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How to Survive in Playa Del Carmen Without Speaking Spanish

Speaking Spanish in Playa Del Carmen

Traveling to a different country can be challenging enough without having to think about speaking another language. Knowing some Spanish can be good because it is the official language of 21 countries around the globe. We do encourage everyone to learn some Spanish if moving or traveling to Mexico but we know that is not always possible to do in a few weeks before you travel. Here is a little way to survive in Playa Del Carmen when you don’t speak much Spanish.

The great thing about Playa Del Carmen is just how international the city is and how many countries there are tourist from.  English is by far the most spoken language besides Spanish. Many Mexicans that work in tourism speak Spanish and English and sometimes Mayan. So speaking to someone at hotel desk and stores is going to be fairly easy. It is however polite to ask first, even in English “Do you speak English?’ rather then assume that people will speak English and you just start asking for things in English.

Tip: Not speaking a language to communicate can be covered up by your powers of observation. For example if you do not know numbers or are not able to figure out prices for things, watch what other people are paying for that bus fare or tacos. Observe signs more so you don’t have to ask for things like the bathroom. The sense of sight becomes so much more important to you when hearing and comprehension do not work.

There is an app for that

Having an app on your smart phone can access instant translation and some even do the talking for you. This can be an issue if you need internet but most restaurants and cafes in Playa do have free Wi-Fi. If you have a tablet you can easily download a translation program into your hard drive so you can have it with you.

Google translate can seem like magic when you use it but it has its limits. If you use these services to translate things for you that are not written with proper grammar you can soon see the problems. Bing offers a similar service but most people find google much better. These services are great for translating whole webpages and news papers that are in Spanish or website you need to use if you are living in Playa Del Carmen.

Shopping

Here are some tips for shopping in Playa with limited Spanish. You can carry a pad and pen to ask numbers if you are going to do a lot of shopping. Having a calculator does the same thing or since most people have one on their phone, you are covered.  The good thing is, most prices are set so you do not have to bargain for things so you do not need to use as much talking.

You might feel timid in a store when the person comes up to you and asks if you need help with anything in Spanish. A simple “hello” will let them know that you speak English. It can be hard for the people in stores because of the range of people and languages that come to Playa. They can feel awkward as well but usually there is some common English spoken and even hand gestures or smiles exchanged. Smiles and being polite always go a long way and is a good way just to send a message of “friendliness” to other people.

Restaurants

Most restaurants in Playa have menus in English and Spanish so it is not hard to figure out what they have and order. If there are menus only in Spanish there are often pictures and you can always point to what you want. If you are on 5th Avenue you will most likely be asked if you want a menu in Spanish or English. Some restaurants even have other languages and most staff speak some English.

Transportation

If you are going to be taking taxis around or other transportation, having  directions from your front desk of your hotel helps. They can give you all the local details about time and cost to get places. That way you do not have to worry about trying to communicate with the taxi driver or bus driver. More often you will find taxi or bus drivers do not speak English so it is good to have all your questions answered before you go somewhere. Taxis are priced per zone so if you know the prices you can have the amount ready for the driver. Check out our article on taking taxis in Playa Del Carmen.

Tip: Carry a card of your hotel or address of where you are going so you can give it to the driver. That way don’t have stumble your way through saying the location you want to go to.

Learn the basics

Since Spanish is so well used around the world in movies and Taco Bell commercials,  the usage of it has permeated basics into many peoples heads. Learning simple greetings, please, thank you, and asking how much something is along with numbers, is a great way to break the ice with people. Don’t worry, if you think they will start rattling off in Spanish if you say “Hola”, they usually wont. Your accent will give it away that you don’t speak Spanish.  Many people don’t expect tourist looking people to speak fluent Spanish so they are happy to help you out.

One of the most polite ways to get out of trouble is to learn how to say ” I am sorry I do not speak Spanish” (lo siento no hablo español) or “I am sorry I do not understand” (lo siento no entiendo).

You already know some Spanish!

Since Spanish is based on the Latin language there are already a lot of words you know and can understand in Spanish. Below is a great cheat sheet for all the words or easy ways to make the Spanish version of words. This can come in handy if you are traveling and searching for a word to use or living here and trying to expand your vocabulary.

Words in English that end in –tion , most are very easily translated to Spanish by changing -tion for -cion and a small accent. For example:

English= Spanish

Abbreviation= Abreviacion

Administration= Administracion

Celebration= Celebracion

Edition= Edicion

information= informacion

Words in English that end in -ary, most are very easily translated to Spanish by changing -ary for -ario and adding a small accent. For example:

English= Spanish

Anniversary= Aniversario

Necessary=Necesario

Vocabulary=Vocabulario

Words in English that end in -ty often can be translated into Spanish by changing –ty for -dad. For example:

English= Spanish

Authority= Autoridad

Community= Comunidad

Velocity= Velocidad

Words in English that end in -ic can often be transformed to Spanish by adding an -o. For example:

English= Spanish

Atlantic=  Atlantico

Gymnastic=Gimnastico

Romantic= Romantico

Words in English that end in -ment can mostly be made Spanish by adding -o. For example:

English= Spanish

Monument= Monumento

Supplement= Suplemento

Testament= Testamento

Words in English that end in -al are often the exact same in Spanish. For example:

English= Spanish

Animal= Animal

General= General

Hospital= Hospital

Words in English that end in -or are often the exact same in Spanish

Doctor= Doctor

Color= Color

Motor= Motor

Bienvenidos a Playa

Not speaking Spanish will limit your interaction on vacation and if you are going to be living here you will find that your circle of friends is limited to those that speak your language. There is the natural instinct to gravitate to those that speak your language, but it is good to get to know other people and backgrounds. Everyone takes their own time to learn, but for now if you don’t  speak Spanish you can certainly survive in Playa Del Carmen.

If you are coming for a longer vacation or are moving here, you will be happy to know that there are many good language schools here in Playa Del Carmen as well as private tutors. For those that have gone through the process, many will tell you that you will learn enough to survive but you need to push yourself to learn the rest.