If you are planning on travelling to a Spanish-speaking country any time soon and want to learn words and phrases that will help you survive during your stay, this is a must-read article!! I’ll give you a language survival kit that will certainly make your life easier, así que ¡vamos a darle!
Starting a conversation
So, let’s imagine you are on the plane to Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Lima, Oaxaca, Montevideo, you name it… and let’s say you want to chat with the person sitting next to you because the flight will last five hours and it might be somewhat boring and even awkward to spend it in complete silence, right?
As an icebreaker you may say:
- ¡Hola! Soy Mariana. ¿Cómo te llamas? (Hi! I'm Mariana. What’s your name?)
You could also say:
- ¡Hola! Mi nombre es Mariana. ¿Cómo te llamas? (Hi! My name is Mariana. What’s your name)
The other person might respond: “Mucho gusto. Me llamo Elena”. (Nice to meet you. My name is Elena or whatever their name is).
So, Spanish allows you to introduce yourself in three different ways. Let’s go over them once again:
- Soy Mariana. (I’m Mariana.)
- Mi nombre es Mariana. (My name is Mariana.)
- Me llamo Mariana. (My name is Mariana.)
In addition to hola, which means “hi”, you could also say “buenos días”, “buenas tardes”, or “buenas noches” depending on the time of day. We cannot delve into the details right now, but if you want to know more about these other ways of greeting people, you should not miss out on our video about greetings in Spanish.
Keep the conversation going
Okay, once you know the other person’s name, you might want to know how old they are. You have two options here:
- ¿Cuántos años tienes?
- ¿Qué edad tienes?
They both mean “how old are you?”.
The other person will say: “Tengo 28 años”. (I’m 28 years old). Once they’ve told you their age, the person will certainly ask you: “¿Y tú?” (And you?) or “Y tú, ¿qué edad tienes?” (Literally, this would translate into “what age do you have?”. Since that obviously makes no sense in English, this chunk is the equivalent of “how old are you?”) You may respond: “Tengo 30 años.” (I’m thirty).
Another thing that people usually ask to try to get to know someone, even if it’s just briefly, is what they do for a living, right? Once again, Spanish gives you two options:
¿A qué te dedicas? (Literally, what do you dedicate yourself to?)
¿En qué trabajas? (Literally, what do you work in?)
Since the word-for-word translation into English of these two chunks in Spanish makes no sense, you should learn the way it’s said in Spanish by heart as the equivalent of “what do you do for a living?”.
Switching a conversation into English
Now, let’s say this person turns out to be very chatty and they start conversing non-stop about their family, their job, what have you. If you have trouble understanding them, you may say: “Disculpa, no hablo mucho español” (Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish very well).
If you want to switch into English, you may ask them: “¿Hablas inglés?” (Do you speak English?). If they do, you may suggest: “¿Podemos continuar en inglés?” (Could we speak in English now?)
Or let’s say you want to challenge yourself in trying to understand most of what the other person is saying but you need them to slow down. Then, you should say: “¿Pudieras hablar más despacio, por favor?” (Could you speak more slowly, please?)
Additionally, if you didn’t understand a specific bit and you want them to repeat it, you should say: “Disculpa, no entendí. ¿Puedes repetirlo?” (Sorry, I didn’t get that. Could you repeat it?)
You may obviously use all the phrases we’ve learned so far in any conversation, not just to chat with the person next to you on a plane.
Asking for information
Now, let’s imagine the plane has landed. You get off it, but you’re not quite sure where to collect your luggage. Then, you could ask a flight attendant or airport staff: “Disculpe, ¿dónde recojo mi equipaje?” (Sorry, where should I collect my luggage?)
Once they’ve provided you with the information you should always say “Gracias” (Thanks!). If you truly appreciate the help or the information, you may say “Muchas gracias” (Thank you very much!) and if you want to acknowledge how helpful the other person was, you may say “Muy amable” (Very kind of you!).
So, you’ve got your luggage with you. Now you need a taxi to go to your hotel, but you also need cash to pay for the taxi. What now? Well, you may ask:
- Disculpe, ¿dónde hay un cajero automático? (Sorry, where can I find an ATM?)
- Disculpe, ¿dónde hay un banco? (Sorry, where can I find a bank?)
- Disculpe, ¿dónde hay un centro cambiario? (Sorry, where can I find a money exchange center?)
Notice that I’ve used the word “disculpe” several times before asking a question. This word may be translated as “sorry” or “excuse me” and we use it to get someone’s attention in a polite manner.
Now, if you say “disculpe” you will be addressing the other person with deference, but if you say “disculpa” you will be addressing them informally.
Okay, you’ve got cash on you. Now you need a taxi, right? So, the question goes: “Disculpe, ¿dónde puedo tomar un taxi?” (Sorry, where can I get a taxi?)
You’ve been told where to get a taxi. You’ve said “gracias” to thank the other person for the information and you are now walking towards the taxi rank. Someone gets on your way because they’re carelessly looking at the arrivals board (I absolutely hate it when people do that!). Anyway, what’s the equivalent of “excuse me” in Spanish? “Con permiso” or, simply, “Permiso”.
Asking for recommendations
Okay, now you’re on the taxi. Since taxi drivers usually know their way around cities very well, you might want to ask them something like, “¿Qué me recomienda visitar?” (What would you recommend that I visit?)
In my experience, taxi drivers are very good at telling you where to eat amazing local food. To get this sort of information from them, you may ask: “¿Qué restaurante me recomienda?” (Which restaurant would you recommend?)
Now, you’re at your hotel. You’ve checked in, you’ve left your luggage in your room, and you are starving. Maybe it’s time to look for the restaurant that the taxi driver recommended, right? You may ask hotel staff, “Disculpe, ¿dónde queda este restaurante” (Sorry, where is this restaurant?) They will surely give you directions; some hotels might even offer you to get you a cab that can take you there.
Ordering at a restaurant
Let’s say the restaurant is right around the corner. You get there and you want to tell the waiter or waitress that you are vegetarian.
So, to order food, you may say: “Soy vegetariana” (if you are a woman) or “Soy vegetariano” (if you’re a man) (I’m vegetarian).
If there’s something you don’t want in your food, you should say “sin”, which is the equivalent of “without”, plus whatever it is you don’t want to eat. For example: “Quisiera una ensalada sin queso, por favor.” (I’d like to have a salad without cheese, please).
Talking about allergies
If you are allergic to something, you should definitely learn how to say it.
If you are a guy, you should say “Soy alérgico” and, if you are a woman, “Soy alérgica” and then you add whatever it is you are allergic to. For instance, “Soy alérgica a las nueces” (I’m allergic to nuts). I once travelled with a friend who has a massive allergy to nuts and it was nuts!!
Now, to order your drink, you may say: “De tomar, quisiera una limonada” (To drink, I’ll have a lemonade, please). And we all know that the saddest thing about travelling abroad is spending money. So, how do you ask the waiter or waitress for the bill? “Disculpa, ¿me traes la cuenta, por favor?”
There’s also a shorter way of saying it: “La cuenta, por favor” (The bill, please).
Okay, your holiday is over, you’ve had an amazing time in Mexico City eating tacos or drinking mate in Buenos Aires. It’s time to go back to your country, but you want to get a souvenir for your mom, your dad, your significant other, or even yourself.
You go into a souvenir shop, you like something, and you want to know how much it costs. What should you say? Once again, you have two options:
- ¿Cuánto cuesta esto?
- ¿Esto qué precio tiene?
FREE Spanish Training
Muy bien, you’ve got your language survi val kit! You are ready to travel to any Spanish-speaking country and you will certainly rock it! If you need ayuda (help) and want to learn more, feel free to check out our Spring Spanish Travel videos on our channel!
Now, if you're ready to take it a step beyond this survival Spanish lesson and get serious about learning the language, we have a free Spanish training on our website where you'll discover the method we use in our Spring Spanish Academy to teach students to speak fluent Spanish. You also get some free sample Spanish lessons there that come straight from our Academy! If you're interested, just click on the link in the description box below to sign up!