Beyond Spanish: The Languages Spoken In Mexico




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Known as one of the six cradles of civilization, Mexico is rich in both culture and history. Spanish is the primary language spoken in Mexico, first introduced in the 16th Century during the Spanish colonization. Currently, Mexico has over 120 million Spanish speakers.

Some languages spoken in Mexico are Spanish, Nahuatl, and Yucatec Maya, which are the most common. Yet, there are 68 national languages that the Mexican government recognizes, 63 of which are indigenous. 

In the rest of the article, you’ll learn about the different languages spoken in Mexico, Mexico’s official language, and whether or not there are English speakers in Mexico.  

What Languages Are Spoken in Mexico?

Spanish, Nahuatl, and Yucatec Maya are the main languages spoken in Mexico. Additionally, there are 68 other languages and 350 dialects. There are over 120 million Spanish speakers, 1.6 million Nahuatl speakers, and 2.2 Mayan speakers collectively. 

Unfortunately, many of Mexico’s indigenous languages are endangered, and the government is trying to preserve them by recognizing them as official languages alongside Spanish. Other languages in Mexico include the following:

  • Totonac
  • Miztec
  • Mazatec
  • Zapotec
  • Chol
  • Otomi
  • Mixe
  • Zoque
  • Kiliwa
  • Mam Maya
  • Pame
  • Huave
  • Chinantec
  • Paipai
  • Mayo
  • and Tzotzil, among others. 

Interestingly, it is not just Spanish and languages native to Mexico that you can find in Mexico. Mexico is also home to several immigrants, so there are English speakers. Other languages you may come across include

  • Portuguese
  • French
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • German 

What Are the Top Three Languages Spoken in Mexico?

Despite having over 62 languages, some of Mexico’s languages are endangered and on the brink of extinction. For example, Cuicatec, Yaqui, and Huave each have less than 20,000 speakers in the whole country. 

The top three languages spoken in Mexico are Spanish, followed by Nahuatl and Yucatec Maya. Spanish leads with at least 120 million speakers. The other two languages have a combined figure of 3.8 million speakers.

Nahuatl hails from the Aztec empire and has several dialects, some of which are unintelligible. Most Nahuatl speakers also speak Spanish. Yucatec Maya is the Mayan language spoken by people living in Yucatan, Tabasco, and Campeche. You can also find Yucatec Mayan speakers in northern Belize. 

Is Mexican Spanish the Same as Spanish?

Mexican Spanish is mostly the same as Spanish in Spain. However, slight variations in Mexican Spanish are caused by influences from dialects and local traditions, cultural divergence, and geographical separation

Luckily, the core aspects of the language remain the same. If you speak Mexican Spanish, a native Spaniard will still understand what you’re trying to communicate. 

A few examples of how Mexican Spanish differs from Spanish include:

  • Broccoli in Mexican Spanish is Brócoli, while in Spanish, it is Brécol
  • Lime in Mexican Spanish is Limón, but in Spanish, it is Lima
  • Bacon in Mexican Spanish is Tocino, but in Spanish, it is Bacon. 
  • A stroller in Mexican Spanish is Coche, but in Spanish, it is Carro.
  • Glasses in Mexican Spanish are Lenses, but in Spanish, they are Gafas.

Here’s a YouTube video highlighting the significant differences between Spanish from Mexico and Spanish from Spain: 

The two Spanish forms also differ in terms of addressing the second person.

In Spanish, when addressing the second person (if the person is unknown), you would use the verb “usted” (singular) or ustedes (plural) for formal settings. When addressing a peer, you would use “tú.” On the other hand, in Mexican Spanish, no differentiation is necessary.  

Mexico and Spain are separated by roughly 5,600 miles (9,000km). The two countries are nowhere near each other, meaning that even though they speak the same language, cultural influences and different sources can affect how they sound.

Does Mexico Have an Official Language?

Spanish is the official language of Mexico, as the government uses it in most of its proceedings. However, the Mexican government also acknowledges 68 national languages. 

Through the General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, the Mexican government recognized the additional 68 languages and did so to preserve these native languages. 

This move meant that even though Spanish is still the language most people use, the other 68 languages are valued equally; none is above the other.

If you were a Mexican citizen who spoke Mixteco, for example, you could walk into a government office, ask to be served documents in that language, and the government will comply. 

This initiative is one the Mexican government is using to help preserve the country’s rich culture, a large source of which is its languages. 

However, Spanish is still the dominant language, but with time, the expectation is that more indigenous languages will be used. 

Do People in Mexico Speak English?

Not many people in Mexico speak English. Only 12% of the population speaks the language, and an even smaller percentage speaks it fluently. However, English is spoken more in major tourist destinations and in towns that are close to the U.S border. 

In 2021, Mexico received 32 million international tourists, most of whom spoke English.

Which Cities in Mexico Are English-Friendly? 

When visiting the following cities, you can expect English to be spoken in resorts, restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions:

  • Mexico City
  • Cancun
  • Tulum
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Acapulco

You are also more likely to come across English-speaking Mexicans in areas where ex-pats live, like Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.

More Americans are choosing to live in Mexico than in any other country. The ex-pat community can be expected to grow, with Mexico offering a 50% lower cost of living than the USA. 

Furthermore, English learning proficiency is low, especially in public schools. Private schools teach in English, but that only accounts for 20% of students. 

Final Thoughts

Despite over 68 national languages the Mexican government recognizes, the three most widely spoken languages include Spanish, Nahuatl, and Yucatec Maya.

Since English is spoken by less than 10% of the population, if you’re planning on visiting the country, you’d better brush up on your Spanish!

About the author

Hi, I’m Paul Stamp, the adventurer behind this site! I’m in charge of all content and editing. 

I went on my first adventure in 1989 aged just 12 when I flew from the UK to Walt Disney World in Florida with my friend and his family.

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