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8 Basics To Know When Using Spanish in Mexico

Basics To Know When Using Spanish in Mexico
Written by Going Places

This blog post was updated on August 25, 2021.

Mexico is, and will always be, a popular tourist destination year round for many travelers from the US. Want to join them? Then, if you are heading south of the border, take in mind that Mexican Spanish can be quite different than other forms of Spanish you may know. To avoid any language gaffs or other mistakes, here are a few things to know about Mexican Spanish!

It’s All About “Tú”

In some parts of the world where Spanish is spoken, the Spanish form of the pronoun “you” is “vos.” However, in Mexico, you won’t hear “vos.” Mexican Spanish uses “tú” when referring to the second person familiar form. The same can be said of “vosotros,” used in other Spanish speaking countries to refer to a group of people. In Mexico, you would use “ustedes” instead of “vosotros.”

It’s NOT All About “Yo”

Many travelers get used to saying “yo” or “I” when they begin a sentence in Spanish in which they are the subject. However, it isn’t always necessary to add the “I” pronoun in Mexico. As most verbs are conjugated to note the subject, you can often drop off the “yo.” If you keep saying “yo,” you can come off as a little self-centered.

Avoid Certain Embarrassing Language Gaffs

embarrassed tourist

Just as there can be in many languages, some words don’t always translate how you might think. If you are trying to speak Mexican Spanish while in Mexico, you can find yourself being the subject of laughter for mixing up words in context. For example, saying, “I’m embarrassed,” you might think that the Spanish word is similar. However, “embarazada” actually means you are declaring you are pregnant to someone. Other embarrassments in Mexican Spanish might come with using “leche” or milk in a sentence along with “huevos,” referring to eggs. Both can be associated with the male anatomy if they aren’t used correctly.

Always Greet and Say Adiós

You might be a bit afraid to speak Spanish while in Mexico. As a result, you will often be mistaken for a rude person by failing to greet people you encounter. Even if you don’t  know a thousand words in Mexican Spanish, you should at least learn the greetings and goodbyes. A simple, “Buenos días,” goes a lot farther than complete silence when you walk in a shop or café.

Pronounce “Z” and “C” (after “i” and “e”) as “S”

Pronunciation can be one of the more confusing parts of speaking a new language in a foreign country. This can be made even harder by the fact that different countries and regions have different ways of pronouncing the same words. The biggest example is in Mexico, the letters “Z” and “C” are pronounced as the English way of saying “S” when they come after “I and “E” in a word. For example, the word feliz, which means “happy”, is pronounced as “fel-eece” rather than “fel-eez”. Similarly, the word peces (plural of the word “fish”) is said as “pay-ses” rather than “pieces”.

You may also like: 8 Awesome Reasons Why You Should Visit Mexico

Use the Preterite Verb Tense Instead of Present Perfect

The preterite tense refers to past actions and the perfect tense refers to actions that take place in an undetermined time frame. An example of each for the word “hablar” (to speak) in the “yo” (personal) form are as follows. The perfect tense would be “yo he hablado” and the preterite tense would be “yo hable”. In Mexico, the preterite tense is most commonly used, so make sure to watch out for confusing these two forms.

Use Some Slang (But Not All the Time)

Slang in Mexico Language

One of the more difficult parts of speaking a language in a foreign country is the local slang because it is hard to teach in a classroom and doesn’t usually show up on a Spanish test. While using local terms, be sure to be respectful and remember that you are a visitor to the country. It is always better to make sure you are a comfortable speaker and familiar with the person you are talking with before using slang words. Some of the most common Mexican slang terms include “güey”, which is basically like saying “dude” in English. Another term is “Neta” which is roughly translated to “the truth” and is usually posed as a question, like “for real?”.

Another slang phrase when yelled out is “¡Aguas!”, but doesn’t mean “water!”. It is another way of yelling to some “watch out!” when they are in danger. Finally, the phrase “Órale” is used to add enthusiasm to a sentence, similar to “Wow” or “No Way!” in English.

Be Aware of Words/Usages Unique to Mexican Vocabulary

When booking cheap flights in August to Mexico, keep in mind that certain words and ways of using them beyond pronunciation that are particular to that specific country! Some of the most common terms one may come across when traveling in Mexico that are different than other countries like Spain include “carro” rather than “coche” to refer to a car. An apartment is called a “apartamento” rather than “piso”. Finally, use the word “Celular” for a phone rather than “Móvil”.

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