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I speak ok Spanish. It was good enough on my first visit to Mexico DF once.

Oaxaca is known for linguistic diversity given the high percentage of indigenous population. But it's also a pretty touristy place from what I gather.

Are there any perception issues regarding Spanish and the indigenous population of which I should be aware? (tension/conflict with central government, cultural issues etc)

Beyond the daily use to buy food/accommodation/transportation I'd really like to be able to chat with locals.

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  • Depends on what you want to do, I'd imagine. Shouldn't be hard to book a hotel and pay for food in Spanish anywhere in Mexico, right? Meeting people and getting to really know the place might not be so easy though. Jul 7 '14 at 11:57
  • @NickStauner quite right, I've updated the question
    – blackbird
    Jul 7 '14 at 12:21
  • Oaxaca City or Oaxaca State? In the city it's pretty hard to find people speaking indigenous languages, they seem to kind of "hide" it. If you keep your ears open you can hear local languages at second class bus stops, at local markets, etc. It should be also possible by going to less visited villages especially in the Valles Centrales. Last time I was in Mexico the government didn't really want foreigners there though it was less well known than in Chiapas. So unless you're doing a homestay somewhere like Candelaria you're unlikely to even hear anything but Spanish, let alone need to speak. Jul 8 '14 at 2:09
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    @hippietrail this was pretty informative, why just a comment not an answer ? :) I'll be in the city but I hope to be able to get out on my own to some of the valleys around it
    – blackbird
    Jul 8 '14 at 11:51
  • @Blackbird57: OK I've changed it to an answer. It still feels a bit rough because I haven't been to Mexico for about six years and my memories might be imperfect. Jul 8 '14 at 13:25
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This depends on which locals you want to speak to. If you're in the cities, you should have no trouble at all speaking Spanish to practically anyone.

If you venture out into the country side, Spanish is more the trade language, and several local languages are used more commonly. Even in such places you should have no trouble using Spanish to conduct business, but if you are invited to a local's home, you may have a difficult time discussing personal family matters using only Spanish.

Note this explanation from Wikipedia:

The main reason that indigenous languages and cultures have been able to survive here is the rugged terrain, which isolate communities.

So the answer to your question: Can you get by with only Spanish, is a resounding yes. If you look hard enough, though, in the right places, you will find people with whom you cannot communicate at all.

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Firstly, YES.

But for more details, do you mean just Oaxaca City or Oaxaca State generally?

In the city it's pretty hard to find people speaking indigenous languages, they seem to kind of "hide" it. If you keep your ears open you can hear local languages at second class bus stops, colectivo stops, local markets, etc.

It should be also possible to hear local languages by going to less visited villages especially in the Valles Centrales.

Last time I was in Mexico the government didn't really want foreigners there though this was less well known than in Chiapas.

So unless you're doing a homestay somewhere like Candelaria you're unlikely to even hear anything but Spanish, let alone need to speak.

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