Spruce Up Your Spanish
I am the last person you should ask about learning or pronouncing Spanish but I can tell you that you should know at least some key phrases and words here. Several expats I've met are taking Spanish classes and there are many to choose from on an individual basis and group format, so do what's comfortable for you. But the pronunciations are sometimes tricky so getting the audio is an important part of the learning.
Don't wait till you get here. There are free lessons online through various sources. My son is using Duolingo because he's coming to visit and wants to be able to speak a little, at least to order and pay for a cold beer (cerveza fria). I like the lessons offered through an American man living in Tulum who does a blog called Two Expats Mexico at qroo.us. Just click on the tab for "Spanish Lessons" and get going.
I came to mexico with a very limited vocabulary but at lakeside the locals are used to playing the "guess what she's saying" game and many do speak or understand a tiny bit (poquito) of English. They do appreciate that you are trying and we surely give them good stories to tell around the dinner table at home. I heard one woman tell about cooking chicken and asking her Mexican help to look at the chicken pieces when she was actually asking him to look at her breasts. Yep, she got a very confused look back from that young man.
Your cell phone is a handy tool. Most of us can find on our smartphones an easy English/Spanish translator. It is slow and cumbersome to rely on that though so best to learn some and get used to speaking it frequently. There are a few things I've found to be extremely useful; knowing numbers way up into the hundreds, days of the week, and months of the year. When you are shopping and the seller or clerk rattles off a number looking at you like you should understand, believe me you want to. They are patient though and I've gotten by with having them write it down or give it to me one number at a time - I at least know the numbers from 0-10.
Directions can be fun. Some words you'll hear are calle for street, carretera for highway, bulevar for boulevard, metros for meters, kilometros for kilometers, and carretera de peaje for toll road. Mexicans are great for giving you directions that aren't accurate because they feel it's better to tell you something, anything, that to tell you they don't know. Google maps is a life saver!
Coming to the Lake Chapala area, especially around Ajijic, is like coming to a little piece of the US because of the numbers of expats in residence. The locals have learned that the more English they speak, the more business they can do with the expats and the more money they make. I like when it's easy to communicate but I almost feel like it's cheating. I'm in their country, not the US. Their language is Spanish and I feel an obligation to communicate in their language. They're not obligated to know mine.
As you move away from the Ajijic epicenter, fewer adult Mexicans know English. I've had many experiences where the adults had children with them who are pretty darned good at translating. I understand that the kids are taught English in school. I so wish we did that in the US. Being multilingual is almost a necessity to getting good career opportunities today.
Well, I've chosen a few short sentences to get you started but I really encourage you to take the initiative and start learning asap. Here's a bonus. The more Spanish you speak, the better prices you'll get when you shop. There are prices for gringos and there are prices for Nationals which include foreigners who speak fluent Spanish. Learn more, save more. It's a good deal!
Do you speak English? - Habla usted Inglés?
I speak little Spanish. - Hablo poco Espanol.
How much is this? - Cuanto cuesta este?
The bill, please. - La cuenta, por favor.
Where is the bathroom? - Dónde está el baño?
Excuse me. - Discúlpeme. (to get someone's attention)
Pardon me. - Perdoneme. (I'm sorry)
Which one is best? - Cual es el mejor?
I need to go to ...... (address) - Necesito irme ..... (for taxi or Uber)
OK, have fun! Blessings and peace be yours today. (Bendiciones y paz sean tuyas hoy.)