With close to 500 million native speakers and many more students in the process of acquiring such competency, Spanish is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. However, while it originated in Spain many hundreds of years ago, it may surprise you to learn that the largest Spanish-speaking country is actually Mexico.
Many Spanish language students have aspirations of travelling to (or working in) Mexico, but it is important to note that Mexican Spanish deviates from the European language in a number of ways. Although a speaker of European Spanish will likely be understood, it can make life much easier to gain an understanding of the key differences.
So, with that in mind, we have compiled a guide to Mexican Spanish, placing a particular focus on its distinctive grammatical rules, pronunciation, vocabulary and slang words, so that you can fit right in.
Perhaps the most important differences to get right when trying to learn Mexican Spanish are the numerous grammatical deviations from European Spanish, and even from dialects spoken in other Central and Southern American countries. In general, Mexican Spanish follows the same rules, but there are a few notable exceptions.
The most obvious grammatical difference surrounds second person pronouns. In European Spanish, it is common to use the informal word ‘vosotros’ to mean ‘you’ when talking to a group of people. In more formal settings, the word ‘ustedes’ is then used in its place. Yet, in Mexican Spanish, the informal ‘vosotros’ is never used and the formal ‘ustedes’ is used at all times, regardless of the level of familiarity involved.
Meanwhile, unlike in some other parts of Central and South America, Mexican Spanish does not use the word ‘vos’ as a second person singular pronoun in the familiar form, instead using the word ‘tú’.
Another fairly noticeable difference involves verb tenses and you will quickly notice that the present perfect (pretérito perfecto compuesto) is relatively uncommon in Mexican Spanish. Instead, Mexican speakers will generally use the preterite (pretérito perfecto simple) in its place.
You should pay particular attention to second person pronouns, because using the informal versions found in European Spanish may be considered impolite by some Mexican Spanish speakers and it is a guaranteed way to stand out as being a speaker who does not have native speaking capabilities. Aside from these differences, however, Mexican Spanish follows the same basic rules as the Spanish that is spoken in other parts of the world.
Mexican Spanish Pronunciation
In addition to the grammatical differences, Mexican Spanish also differs from the Spanish spoken in many other countries in terms of pronunciation. While the accent is slightly different in general, one of the most noticeable features is the absence of the ‘lisp’ that is present in European Spanish.
For instance, in European Spanish, the letter ‘z’ is usually pronounced like a voiceless ‘th’ in English. However, in Mexican Spanish, this changes and the letter is generally pronounced like a voiceless ‘s’. This means that, in Mexico, there is no difference in pronunciation between the letters ‘z’ and ‘s’. So the words ‘casa’ and ‘caza’ (meaning ‘house’ and ‘hunt’, respectively) sound the same as each other in Mexico, whereas they would sound different in Spain.
The same rule also applies to the letter ‘c’ when it appears in a word immediately before either an ‘i’ or an ‘e’. To describe this phenomenon, it is said that Mexican Spanish has ‘seseo’.
Mexican Spanish pronunciation also occasionally differs from other dialects in terms of stresses within words. To provide an example of this, the word ‘video’ places a stress on the ‘i’ in Spain, whereas Mexican Spanish speakers tend to stress the ‘e’ sound within the word.
Vocabulary and Slang Words
Finally, while most Spanish words are universal, Mexican Spanish does have some of its own vocabulary. As a result, those looking to travel to the country may need to familiarise themselves with some of the dialect’s unique words and phrases if they wish to understand the locals clearly.
In particular, Mexican Spanish features a lot of English loan words or Anglicisms. This is likely due to the country’s close proximity to the United States, and the movement of people between the two countries over the years.
Some of these words, like ‘hobby’, are spelled and pronounced exactly the same as in English, while others are similar enough to their English counterparts to be easy to understand. Examples include ’emergencia’ (emergency), ‘marqueta’ (market) and ‘traque’ (track). None of these words are commonly used in European Spanish and generally, the use of Anglicisms becomes more widespread the closer you get to the United States border.
Meanwhile, some Mexican slang is completely unknown in Spain and many slang phrases have different meanings to their literal translations. Although you probably won’t need to use them, you may hear them while in Mexico, so we have provided a list of eight slang words and phrases to get you started:
‘¡Aguas!’ – Literally means ‘waters!’, but is used to mean ‘careful!’ or ‘watch out!’
‘Bronca’ – Used to mean ‘a fight’ or ‘argument’, but in Mexican slang the word has a less concrete meaning and can be used to describe any sort of problem or crisis.
‘Codo’ – Although it is a normal Spanish word meaning ‘elbow’, this is often used in Mexico to describe somebody who is ‘cheap’ or ‘stingy’ with their money.
‘Estoy crudo’ – Translates to ‘I’m raw’, but is used to mean ‘I’m hungover’.
‘Fresa’ – Literally means ‘strawberry’, but is used by some Mexican speakers as a slang term for a young, obnoxious, materialistic person. Usually used to describe someone from a privileged background.
‘Huevo’ – A normal Spanish word meaning ‘eggs’. However, in Mexico, it is sometimes used as a vulgar term for ‘testicles’, much in the same way as the English word ‘balls’.
‘Naco’ / ‘Naca’ – Used to describe a lower-class or ‘trashy’ person. The last letter of the word changes depending on the gender of the person being described, which is in-keeping with basic Spanish language principles.
‘¡Qué padre!’ – Translates to the rather nonsensical phrase ‘how father!’, but is commonly used in place of English expressions like ‘how cool!’, ‘how awesome!’ or ‘that’s great!