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Colourful house in Puebla | © Russ Bowling/Flickr
Colourful house in Puebla | © Russ Bowling/Flickr

Crash Course: Basic Spanish Every Traveler in Mexico Needs

Picture of Lauren Cocking
Updated: 31 January 2017
There’s nothing worse than finding yourself in the middle of a country, realising you don’t quite speak the language as well as you thought you did, if at all. Mexico can be particularly disorientating, though, even for those well-prepared travellers who do speak Spanish, thanks to the country’s penchant for densely referential slang and minorly amusing accents. To help you out, here’s a crash course guide to all the Spanish you’ll need during your time in this welcoming country.

The Basics

If you only want to know enough Spanish to scrape by, all the while hoping the person you’re speaking to knows a bit of English, this is the section for you: the bare-bones basics.

Young boy in Quintana Roo | © lecates/Flickr

Perhaps the most important phrase of all… | © lecates / Flickr

Mexico City by night | © Eneas De Troya/Flickr

A few of the basics | © Eneas De Troya / Flickr

Mexican volcano | © Ulises Moreno/Flickr

Frequent travellers could certainly use these words | © Ulises Moreno / Flickr

Mexican souvenirs | © Eneas De Troya/Flickr

Some more vital phrases | © Eneas De Troya / Flickr

The Everyday Stuff

Again, this is for the traveller who isn’t really interested in making conversation with the locals, but who wants to be able to navigate through their day with ease and politeness. It includes the common greetings and sayings you’ll need to be familiar with on a daily basis in Mexico.

Patzcuaro, Michoacán | © Israel de Alba/Flickr

Manners cost nothing, so get these phrases under your belt | © Israel de Alba / Flickr

Beach in Playa del Carmen | © Charlie Stinchcomb/Flickr

A few greetings and farewells | © Charlie Stinchcomb / Flickr

Centro Histórico de CDMX | © iivangm/Flickr

Short and to the point | © iivangm / Flickr

The Key Questions

Questions (and question words) are crucial if you want to be able to string together even the most basic of sentences in Spanish. We’ve already mentioned a few that are more rhetorical greetings than anything, but here are some of the other crucial questions you’ll probably want to remember.

Colourful house in Puebla | © Russ Bowling/Flickr

Get to know the people and places | © Russ Bowling / Flickr

Colima | © Galeon Fotografia/Flickr

The most basic of questions are worth learning | © Galeon Fotografia / Flickr

The Food and Drinks

The highlight of many countries is often the food, and this applies perhaps even more so in Mexico, which has a world-famous street food culture and some of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in the world. While this section is just a brief introduction to the basic vocabulary, we have more detailed information on tacos, street food, and ordering tips and tricks in other articles.

Puebla | © Alejandro/Flickr

Make sure you get the food you want | © Alejandro / Flickr

Enjoying lunch at a taco stand | © Diógenes ;)/Flickr

A few more key food-related words | © Diógenes 😉 / Flickr

Getting Around

Unless you’re renting a car or going everywhere on foot, chances are you’ll need to use public transport at some point on your journey and that means talking to someone, however briefly, in Spanish. Plus, you’ll definitely need some knowledge of directions in Spanish, particularly in Mexico.

Find your way around with these essential phrases | © Carlos ZGZ / Flickr

Bird in Quintana Roo | © Dave Doe/Flickr

Understanding directions is vital | © Dave Doe / Flickr

Mexican Slang

For the advanced Mexico traveller, the slang is perhaps the most important part of all, especially if you want to fit in with the locals. While the range of Mexican slang is vast, extensive and complicated, these are the words you’ll probably need most often.

Beer bottles | © Arantxa/Flickr

Learn the slang and sound like a local | © Arantxa / Flickr