When traveling to Mexico, understanding the language can be extremely helpful for getting around. As a Spanish speaking country, it’s not always guaranteed that locals will know how to speak English, or any other language like French or Chinese. That’s why knowing a few basic Spanish phrases for travel can go a long way toward helping you have a fun and stress-free vacation, especially if you're traveling with kids.
Spanish is spoken all throughout Mexico. And while some people at hotels, tour companies, and restaurants do speak English, it’s not always a given that you’ll have an English-speaker at your disposal.
You may find yourself having to ask for directions, make reservations at a hotel, or order food in Spanish. Learning some Spanish before embarking on your family trip Mexico adventure will be extremely helpful.
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Some of the best ways to learn Spanish for travel is to just jump right in. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or sounding like a two year old. It’s all part of the process of learning Spanish.
This approach is the best way to learn about Mexican culture as well. And it will help open doors to visiting other Spanish speaking countries as well. For your kids, you can have them read some bilingual kids books about Mexico to get used to the language.
Another way to develop your Spanish vocabulary and language skills before traveling to Mexico is to listen to music from Mexico, Spain, or other Latin America countries. Reading the lyrics (and their translation) in conjunction with listening to the songs will help you get familiar with current Spanish slang and basic Spanish phrases for travel.
Overall, the best way to learn Spanish phrases for traveling is to practice, practice, practice before your trip! There is data that suggests that it takes 575-600 classroom hours to master conversational Spanish. And while you certainly don’t have to aim for full fluency, mastering just these basic Spanish phrases for travel can help you go a long way with communicating with people in Mexico.
If you're looking for an app to get started, the Duolingo app is helpful in introducing basic Spanish phrases for travel. Other apps you can download, such as Busuu and Lyrics Training, are also helpful for training your ear to hear Spanish words.
Duolingo and Lyrics Training are free, though they may require an email address to sign up. But you can pay for the premium account to access more tools. Busuu is a paid subscription, and offers opportunities to test out of a certain language level.
Another helpful app is Lingopie, which offers Spanish language tv shows and movies to help you learn Spanish through immersion. Vocabulary words and transcripts accompany the video, and there are basic level videos geared towards kids too!
If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico for an extended length of time, another way to learn basic Spanish phrases for travel is to take Spanish language classes. This is a great way to build your foundational Spanish grammar skills as well, especially if you are just a beginner.
Examples of Spanish language schools include El Nopal in La Paz, La Calle Spanish School in Mérida, Oasis Spanish and Surf School in Puerto Escondido, and Agora Language Center in Playa del Carmen. You may need to check each school’s policy on private classes or short term courses.
Reading is also a great way to learn a language. Pick up a Spanish language newspaper or a magazine, and read an article out loud. Translate words you don’t know. And then try to figure out the meaning of the article.
The Mexican government distributes their Mexican school textbooks for kids online. You can download a textbook and practice your Spanish that way.
Or better yet, buy a Mexican Spanish phrase book and read the phrases out loud. Reading aloud also helps you practice your pronunciation. Take a look at these Spanish phrase books and flash cards for helpful phrases for ordering food in Mexico.
The best way to help your kids get comfortable with the Spanish language is to start introducing them to Spanish words before your trip. Reading bilingual children’s books is a great way to have your kids start hearing Spanish words.
Classic stories like The Gingerbread Man and Jack and the Beanstalk have all been translated to bilingual books. These bilingual books can help your kids get used to the sound of Spanish before they travel to a Spanish speaking country.
Practice your basic Spanish phrases for travel on this 10 day Mexico itinerary.
If you’re new to the Spanish language, don’t expect to be perfect at the language right away. Language learning takes time. However, you can start with the following essential phrases to help you get by on your travels in Mexico.
Whether you're traveling to the city of Guadalajara in Jalisco, the town of San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico, or the island of Cozumel in the Yucatán peninsula, having a basic understanding of Spanish will be extremely useful.
The following Spanish travel phrases are helpful for starting conversations with people.
“Hello” and “see you later” are useful basic Spanish phrases for travel. You’ll use them every time you meet someone new. Hola is the standard greeting for “hello.”
Hasta luego is the more common way to say good-bye. But if you’re not planning to see the person again, you can simply say adios as you leave.
When you learn Spanish, one of the first things you learn is how to say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” Mexicans will usually say “good afternoon” starting at noon and all the way until sunset.
As a way to say good-bye, you can also add buen día (good day) during the day time or buena noche (good night) during the night time
The following words and phrases will be helpful to use when you’re referring to people in conversations.
At museums or attractions, you’ll often see different prices for adults and children. Knowing the words for “adults” and “children” will come in handy when buying tickets.
Note, in Spanish grammar, the gender of a person does make a difference in the word that is used. Men are adultos and women are adultas. But a mix of men and women are adultos.
The same goes for kids. if your children are all boys, then you would use niño or niños. If you have a mix of boys and girls, you would also use niños. But if you only have girls, you would use niña or niñas.
When learning basic Spanish phrases for travel, knowing how to address people is helpful. Men will always be addressed as señor.
Married women will be addressed as señora. Unmarried women will be addressed as señorita. If you’re an unmarried older woman, or just an older woman traveling without a man, you will usually be addressed as señora.
Most regular verbs will end with either -ar, -er, or -ir. For simple present tense, each pronoun will change the ending of the verb in specific ways.
When using the yo (I) pronoun, the ending will change to -o. For the tu (you) pronoun, change the ending to -as for -ar verbs, and -es for -er and -ir verbs. El (he) and ella (she) pronouns will change an -ar verb to -a, and will change -er and -ir verbs to -e.
For plural pronouns, such as ellos or ellas (both meaning they), the ending for -ar verbs will change to -an and the ending for -er and -ir verbs will change to -en. When using nosotros/nosotras, change the ending to -amos for -ar verbs, -emos for -er verbs, and -imos for -ir verbs.
If you want to deep dive into verbs and Spanish grammar, buy these useful books.
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It’s always helpful to be polite, wherever you are. These words will be useful in helping you have polite and respectful conversations.
Por favor is undoubtedly one of the most important basic Spanish phrases for travel that you should know. Say this when getting seated at a restaurant, ordering food, asking for things, or making reservations at a hotel.
Two other basic Spanish phrases for travel to know are “thank you” and “no thank you.” When you say, “thank you” to someone, they will usually reply with de nada, which means “you’re welcome.” Sometimes they may respond with a usted.
Being able to say “no thank you” comes in handy when you’re trying to fend off pushy taxi drivers at the airport, or hawkers on the beaches.
One of the most helpful basic Spanish phrases for travel to know is how to say “I’m sorry” or “excuse me”. You can say lo siento when you bump into people, knock things over, or just a general way of saying “I’m sorry.”
Disculpe can be used when you’re trying to get someone’s attention. However, if you’re squeezing by someone you would use con permiso.
The following are a few other simple and helpful common Spanish phrases for travel to Mexico.
The Spanish word for “yes” is si. And like English, the Spanish word for “no” is no.
Additionally, if you’re negating a sentence, you can usually use no by putting it in front of a verb. Examples of this would be no entiendo (I don’t understand), no se (I don’t know), and no hablo espanol (I don’t speak Spanish).
Knowing how to say "and" or "or" is extremely helpful as you're learning basic Spanish phrases for travel. You can use y when ordering multiple things at a restaurant: queremos ocho tacos y cuatro jamaicas, por favor (we want eight tacos and four jamaicas, please).
An example of when to use o is when you're asking if a store or restaurant is open or closed: ¿Está abierto o cerrado?
Another useful Spanish phrase to know, especially when you’re still starting to learn Spanish, is “I don’t understand.”
You can follow this up by asking, “can you speak English?” If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know how to speak English, they will most likely try to find someone who does.
“Here” and “there” are two basic Spanish phrases for travel that will come in handy at restaurants (when you want to pick a table to sit) or when giving directions to a taxi driver.
A quick note about aquí versus acá. While both words mean “here,” aquí refers to the immediate “here,” while acá refers to the vicinity of “here.”
Most conversations when you learn basic Spanish phrases for travel include how to say “how are you” and “I’m fine.” These are useful Spanish phrases to know, as you’ll most likely say this to taxi drivers, store owners, waiters, and basically anyone that you interact with.
Understanding simple numbers will come in handy when ordering food, purchasing tickets, or even telling time. These Spanish numbers flashcards are really helpful in teaching you the numbers from 1-100.
Another aspect of being able to communicate basic Spanish phrases for travel is knowing how to ask questions. The following Spanish travel phrases are useful questions to have in your language bank.
Questions are sometimes expressed by intonation. A phrase like puedo can mean “I can”. But if you raise the inflection of the ending, the meaning changes to “can I?” The same goes for when you are saying “can you?”
You can ask “what is this” or “what is that” to ask what something is when you’re at a restaurant, at the market, or even when you’re shopping at a store
Additionally, you can ask “how much does this cost” when you want to know the price of something. Mexico uses the peso as currency. While the current exchange rate will fluctuate, you can generally calculate 20 pesos for $1 USD.
If you’re asking for directions, start with dónde está, and then add the location that you’re wanting to go. For example, if you’re asking “where is the airport?” you would ask, ¿dónde está el aeropuerto?
Alternatively, if you’re asking where an object is, such as a book, a pencil, or a phone, you can also use dónde está followed by the object.
As travelers, you'll likely spend a lot of your time at restaurants eating meals. Understanding a few Mexican food phrases will be very helpful in this case. These following basic Spanish phrases for travel will be especially useful for when you are at a restaurant.
If you’re still beginning to learn basic Spanish phrases for travel, knowing how to say “I want XYZ thing” or “I don’t want XYZ thing” is extremely helpful. You can use “I want” when you’re ordering food, or when you’re looking for something at the store.
Alternatively, you can also ask “do you have XYZ thing?” at restaurants and at stores. If the person answers in the affirmative, then you can follow up with “I want …”
At restaurants, waiters may ask whether you want the food “for here” or “to go”. It’s not unusual for Mexicans to order food to go.
If you or your kids are sharing a plate, you would say para compartir (to share).
After you’ve eaten a good meal, you can say either “it’s tasty” or “it’s delicious”. Your server will be more than delighted to hear you say either of those two phrases.
Language acquisition is a long process. There’s no one perfect method to learn these basic Spanish phrases for travel. In actuality, it’s mostly trial and error.
Seeking out cultural activities to participate in, such as Dia de Muertos, can sometimes help. At the very least, it can help you understand the culture of Mexico a little better.
Even if you only know a few words in Spanish, try and use them to have a conversation with someone. Have patience, and don’t give up. Who knows. With practice you might become an expert at traveling and conversing with locals in Spanish-speaking countries!
Do you have any tips on learning basic Spanish phrases for traveling Mexico? Drop a comment on our Facebook page with your favorite Spanish phrase.
Ready to start planning your Mexico family trip? Take a look at these tips for putting together a Mexico travel budget.