Language barriers in Mexico

Hello,

Learning a new language is a part of the expat process. Let's find out how crucial it is to know the language in Mexico.

What is the official language in Mexico, and what are the other popular spoken languages?

Is it possible to live in Mexico and get by without speaking the language?

How do you manage to communicate with the locals if you don't speak the native/official language fluently?

What are some popular and useful phrases that expats absolutely need to know?

Can you share some tips about how to survive in Mexico on a daily basis without speaking the language?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Priscilla

Priscilla :

Hello,

Learning a new language is a part of the expat process. Let's find out how crucial it is to know the language in Mexico.

What is the official language in Mexico, and what are the other popular spoken languages?

Is it possible to live in Mexico and get by without speaking the language?

How do you manage to communicate with the locals if you don't speak the native/official language fluently?

What are some popular and useful phrases that expats absolutely need to know?

Can you share some tips about how to survive in Mexico on a daily basis without speaking the language?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Priscilla

The official language is Spanish, but in some areas, they speak various Mayan dialects. In some rare cases, some speak Mayan and very little Spanish. Some people speak a little English. Near the border and at resorts more people speak English. In fact, some resorts require that key employees be bilingual.

Some do manage to be in Mexico and not speak Spanish. They usually live in places like Rosarito near the U.S. border. They can manage because a high percentage of the locals speak English. What they don't realize is that gives the locals an edge. They can have conversations with each other and you would have no idea what was said. Like every other country, not everyone is honest.

I speak Spanish fairly well so I would just suggest if you don't speak Spanish you should have a good basic translator to help you at least translate your question. It helps because then given that you may not know how to say the word, you can show the translation to the person you are trying to speak to.

As for what basic phrases you might need. I would think phrases like 'Donde Esta el bano', where is the bathroom, 'estoy perdido' I am lost,  and 'Hay un banco cerca de aqui' is there a bank near here would top that list, but there are many many more. Of course, if there is an emergency or you are injured it gets much more complex.

People I have seen use hand gestures to try to get their message across. A translator would be critical in my opinion. Google has a good one you can have on your phone. Even if you think you know a little Spanish under stress you can get confused. The language is complex and there are more words being used than you can learn in a short period of time. It's not just the language but how it is said in the area you are in. Like the U.S. the way a certain area expresses itself varies. Some of those words are not covered in basic Spanish lessons at all.

when i first came to juarez mx last year i considered myself quite proficient in spanish having  been talking for most of my life with spanish as my second language until i came to juarez. what a shock! had it not been for my fiance i probably would have gone back to texas.she speaks english and i found that i cannot understand juarez spanish at all. the juarez dialect is so slurred and so much spanglish i couldnt understand anybody, including my fiance they understand my CASTILIAN spanish but i have no clue what they r saying to me. my son john served 3 years in PUERTO RICO IN PEACE CORP and he told me it took him 3 years to finally figure out how to talk juarez. i hope it dont take me that long since i actually taught my sons to speak spanish long ago. whole new ball game for me. thanx to my fiance, i will remain an expat.

Ah, yes.  I understand very well, grapenut.  My wife and I have lived in Mexico for 17 years at both Lake Chapala (Ajijic) and in the Chiapas Highlands  (San Cristobal de Las Casas) and, while I only speak marginal Spanish at best, she is fluent in "Mexican" Spanish.  When she ventures into the back country rural villages of Chiapas, there are times when she has no idea what the locals are saying even though they are speaking a variation of Spanish and not a local language.

Ah yes, Bubba 2shoes

that is where the Mayan comes in it is very different, and there is more than one type. My bilingual friend doesn't speak it, but he knows it when he hears it.

I have even heard it in Walmart. They come in a small group and one of them speaks basic Mexican Spanish well enough to get them through the shopping experience.  A neighbor who speaks both Mexican Spanish and one of the Mayan dialects suggested I learn Mayan, I laughed and said I had enough trouble expanding basic Spanish.

As I understand it there are about 18 different Mayan dialects which would really be confusing for me.

Travellight’s comment about speaking Spanish is interesting.  We live in Ajijic where English is practically the second language and in the Chiapas Highlands where virtually no one speaks English. i ,speak only rudimentary Spanish. No problem in either place. Mexico is the best place in North America in which to retire. No contest. An extraordinarily beautiful land with agreat climate in the highland plateau. In the highlands, it is almost always about 70 degrees F. The sun shines nearly constantly, there are rainy and dry seasons and rainy days are transient in nature.  I have not regretted retiring here for one minute in 17 years.

In the Walmart type store in San Cristobal and environs, local indigenous folks send representatives to shop for bargains at the discount emporiums and the language they speak is often indiscernable to store clerks and other shoppers.  Actually, the language spoken in indigenous villages may be indiscernable among indigenous folks just up the road a few kilometers in the adjacent village. This is one among a number of reasons that poverty in these  communities is universal and will be lasting.

Actually, it reminds me more or the small groups that developed in many parts of the U.S. Communities that had their own world in a foreign world and spoke little English. 

I don't think they are just that way due to poverty, I think they chose to remain separate not unlike a religious group such as the Amish.  As I said there are those who no longer live in the Mayan community but still speak the language as well as Spanish. There are ways of leaving that life.

Sort of like English in Boston and Louisiana.

I think that it is only common courtesy/good manners to speak at least some of the language of the country that your are visiting (even more so if you are resident in that country).  The top of my list for learning are por favor, gracias y de nada (please, thank you and you are welcome - loosely translated).  La cortesia is very important to Mexican people and we need to be respectful of their desire for good manners.  We studied (free online) with Duolingo.com and Memrise.com before moving to Mexico and are now also studying a one hour class twice a week.  We always greet everyone we pass in the street and are treated with the same courtesy.  Many heavily ex-pat populated places have a lot of English spoken but everyone appreciates at least an attempt to speak Spanish and will help you to get the words correct. Unfortunately we also know several ex-pats that have lived here for many years and have not put themselves out to learn the language - what a pity because they are missing so much of the local culture and color and create an attitude or arrogance because they are not even trying.

Learn spanish

And........ se acabaron todos los problemas

mitsuko46 :

Learn spanish

And........ se acabaron todos los problemas

Pues sí, pero muchos no entenderán tu mensaje.

they don't speak Spanish so your message will be lost on them.  To speak Spanish you have to really want to, and be willing to put in time and effort. It is not an easy language for English speakers to learn despite what they have been told.
It is a difficult language for many because it is so fundamentally different. Things are much easier when you finally speak at least some Spanish, but that takes time. Many languages are harder for English speakers to learn.  A benefit of speaking Spanish is not only doing better in Spanish speaking countries but actually finding other languages easier to learn.
On the English side, I encountered a barista at Starbucks who has been studying English for 4 years. That is how different the two languages are. I'm trying not to speak Spanish to him now.

People have different aptitudes for learning languages. Speaking any language well requires a lot of time and focus, but I was into Spanish fairly fast because I already know French. And have a good level of linguistic intelligence. But about 50% of English is Latin based, so it shouldnt be as hard as Arabic or Russian or Mandarin or whatever. However, the important thing is to TRY. Mexicans are sweet and polite and really appreciate even the most awkward of efforts. It is a question of respect. If you insist on English, it is like saying, I am superior to you so I should expect you to understand me, because I dont respect you enough to try and learn your language. Do you want to convey that attitude? I hope not. Yes, regional differences can vary considerably and be difficult, but at least you can try and communicate, and ask them to reply slowly and simply. There are many kinds of Mayan dialects. I know by living on the lake in Guatemala that one Mayan community has a hard time understanding another Mayan community. So I dont know what you mean by learning "Mayan," and it would definitely be a challenge. But even a few words in the local dialect might open hearts and doors.

So, Jean, I don't know what you mean by this  "So I dont know what you mean by learning "Mayan," and it would definitely be a challenge. But even a few words in the local dialect might open hearts and doors."
I reread all of the posts and don't see that quote, so I don't know who you are talking to. The Mayan languages consist of at least 18 different dialects.

I was reading fast, in a hurry - I misread - it was from you! "A neighbor who speaks both Mexican Spanish and one of the Mayan dialects suggested I learn Mayan, I laughed and said I had enough trouble expanding basic Spanish." And then you mention the 18 dialects. Haha. Oh well. Sorry. But still it seems you could ask to learn a few words and that would delight them, I think....

Try Guatemala:  they have 23 Mayan dialects.  Often people cannot understand each other from one village to the next.  Spanish is the common - second - language.  I learned Spanish there which was wonderful because the indigenous people speak Spanish more slowly and use a simpler vocabulary, because it IS the second language. There are places in Mexico where I cannot understand people, but San Miguel de Allende was great.  I've also tried to speak Spanish in Cuba  - forget it!  Whatever it is they speak there...

Do you really think that the languages have anything to do with the poverty?  Not the fact that the wealthy people are systematically suppressing and squeezing the indigenous?  All those Central American countries receive foreign aid from the US.  Unfortunately, all of that money is skimmed off by the "government".  The politicians and army/police chiefs live in fine houses (with electric razor wire on 10' high walls around them), drive fancy cars, live the good life.  None of that money trickles down to the indigenous who often are so dreadfully poor that it breaks your heart to see them.  It broke mine to see a young mother by the side of the road with her baby on a blanket next to her.  The child was red in the face and crying.  The mother said there was no doctor in the village and she didn't even have money for bus fare to take the child to some other village. 
When there are natural disasters like mud slides that bury whole villages or from volcano eruptions, again the money coming from outside donations trickles down, much diminished, much later.
No, the difference in languages has nothing to do with the Maya people staying poor.   They are working harder than the average US citizen.  The greed of the rich people is the problem. 
There and here.

There is a lot of truth in what you say, and compassion too, bless you. Sometimes they cannot even buy a tortilla, and they work hard. Even the old. Not knowing Spanish is a real barrier to advancement, but the whole system of rich Ladino oppression is a serious weight to carry too. Of course this is a forum about Mexico, and not Guatemala. Mexico is better off. But there is still a lot of prejudice and discrimination concerning the indigenous. People who live there should be aware of these issues. What ever you do, please open your eyes - and ears. And don't get closed off in a gringo enclave!

SteveandMarty :

Try Guatemala:  they have 23 Mayan dialects.  Often people cannot understand each other from one village to the next.  Spanish is the common - second - language.  I learned Spanish there which was wonderful because the indigenous people speak Spanish more slowly and use a simpler vocabulary, because it IS the second language. There are places in Mexico where I cannot understand people, but San Miguel de Allende was great.  I've also tried to speak Spanish in Cuba  - forget it!  Whatever it is they speak there...

Ah yes Cuba, they speak they're own clipped  Spanish.  I know that because I have met some Cubanos, but more because in High school I was learning Spanish from an elderly lady who taught Castilian Spanish. She died and they replaced her with a young Cuban woman who spoke Cuban Spanish. She chopped the Castilian Spanish down to size and set my Spanish education back quite a bit. She also spoke very fast. :huh:

New topic