You’ve booked your ticket to Latin America, your suitcases have been packed and you can’t wait to travel abroad to the Spanish speakers in Latin America!

However, there’s something (simple) that can have a huge impact on your stay abroad: speaking Spanish.

Your travel will be much more fun and will have more meaning if you are able to speak some words and phrases with the local people. Talking with someone with a mini-dictionary in your hand might seem a bit odd. Although you’ll not be fluent in speaking Spanish after reading this article, it will cover some basic Spanish words and phrases.

Words and phrases to introduce yourself

When you want to learn Spanish, it all starts by saying “hi”. Countries with Spanish speaking people are generally very kind to each other. It is thus common to greet someone and to ask how they are doing. Don’t worry about making mistakes and using the wrong words. That you’re trying to learn their language already makes Spanish speakers happy. Here are some words that will help you start a conversation:

  • Good morning – Buenos días
  • Good afternoon – Buenas tardes (from ca. 2pm)
  • Good evening – Buenas noches (from ca. 8 pm)

Hola means “hello”, and it is usually said to people you know.
When a Spanish speaker greets someone, it is very common to ask how someone is doing right after saying “Hi”. “

¿Cómo está?” means “how are you doing”. You can use this for when you don’t know someone yet. When you do know the person you’re speaking Spanish to, you use “¿Cómo estás?” or “¿Qué tal?”. If they ask how you are doing, don’t immediately grab your Spanish – English mini dictionary, but just say “bien, gracias”

When you get introduced to someone, you can say: “Mucho gusto” and they will say the same to you (at least that’s what you hope;)). This means “nice to meet you”. If you’re male, you can also use “encantado” and when you’re female “encantada” also works.

“¿Habla Inglés?” Means “Do you speak English? You can’t assume that all the Spanish speaker also speak English.

Therefore, learning Spanish by knowing the basics of meeting a Spanish speaker will help you to connect with people. When you’ve got the basics under control and you wanna step it up a notch you can learn the local slang. For example in Medellin Colombia you could speak like a Paisa or in Buenos Aires like a Porteno.

Basic Spanish for various purposes

You can come quite far if you learn some simple words and phrases in Spanish like “I want”, “I would like”, “Do you have”.

  • I want, I don’t want – (Yo) quiero, (yo) no quiero
  • I would like – Me gustaría
  • Where is? – ¿Dónde está?
  • How much does it cost? – ¿Cuánto cuesta?
  • What time is it? – ¿Qué hora es?
  • Do you have? – ¿Tiene?
  • I have, I don’t have – (Yo) tengo, (yo) no tengo
  • I understand, I don’t understand – (Yo) entiendo, (yo) no entiendo
  • Do you understand? – ¿Entiende?

Easy and short phrases in Spanish

You can say a lot if you already know some basic Spanish words and phrases. Where is the train station? The toilet? The airport? You can say and ask a lot by saying “I want”, “I need”, “I can” and “where is” if you follow it by the object you mean. “I want a hotel, a taxi – (Yo) quiero un hotel, un taxi. Of course, there are very basic Spanish verbs, but it will work if you want to talk with Spanish speaking people.

Asking the direction in Spanish

“How do I get from here to there?” In case you would like to ask someone for directions, we have some easy examples for how you can do that without using your mini dictionary. “Where is” is the easiest way to ask the direction in Spanish. This sentence in Spanish is: “¿dónde está?”.Here are some more examples:

  • Where is the bus- or train station? – ¿Dónde está la estación de autobuses/del tren?
  • Where is a restaurant? – ¿Dónde está un restaurante?
  • The street …? – ¿La calle …?
  • A bank? – ¿Un banco?
  • Where is the toilet? – ¿Dónde está el baño?
  • I want a hotel, I want a hotel with a bathroom – (Yo) quiero un hotel, (yo) quiero un hotel con baño
  • I need – (Yo) necesito (very easy, you only have to add the word that you need): (Yo) necesito un hotel.
  • Where is the bank? – ¿Dónde está el banco?
  • Money – Dinero

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Understanding directions

If you’ve asked the question of where to go, someone will answer you in the Spanish language. Here are some directions that a Spanish speaker can give you: going to the left, to the right or go straight. Listen well to these words:

  • To the right – A la derecha
  • To the left – A la izquierda
  • Straight ahead – Derecho, todo recto
  • At the corner – En la esquina

In a restaurant: what do you want to eat or drink?

You can order almost everything with some basic Spanish words and phrases like “quiero” or “quisiera”: “I want” or “I would like”. And don’t forget to say “por favor” or “gracias” (you’ll probably know what these words mean).

  • A table – Una mesa
  • A table for two, three, four– Una mesa para dos, tres, cuatro
  • A menu – Un menú
  • Soup – Sopa
  • Salad – Ensalada
  • Hamburger – Hamburguesa
  • With ketchup, mustard, tomato, lettuce – Con salsa de tomate, mostaza, tomate, lechuga
  • An appetizer – Una entrada
  • Dessert – Un postre
  • A drink – Una bebida
  • Water – Agua
  • Red wine, white wine – Vino tinto, vino blanco
  • Beer – Cerveza
  • Coffee – Un café
  • If you would like to get the attention of a waiter or waitress – ¡Señor! or ¡Señorita!
  • The bill – La cuenta

Useful tips to speak Spanish

If you would like to ask something in Spanish, you can say the noun by using a questioning tone. For example: you can show your credit card and say: “¿Tarjeta de credito?”. Now they will understand that you would like to know whether you can pay with credit card. What’s also nice to know, is: “no funciona” – “it doesn’t work!”. You can use this in many situations. Point at the shower, or anything else that’s not working, and say “¡No funciona!”.

Practice these basic Spanish words and phrases and you will be able to speak Spanish enough to survive and connect with the people. By speaking more and more Spanish and using these words and phrases over and over, you’ll be able to apply them more fluently. It will also help you to recognize words in Spanish. And if you really, really can’t figure out some words, you can use your Spanish – English mini dictionary.
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