreciated the structured way of learning. El maestro and his assistants were knowledgeable and helpful. El maestro went out of his way to provide me with requested information outside of class. I feel I need to make the material we covered my own. I want to get the Second Level workbook and prepare for the next class el próximo año. Muchas Gracias! Me gustan las clases!"

"Thank you so much for making the class so enjoyable. I really didn't expect to learn so much in such a short period of time. It was a pleasure to come to class."

The decision to learn is now in your hands. Level One and Two classes have just started. It isn't too late for you to start immediately or sign up for the next series of classes that will begin on October 8 and 9.

For information from the US or Canada, call 011-52-322-224-8917 or 011-52-322-118-0822 (cell phone) or email If you are already in Vallarta call 224-8917 or 044-322-118-0822. You can find the complete schedule and course descriptions at, a website produced by Linda Wirth, a former and present student. ¡Buena Suerte! ¡No olvide llamar o escribir!
Polly G. Vicars and her husband of 55 years, Hubert (a.k.a. "Husband") retired to Puerto Vallarta in 1988 and soon became active members of several charitable organizations. Polly is the author of "Tales of Retirement in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" [a sell-out!] and "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World." Proceeds from the sale of her books go to the America-Mexico Foundation, a scholarship foundation that is their passion.

Click HERE for more articles by Polly Vicars.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
the included information for research and educational purposes • m3 © 2008 BanderasNews ® all rights reserved • carpe aestus