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Travel Tip 3 - Learn Spanish
C.J. Gustafson, Freelance Writer and Photographer

Although many people on the island speak English quite well, there have been numerous instances where I was glad to know some Spanish. Plus, it seems presumptuous and even slightly arrogant to come to another country as a visitor and expect the local people to know MY language. I have always felt it was my responsibility to try and get at least an elementary grasp of the language before traveling to any area.

Of course, there are some basic essentials that are well covered here on the Insider website. It is undeniably helpful to know how to say words such as “bathroom” and “beer” (especially since the one seems to follow the other). But I have found there are some other situations that come up time and time again where I was glad I knew how to express myself in Spanish.


On my first trip to the island, I stayed with four other women in a lovely villa on the north end of Cozumel in the Country Club area. We were steps from the beach and had our own cooking facilities with a large room for socializing. It was perfect. When we wanted to go to town, we had to take a cab, but split between five people, the cost was minimal. The problem was that the people at the cab company spoke Spanish – very rapidly. While I could tell them in Spanish where the house was located, I could never understand what they were saying in response. They just spoke too fast for my infantile Spanish abilities.

This resulted in several humorous miscommunications, the most common being that five women were jammed and crammed into a tiny cab meant for three passengers because I had not understood when they asked me how many passengers were riding. Within a day or so, I learned two important things about speaking Spanish on Cozumel. The first is not to panic if you don’t understand something. Just keep trying to work it out and people will usually try to be helpful. (“No comprendo”, which means “I don’t understand” is another handy phrase).

vaya más lento por favor.The other thing I learned is the sentence “vaya más lento por favor” which means “go slower please.” By uttering these words, I was able to get the taxi dispatcher to speak at a rate I was able to comprehend. I later learned that the correct way to say this is “hablas más lento por favor” which means “speak more slowly please” but if you can get your words in the ballpark, most people can figure out what you mean.

You can also try it with maniacal taxi drivers who seem hell-bent on running over every pedestrian and moped rider on the streets and sidewalks. However, my experience is that shouting “vaya más lento por favor” at a taxi driver usually elicits a devilish grin and even more daring tactics. There also have been other instances where this phrase “vaya más lento por favor” has been very useful. I will leave it to your imagination to figure out where and when it might come in handy.

Another area you might want to focus on when learning Spanish is food items. Hopefully you will take a trip to the mercado to shop for groceries while on Cozumel. Even if you are staying at a resort, it is worth the experience, and you can pick up some just baked tortillas, still warm from the oven or fresh fruit for a midday snack. Learn some of the words for your favorite foods.

The fresh seafood on Cozumel is amazing, and it is one of the reasons I prefer to stay at an apartment or villa where I can cook. But trust me, attempting to pantomime the word “shrimp” in a market full of people can be both difficult and embarrassing. It is my most favorite food on Cozumel, and “camarón” was one of the first words I learned, along with “ajo” (garlic) and “mantequilla” (butter) – two more words that are impossible to describe using hand signals.

Of course, “please” and “thank you” are must know words and are common enough that most people have learned them. But take your manners a bit further and learn words like “muy bueno” (very good) and “el mejor siempre” (the best ever). Complimenting your waiter, cook, maid, or whoever, in their own language is a sign of respect and conveys a bit more sincerity.

Before traveling to Cozumel, try to think of the different activities and situations you will be involved in and what type of words might come in handy. Better yet, take some Spanish classes – the more the better. And then practice. Don’t be afraid to try out what you know when you get to the island. You might make some mistakes or put your foot in your mouth, but for the most part, people on the island are more than happy to help you learn, (read C.J.’s Language Lesson adventure) and really, they are laughing with you not at you! Sea valiente. Es una aventura!
Why not take a class while you are visiting?
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 Cozumel Spanish Learning Educational Classes
Spanish Learning Educational Sessions - Single or Multiple Day Classes. Starting at $20/hour
 Cozumel Spanish Learning & Accommodations Packages
Spanish Learning Packages consisting of multi-day classes and local neighborhood accomodations. What better way to enhance your learning experience than to be able to practice your new found skills at every corner! Starting $ 385/person
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