Given that Mexico is the southern sister to the United States you’d think that their respective languages might be interspersed or commonly spoken in each country. But is that the case? Well, as an American, I rarely need to use Spanish, and understand very little, but what’s English use like in Mexico?
English is not commonly spoken in Mexico as a second or foreign language with 5-15 percent speaking on some level. This fluctuates when comparing high English speaking border towns and tourist areas with less proficient smaller cities and villages, but overall comprises about 6-19 million people.
According to the EPI, Mexico ranks at a lowly 92 out of 112 in level of English proficiency in the country, giving it a description of “very low proficiency.” This is part of a downward trend for Mexico since ranking “moderate” in 2011. Yet, given that, Mexico maintains status as the most desired and visited tourist country for English-speaking Americans.
Why is this? Learn the reasons for this, and more about speaking English in Mexico, by reading on!
- 1 Is English Widely Spoken In Mexico?
- 2 What Are The Top Languages Spoken In Mexico?
- 3 English Speaking Areas in Mexico
- 4 Is There English In TV/Films In Mexico?
- 5 English Use In The Common Workplace Of Mexico
- 6 Is English On Street Signs In Mexico?
- 7 The Final Word On Spoken English In Mexico
Is English Widely Spoken In Mexico?
To be clear, English is not widely spoken in Mexico. Only 5-15 percent (sources vary) of Mexicans speak anything more than a few English phrases. This means English speakers, and speakers of anything but Spanish, should learn survival Spanish before extended travel or moving to Mexico long-term.
What’s survival Spanish? Survival Spanish indicates a level of proficiency in Spanish to ‘get along’ in daily life. From asking ‘where’s the bathroom?’ to knowing how to say you need help, survival language includes the vocabulary to literally ‘survive’.
English is more popular in large Mexican cities like the capital, Mexico City, and Guadalajara with large ex-pat populations; in border towns like Baja California; and in tourist areas like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. It is rare to find non-native English speakers in other Mexican areas the further away from these English-speaking hotspots.
Keep in mind, though, that ‘widely spoken’ can mean different things to different people, so there’s definitely a degree of deviation in reporting, too. While some may consider it to mean native fluency level, others may think of themselves as ‘widely speaking English’ if they can barely converse with a tourist.
Being ‘widely spoken’ in any language also generally always refers to basic daily living conversations, and not technical or advanced vocabulary.
Latin Countries With A Higher English Proficiency Ranking Than Mexico
|EPI Ranking||Latin Country|
|44||Costa Rica; Dominican Republic,; Paraguay (tied)|
|73||Panama; Venezuela (tied)|
Remember, Mexico was rated number 92 on the English Proficiency Index, well below many Latin, Spanish-speaking countries, and also below countries like Serbia, Philippines, Kenya, and Iran, not areas typically expected to have a high non-native language proficiency.
More articles about spoken English around the world from DoubleSpeak Dojo like this one:
- How Common Is Spoken English In Chile?
- How Common Is Spoken English In Norway?
- How Common Is Spoken English In Greece?
Percentage of English in Mexico
What does this mean as for the percentage of English being spoken as a whole in Mexico, from natives to non-natives? For one, as far as what it means ‘percentage’ speaking English in Mexico, this is more important to grasp than the total number of people speaking the language. It puts into perspective what it feels like in Mexico being an English speaker.
Sources vary in the ranges, from a low of just 4 or 5 percent to a high of 12-15 percent, given for speaking English in Mexico. However, the range also has a difference in understanding of what speaking English means, from basic conversational phrases to native-level fluency.
Besides the language proficiency level variation, another reason for this range disparity is that surveys and reports don’t also take into account how proficiency is clustered.
Most English speakers in Mexico are clustered in border towns, large ‘metro’ cities, and tourist areas. And of course, this isn’t the majority of Mexico.
Unless you’re visiting one of these cluster areas, you’re likely not to encounter any English speakers in Mexico, which can certainly affect your comfort level while there.
Another problem making ranges so varied and wide is that many Mexicans are self-taught English, especially for work such as maids, waiters, and hotel staff. These people are less likely to be included in estimations.
Looking at this percentage wise, though, it means that on the low end, 96 percent of the people you encounter in Mexico will only know Spanish and on the upper end (which most say is improbable), 85 percent of the time, you’ll not be able to communicate in English.
This is important to consider when traveling to Mexico as an English speaker.
How many people in Mexico speak English fluently?
With Mexico being the top destination for Americans vacationing outside of US, as well as the 10th most populated country in the world (according to United Nations Population Division), it seems reasonable to expect some English in the country. And when you add in the preponderance of American cultural influence, it just makes sense, right?
There are 128,932,753 people in Mexico as of 2020. This makes it the 10th most populous country in the world. On the low end, it means around 6 million Mexicans (5%) have some level of English and on the high end 19 million. Keep in mind proficiency ranges from basic phrases to fully fluent, too.
With 1.348 billion people speaking English in the entire world, Mexico’s contribution likely seems small, but given its indigenous population, it’s not really that terrible of a showing. Although being 92 out of 112, as well as having 15 Latin countries ranking higher in EPI, it’s not so great either.
(Source: CIA World Factbook)
Can you get by speaking only English in Mexico?
For the many Americans who travel for business and vacations yearly, and with Mexico the number one vacation destination outside of the US for Americans, the question of whether or not you can get by speaking only English, is quite relevant. So, can someone get by only using English in Mexico?
For travel to tourist areas, large cities, and border towns, it’s feasible to get by with only English in Mexico. For any place outside of these English-speaking hubs, it would be very difficult to get by with only English. And if you plan to live and work in Mexico, it’s prudent to know Spanish.
Tourist Areas: Most vacation sites advertising packages will take for granted visitors won’t speak Spanish. All-inclusive resorts particularly are well-known for having fluent English-speaking staff in their direct customer service areas.
Border Towns: Border towns to the US will have a higher English speaking population due to proximity. You’re likely to find many ex-pats in this area, too, giving it a larger population knowing English.
Large Cities: Cities like Guadalajara and Mexico City have large English-speaking population simply because it has more people. The larger a city is, the more international it is too, making English more likely.
If you are living near universities, you are more likely to be able to get by using English, too. Many educated citizens in Mexico learn English for travel and business. They also are more likely to see the importance of being bilingual and having their children learn English either via private schools or tutors.
So whether or not you can get by knowing only English in Mexico, really depends on where you live or travel to in Mexico. But truly, if you are staying for an extended time, even in these English-speaking clusters, it’s wise to learn Spanish. Knowing the language will make your stay more comfortable, and it’s respectful to the country in which you’re staying to learn the common language if possible.
Here are some much needed ‘survival’ Spanish phrases for visiting in Mexico:
- Me llamo [________]. My name is [________].
- ¡Mucho gusto! Nice to meet you!
- ¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta? Can I pay with (a credit) card?
- Estoy perdido/a. I am lost.
- ¿Cómo llego a ______? How do I get to ______?
- ¿Me puede ayudar? Can you help me?
- ¡Hola! Hello!
- ¡Hasta luego! See you later!
- ¡Buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches! Good morning, good afternoon, evening!
- ¡Gracias! Thank you! and No, gracias! No, thank you!
- ¡Lo siento! I’m sorry!
- ¡Disculpe! Excuse me!
- ¿Cuánto cuesta? How much does this cost?
- ¿Dónde está? Where is …?
Now all of these phrases and/or statements are quite useful for traveling to Mexico (as they’re the frequently used travel phrases/sentences), but this list is in no way exhaustive. But they’re very simple to learn and can be used in ‘Spanglish’ talking, meaning even if mixed with English and can help when the listener doesn’t know any more English than you know Spanish.
What problems do English speakers have in Mexico?
English speakers are likely to encounter problems the longer they stay in a non-English speaking country like Mexico, even in English-speaking hubs.
The most common problem English speakers will have is simply ‘miscommunication’. You’re also going to be very limited in what you need to do in a timely-manner due to the language barrier.
Miscommunication alone can lead to a whole host of problems. From being taken advantage of to getting lost to not being able to build relationships, not knowing the language that most people speak in an area can make your time there quite challenging. It can cost you more money, but also cost you friendships.
Another issue English speakers will have in Mexico, especially the further you drift from English-speaking areas, is restricting your experience while there. Not knowing the language will make it harder to experience the Mexican culture in full. You’ll be at a severe disadvantage in some areas of Mexico if you don’t speak Spanish.
I highly encourage you to utilize a language learning program prior to your trip to learn some basic Spanish such as the tried and true, Rosetta Stone (available at Amazon). The earlier you start learning Spanish the better, but anything will be more helpful than nothing!
However, don’t be scared away from traveling to Mexico if you don’t know the language! Obviously many Americans visit there each year, and as we all know, most Americans are not fluent in Spanish! It can be done, and is! But as someone who’s done a lot of international travel, it’s always better to know the common language at least a bit.
What Are The Top Languages Spoken In Mexico?
Truly Mexico is monolingual as well as multilingual, but not in the traditional sense of the word. Spanish is undoubtedly the top language spoken in Mexico with 93.8 percent of the population only speaking it, while another 5.4 percent speak both Spanish and an indigenous language. Then, there’s an 0.6% that speak just an indigenous language, one of over 60 recognized officially.
So given that 5.4 percent speak two languages, that’s not significantly low; that’s almost 7 million people! Especially in comparison to the US, there are likely more truly fluent people in Mexico than native US citizens who speak dual languages well.
What is the official language of Mexico?
Based on the number of Spanish speakers in Mexico, comprising 99 percent of the population, it seems obvious the official language of Mexico is Spanish. Technically, though, Spanish is not labeled as official by the government. Instead, the government recognizes 68 national languages.
What other languages are spoken commonly in Mexico?
While Mexico has over 60 indigenous languages, altogether spoken by just over 5 percent of the population, and 99 percent of the population speak the de facto official language, Spanish, there are some other languages sprinkled here and there.
Removing Spanish and indigenous languages, the other languages spoken by a very small minority are generally from the very well-off economically and those highly educated. Languages spoken other than Spanish and indigenous also tend to be the languages of immigrants and transplants to the country.
The popular languages are (though remember ‘popular’ in this definition isn’t really very popular at all since 99 percent of the population don’t speak these other languages): English; French; German; Italian, and Greek. And of course, there will be a few here and there who speak other languages such as Japanese or Thai.
Is English taught in schools in Mexico?
What about in the schools? Is English taught in Mexican public schools?
English is taught in schools in Mexico at varying, inconsistent ways. It’s mostly found in the affluent segments of Mexico, but there are some public schools where you’ll find English offered half day even at the primary level. As students enter middle grades, English learning is required.
The main problem with requiring English for older students is that Mexico has a low retention rate with a high number of students dropping out as teens. The drop-out rate is high due to socioeconomic reasons in non-urban parts of Mexico, which is the majority of the country.
It also should be noted that the proficiency level and qualifications of the English teachers in Mexican schools isn’t always good either.
English Speaking Areas in Mexico
Like English in most of the world, English speakers in Mexico are located mostly in tourist areas like Cancun, in border towns, and in large urban cities. Even with these populated areas, the English speakers numbers is miniscule in comparison to those who don’t speak English in Mexico.
Which city in Mexico speaks English the most?
Cities are one of the best places to find English speakers in Mexico. Mexico City has a large group of English speakers due to it being a friendly place for ex pats to locate. Now again, ‘large’ isn’t so large, but it’s a person’s best chance for speaking English.
- Mexico City:
- It’s the nation’s capital.
- It’s rich in history, including home to Aztec temples.
- It’s ripe with museums, but also home to many family-friendly neighborhoods.
- Mexico City is popular for its metropolitan feel, from shopping to restaurants to high-rise businesses.
- It’s the most populated city in Mexico.
- This city has a large sect of English speakers, outside of Mexico City.
- It’s known for birthing Mariachi music and tequila.
- Many call this city the quintessential Mexican city.
- It’s the second-most populated city in Mexico.
- It’s home to the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan.
3. Baja California
- You’re likely to find some English speakers in the border town of Baja California.
- It’s located on the border of California and Mexico.
- It boasts a lively nightlife.
- The town of Rosarito of Baja California is known for its wide, sandy Pacific beaches.
- The capital of Baja is Mexicali and it has a population over 3 million.
- Most Mexicans there speak at least minimal English, being so close to the US state of California.
Is Mexico City English friendly?
Being that Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and has a large diverse population, it is very friendly for English speakers. In fact, Mexico City has the largest sect of English speakers in the whole country, so it’s ex pats feel comfortable there.
Is There English In TV/Films In Mexico?
To be clear, most television and films in Mexico are in Spanish. In fact, telenovelas are extremely popular and synonymous with Mexico. However, Mexico, like many international countries, enjoys US cinema and media, so many US movies and TV shows can be accessed there, either on TV or in cinemas.
US English media can be found at local cinemas either in English, or dubbed in Spanish with English or Spanish subtitles. As well, most hotels have satellite so English entertainment is usually available that way.
English Use In The Common Workplace Of Mexico
As expected considering the common language of Mexico, most workplaces in Mexico use Spanish as their primary language for conducting business. However, that being said, a good percentage of corporations utilize English to some level, and have at least some employees English fluent for international/global trade.
As well, any business that provides services to tourists will have a high likelihood of using English. This is simply due to their business demand. Examples of these types that will provide English are restaurants and hotels.
Yet, businesses and trades that service mostly Mexicans, even restaurants and retail, will use Spanish and may not offer any English services because it not necessary for the majority of their transactions. Keep this in mind as you travel in and about Mexico.
Is English On Street Signs In Mexico?
In almost all instances, the road signs in Mexico are in Spanish or have no words at all, but instead use icons and images to relay the intended message. In other words, it’s best for English-speakers to learn the meaning of road signs before driving in Mexico, or leave the driving for Mexicans and take public transportation or walk wherever you go.
However, it should be noted that some signs seem very close to those in the US by using overt, similar, or logical symbols to communicate without needing language. For example, most English speakers from the US will recognize the Mexican ‘Alto’ sign as ‘stop’ because of it’s red color and similar shape and design to the American stop sign.
The Final Word On Spoken English In Mexico
The final words on spoken English in Mexico is to realize it’s not likely. Spoken English in Mexico when found is in high-trafficked tourist areas like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas; along border towns like Baja California; or in urban, diverse cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara.
When traveling to any area other than the aforementioned, it is highly recommended that you prepare to speak Spanish or have a fluent Spanish speaker with you for assistance!
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