One thing that is not entirely clear to travellers who have never been is whether or not you need to speak Spanish in Mexico.
Considering its proximity to the United States, one might expect that everyone here will be able to handle themselves in English.
For better or for worse, this isn't true.
While you'll find that a good number of young people in this country can carry on a basic conversation, you may be surprised at the low levels of English that the average Mexican person is capable of. For instance, Mexico ranks 43rd among non-English speaking countries with the highest English proficiency. That's lower than countries like Vietnam and Indonesia!
Whether or not you will need Spanish depends on what you want to do on your trip, where you will be going and how long you will be staying.
Let me break a few things down for you.
Who Speaks English in Mexico?
Here is a list of the people who will typically be able to speak a bit of English
1. Tour guides
2. Waiters at more upscale restaurants
3. Most university-educated people under 25
4. Hotel reception staff
5. Staff at museums, art galleries, i.e places where tourists go
This means that, if you're just looking to do touristy things in touristy places in Mexico, you shouldn't have a problem getting by without Spanish.
If you're heading one of the following places, learning Spanish isn't really necessary:
1. Playa del Carmen
6. Puerto Vallarta
8. Cabo San Lucas
9. Mazatlan (English levels are lower here, but you should be fine)
As you can see, where you go in Mexico will determine whether or not you should do a quick Spanish course. Apart from the above tourist destinations, here are the other places in Mexico where English is spoken fairly widely.
2. Mexico City
Anywhere else in the country will be very hit or miss, especially in the Southern states like Chiapas or Oaxaca. Even in Mexico City, hardly any bank clerks, salespeople or taqueros will speak a word of English.
This may not matter, however. If you just want to do things like eat street food, pointing at a menu item is usually enough to convey what you want.
But if you want to do anything more complicated than that, a bit of Spanish will be necessary.
Don't worry! It's very easy to get to a basic level. Even a complete idiot like myself was able to do it.
When Is Spanish Necessary in Mexico?
Although there is plenty you can do down here without speaking a work of Spanish, some things just cannot be done without knowing a few phrases.
If you want to do any of the following things on your trip, you will need a basic understanding of the Spanish language.
1. Open a bank account or do any banking
I was surprised to find that, aside from managers, hardly anyone at banks down here speak English. If your card gets stuck in an ATM (which happens often, unfortunately) or if you are trying to open a bank account, you will need to speak a little bit of Spanish. It's your money we're talking about - you don't want anything to get lost in translation. If you plan to do anything bank-related in this country, take the time to learn some basic words and phrases.
2. Ride local buses
Local buses can be unpredictable. They don't always run on schedule, and they don't always go where you think they're going! Riding a city bus in Mexico is a very casual affair; there aren't many designated stops. Anyone can basically just wave one down if they want to hop on. In order to make sure you'll reach your destination, you'll have to double check with the driver when you get on the bus. This means you'll at least have to know how to say "are you going to _____" (¿Pasa este autobus por____?).
3. Rent an apartment
If you'd like to do an extended stay in a Mexican city, you will need basic Spanish for renting an apartment. This is very important, as there is usually a contract involved. You don't want to misunderstand anything! Although some landlords will speak English, if you limit your apartment hunt to English-speaking owners, you will cut your options by about 90%. You will probably end up paying more for something you don't really want.
4. Date local women (or men)
Although many younger men and women will speak English, knowing Spanish will go a long way toward building a stronger relationship. Even if your love interest is fluent in your native tongue, make the effort to learn his/hers. Best of all, you can have them teach you! It's the best way to learn, and it's good for bonding.
If you're a woman, you should have no problem meeting local Mexican men - they will make the first move.
If you're a man looking to date local Mexican women, Mexican Cupid is the best resource for this.
5. Make friends with the locals
You will most definitely need Spanish if you want to make friends with locals. Although, like I've said, many young people will speak English, what happens when there is a group of Mexicans that you're hanging out with? Do you really want them all to speak English with one another just to make you comfortable? As a guest in the country, it is absolutely worth learning Spanish so you can talk with friends in their local language. They will appreciate the effort, help you out and it will allow you to integrate better into the social circle.
Is Learning Spanish Worth It?
I would say yes. 10 times over.
Even if you're just headed to a Mexican beach, why not use it as an excuse to pick up another language? There are certain programs that will get you conversational in as little as eight weeks if you take them seriously. I'll link to the best one at the end of the article.
Besides, learning a new language is a great way to interact deeper with the world around you. It will open you up to 440 million people that you may never had been able to communicate with otherwise.
Not only that, but learning another language also helps you think better. It rewires your brain and allows you to become more proficient in your own language.
Best of all, if you're single, it's the best way to find a sexy Latin Lover.
Just try it! It's really not as hard as you think! Spanish is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
Until next time.
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