Speaking Spanish in Mexico

Hi everyone,

It is widely agreed that speaking Spanish is essential for a successful integration in Mexico. Do you agree? Share your experience!

Do you speak Spanish? If so, where did you learn this language? Where can one attend a language course in Mexico?

If not, how do you cope with daily activities? Is it easy to communicate in a different language with Mexicans?

Thank you for sharing your experience.


I think, if you are going to live here your life will be much easier if you speak the language. Many of the people are well educated, and speak English and Spanish, but the average person does not speak much if any English. Around the tourist areas there will be many who speak English also. So if you are just a short time visitor you should be ok in those areas.

It's a handicap if you do not speak it. When you deal with the government they do not expect to accommodate you by speaking English, so if you plan to live here you should learn it. i speak decent Spanish. How did I learn ?  I took it in high school, then found I had to unlearn several things here.. I am fortunate to have a bilingual friend who helps me smooth out rough spots. He rarely Speaks English so I am forced to communicate in Spanish most of the time. Practice is critical. The language is much more complex and difficult than one is lead to believe.

My experience was that as I worked with the language and used it daily, I became less and less dependent on google translate. I still use it on occasion, but not daily. Spelling can require a source like Google translate so I have it on everything. I have told all of my friends and neighbors to correct my pronunciation and dialogue when ever i make a mistake. It takes lots of practice, some embarrassment perhaps, and patience but it can be done.

2 years of Spanish in high school, one year in College. 3 months in Encuentros in Cuernavaca

2 months at CELEP in Patzcuaro

I am the only gringo in my small community except when some snowbirds come down for a few months.  Absolutely need to speak Spanish here

I have traveled extensively in other parts of the world with a phrase book and no language skills but English.....sometimes with hilarious outcomes but I had managed so I had no qualms about going to Mexico without any  knowledge of Spanish.

I was shocked when I first moved to Pl,ayas how FEW people spoke English.  I do not have a linguistic gene.  I spoke no Spanish when I arrived except the usual food items, taco, burrito, etc. 10 years later I know about 100 words.  Was it a challenge? You bet!  However,  I found that first of all a warm friendly attitude was always the best  way to start. People want to be helpfu[  I learned to say  " no siento  nada espanol por favor ayundene (sp?) This seemed to be the magic potion that got me through.

I would ask "English, por favor" and when I got a negative response....I would use the comment above.

Using the telephone of course is  not at all easy.  I learned how to dial for MX;s 9ll.  But had to avoid phone conversations if the other person did not speak English.

I also had a phrase book which was not all that helpful.  The first time I went to the supermarket I couldn't find bread.   I asked for "pan" and I pronounced t to rhyme with "can".  I got no where. 
I was having difficulty when one of the staff figured out what I wanted from the phrase book and told me I wanted  pan but it was pronounced  pon   ( as in ping pong).  The worst sencario was at Telnor.  that was a struggle but the lady who helped me was very patient and with my drawing pics and other means I got through it.

The first time I crossed the border into the US as a pedestrian I was in the line and people kept telling me "passe"  "passe".  I didn't know that as a senior I could go to the head of the line  (but only on the Mexican side).  I had not idea why  people kept saying that to me.  THen a young man offered to help me....he explained about the "seniors' go first and offered to show me.  I was very grateful for his help
but I didn't realize until later that by helping me, he was personally going to get to the head of the line too.

Again I was amazed at how FEW people in shops etc spoke on English.  I later taught English to  people at a Mission.   They would often literally "howl" with laughter at some of my "mistakes" in Spanish.

But I have never been discouraged.  People do want to be helpful as long as you don't have some sort of  "attitude" and are genuinely nice and

I am not yet living in Mexico, planning on moving there the first week of January, but I have been to several cities there and thus have some experience one which to go by. I also lived in Japan for 18 years, and one thing I learned there is that, sure, you can get by with only English, but you will be limited in terms of whom you can be friends with, where you can shop and eat, and what sort of things you can do.  The more of the local language you learn, the broader your horizons will be.

In Mexico, I quickly learned that the majority of people I ended up dealing with did not speak English or were quite content to speak Spanish to me, despite my upper beginner level. The except seemed to be places where there are a lot of international tourists and cities (well, certain places therein) where there are a lot of foreign companies or a lot of returnees from the US. Thus Leon, Aguascalientes, and posh Polanco in Mexico City seemed flush with people who spoke English at least fairly well, well enough to shift into English mode even though you are trying to stick in Spanish mode. My thoughts for language learners, therefore, is to stay clear of such locations. Of course, even in such places, there are plenty of people who don't speak English. My first meal in Polanco (where my friend was living) was a no English spoken affair, and the Sunday market there was the same, so, in short, even in such places, being able to Speak at least some Spanish will provide you with opportunity.

I grew up in a home where Spanish was the first language, though because of my family's experience with discrimination, they were very insistent upon NOT teaching us Spanish, thinking that path would make our lives easier. I did study a semester in college, studied for two weeks in Guanajuato, and I am doing two Skype lessons a week with another school back there.  When I move in January, I plan on going to school for 6 months to a year to keep up until I can be a bit more fluent.  All in all, it should help me do the things I want to do.

Of course it enhances the experience. You miss plenty, and you'll always feel like an outsider if you don't know the language. In an area with lots of English speakers, you might be tempted not to bother, but the more Spanish you know, the more you'll enjoy your life in Mexico.

I advise starting to learn Spanish as soon as you make the decision to move to Mexico, and then continue. Unless you're moving to a small town, there will be schools and private teachers and tutors to suit different learning styles. There are also self-study programs for those who can't attend classes. Google it. Just remember that learning another language requires a good deal of time and effort and practice.

You'll miss out a lot if you don't make a sereious effort to learn Spanish.  Even if you live where there are a lot of English speakers, you miss out on opportunities for travel and activities where it's required.

I totally agree with you Priscilla. In order to integrate in any society, it is very important to learn and speak the language. It could be a serious handicap if you cannot speak the language.
I vusit the poor communitites here to help take care of their Oral Health and i would not have been able to do that if i did not speak at least a little Spanish.

It's really not just some added flavor , it's communication. Without it I would not have been able to exchange a purchased item that was not what I wanted, ask for shelves for the bathroom, direct a taxi to where I was going,and discuss politics with my bank while making a deposit.
Yes there might be an English speaker near by or more often not, or you may pay what I have begun to call Gringo tax. The guy who was washing my car was trying to charge me twice what he charged locals, because I am aware of that, I said I am not paying gringo tax, but what others pay. So they may be pleasant, but some may be charging you more because you are a gringo who does not understand them.

And of course an emergency is a whole other thing. I think the bottom line is if you plan to spend more than a brief vacation in Cancun , it is important to know what is happening, that takes communication.

ex pats will be able to speak Espaniol in Mexico to the degree  that they have interest in the Mexican culture.  Little interest equals little Espaniol... lots of interest equals lots of Espaniol... I've recommended to students of the language to listen/watch Mexican TV... they look at me like I'm crazy.... and then they wonder why they never learned the language in spite of taking classes in it.

It's true you have to train your to hear people speaking at their normal speed.  It took meva lomg time but I'm understanding more of movies and news shows than ever brfore.  Until you can understand native style, real conversation is difficult.  It helps to purposely put yourself into situations where you have it

Well, yes and no.

I agree that you do have to live it, not just encounter it when you go to the restaurant or store. That's why I do not live in a tourist area.
But I also know you need an area of normalization to give yourself a mental break. I read Spanish and I speak Spanish once I am out in the environment, but in the house later in the day I like to relax and watch English speaking shows for the most part. I do watch some Spanish stations and the English I see is Spanish sub titled, but when I want to relax before bed I need less to do not more. 

It is made more complected here because of Mayan dialects which include non standard not exactly Spanish words. When I start noticing that I am mixing English with Spanish or misspelling English I lighten up. That doesn't mean not speaking Spanish at all, but not requiring every part of my life to be in Spanish.

I'm wondering if anyone has a recommendation for a good online Spanish course. I've been using Duolingo, but I would like having a more structured course.

Sure, you have to strike a balance.

Your observation about regional dialects and certain Mayan or Nahuatl words that do vary is excellent.

My observation to listen to Spanish news, talk sbows and movies was to train the hearing to understand Spanish at the speed they speak to each other.  For many years I was understanding enough to ask clarifying questions when they spoke faster than I could understand. Lately, I notice I get it on the first pass more often.

SpanishSolo, Busuu, and  Rosetta Stone are my go-to's after Duolingo.

Thank you. I'll check them out.

Duolingo is my favorite. Very diverse opportunities for learning.

Me too Babs, The Rosetta stone is very expensive, and from my experience annoying , but that's me.

I heard all the glowing recommendations, so  I tried it free, and hated it. It forced basic I thought and didn't let you go where you might need brushing up. But to be fair, that was the free version. When I saw the $200 price I said oh no!  It isn't even fun, and it better be great fun for that price.  That was as much as a bunch of audio tapes I tried that the foreign diplomats used. I used to listen to them in my car driving back and forth to work.

Once I rejected it, it was like a virus in my email several times a day. Duo is there on my Kindle and phone so I just refresh and I'm good. It's also fun.

Hi Priscilla

I don't speak Spanish fluently but I plan on learning .  At this time I'm not an expat yet, probably in a few years I plan on retiring and going somewhere warm.   So that's why I signed up on the website to kind of doing my homework.


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