If you don't speak any Spanish at all, it's a good idea to at least learn a few phrases before you travel to Mexico. Many tourism industry workers in Mexico speak English, especially in popular vacation destinations, however, if you venture off the main tourist trail, it's really helpful to speak some Spanish. If you don't speak any at all, buy a good phrase book (or an app for your phone) and refer to it often! You'll probably find plenty of people along the way who are willing to make the effort to understand what you need. However, no matter your destination or if the people around you speak English, making an effort to speak at least some Spanish will go a long way towards creating a rapport between you and the Mexicans you meet.
"Hello." Mexicans tend to be quite formal when it comes to greetings. You may come across as rude if you neglect to greet people properly in Mexico. Greet your taxi driver before saying where you want to go. Greet the attendant at the information counter before you launch into your questions. A simple "hola" is fine among friends, but in other situations, you should change the form you use depending on the time of day.
- Before noon: Buenos días (Good morning, Good day)
- From noon until dark: Buenas tardes (Good afternoon)
- At night: Buenas noches (Good evening, Good night)
"Thank you." It's always polite to thank people who are providing you with a service - and even better to say it in their language. The correct response is "De nada." You should also learn to say please: por favor. To be extra polite, you can say: "Gracias, muy amable." Which means "Thank you, you're very kind."
How much is it?
Of course, if you hope to understand the answer, you'll need to have some knowledge of the numbers in Spanish. In a restaurant, ask for la cuenta. If you're hoping for a discount, you can ask "¿Cuanto es lo menos?" which is a way of asking what their best price is - this phrase will give you an idea of whether or not the seller is willing to negotiate.
Uno, dos, tres, cuatro....
Learning the numbers is one of the first things to master in a new language, and you'll find the rewards are many. You can haggle over prices, ask the time and find out how long it will take to get to your destination.
Perhaps the most essential one is ¿Donde está el baño? (Where is the restroom?). But knowing how to ask where things are can be useful in many circumstances. Hopefully, the person answering you will point and use hand gestures so it won't matter if you don't understand the words of their reply!
My name is...
The best way to learn Spanish is to talk with people, and the way to begin is by introducing yourself.
Note: The double L in Spanish is pronounced similar to a Y (in most of Mexico, though it may be pronounced differently in other countries) so this sounds kind of like "Me yamo."
There are different forms to say this depending on the situation, but this is the one which works in most situations - if you're trying to get by someone and you want them to move out of your way, if you've made a faux-pas or if you're trying to get someone's attention.
¿Puedo tomar una foto?
May I take a photo?
Some people don't like to have their picture taken, so to avoid conflicts, it's always better and more polite to ask first.
Hopefully, you won't have too much to apologize for, but this phrase can come in handy if you've accidentally stepped on someone, said the wrong thing. If you find out that someone has suffered a personal loss or is going through a difficult time, this phrase will also show that you have sympathy for their situation.
No hablo español. ¿Habla usted inglés?
I don't speak Spanish. Do you speak English?
Mexicans who speak some English are generally happy to find someone they can practice with. While it's more polite to make an effort to speak in the language of the country you're visiting, folks who work in the tourism industry usually speak some English and will go out of their way to be helpful.