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Spanish for Tourists

Updated on September 3, 2007

It's ok to go to Mexico without knowing Spanish. I would recommend signing up for guided tours, or at least taking really good guidebook and dictionary with you for maximum enjoyment. However, it's not necessary, and you'll survive with simple pointing and miming...especially in large tourists areas, where they're used to this kind of behavior!

However, should you want to feel a little safer, and a little better prepared, there are a couple of Spanish phrases that will get you a long way in Mexico.

Of course, seeing these words in writing won't help you much without knowing how to pronounce them, so first, a brief letters lesson. Now, I'm not going to go into a linguistic pronunciation here (sorry Dr. Patterson), so just read it as you see it:

  • A= Open up and say Ahhh- the Spanish A is never Apple or pAn
  • C= Can be either hard Cat or soft Cereal, check out the pronunciation guides when in doubt
  • D= A little softer, close to th
  • E= Almost always Egg
  • I- As in EEEE
  • Ll= Two L's is a Y in Spanish
  • Ñ= Don't get nervous, this is just a simple sound "nya" (so baño is BAHN-YO with the N and Y smooshed together)
  • O= Ohmmm, a big open O
  • H= silent
  • Qu= K, oKay?
  • U= as in B(oo), but not drawn out!

Now, onto our phrases. The underline____ indicates a field where you can fill in the vocabulary of your choice from your trusty little dictionary. The CAPITAL LETTERS indicate that the accent is on this part of the word.

  • Estoy: I am _____ (ehSTOY)
  • Donde esta: Where is ______ (DOANday- ehSTA)
  • Que hora es: What time is _______ (KAY ORa Es)
  • El Baño: The bathroom (El BAHNyo)
  • Enfermo or enferma: Sick (enFAIRmo/uh)
  • Perdido: Lost (pairDEEdo)
  • Por favor: Please (POUR fahVORE)
  • Con permiso: Excuse me (CONE perMIZmo)
  • No Hablo Espanol: I don't speak Spanish (No AHblow espahnYOL)
  • Hotel: Hotel (O tell)
  • Tarde: Late (TARday)
  • Hola: Hello (OH la)
  • Adios: Goodbye (ah dee OS)
  • Me llamo es: My name is ____ (MAY Yamo Ez)
  • Cuanto cuesta: How much? (Money) (KWANtoe KWAYsta)
  • Cuenta: The bill/check at a restaurant (KWANEta)
  • Oficina de turista: Tourist Office (O-fiss-seen-a Day TooReeSta)
  • Pesos: Pesos, as in dollars, usually around 10 or 11 to a dollar (PAYsos)
  • Dolares: Dollars (doeLARays)

Lastly, it would be best to learn the basic numbers structures so that you can adequately count money, buy items and pay cabbies.

These basic phrases will generally get a tourist through a typical day in Mexico, along with some friendliness and patience.

Adios y buena suerte! (Good luck!)


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