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14 useful Spanish phrases to learn before your trip

Recently updated on March 25th, 2024 at 10:17 pm

Happy as a worm, donkeys talking about ears, throwing dogs at someone…Spanish have some ‘colorful’ expressions. Thankfully, a visit to Spain with one of our Spanish-speaking experts means you won’t get lost in translation. Regardless, if you’re visiting it’s always good to learn some Spanish, the fourth most spoken language in the world! Set the tone for a bueno vacation with these 12 useful Spanish phrases.

¡Hola! ¿Que tal? 

greeting, handshake

Let’s start with the basics of useful Spanish phrases: “Hello, how are you?” Be prepared to back that up with a Bien, gracias (I’m fine, thank you) in response to being greeted in return. The Spanish are not particularly known for their English proficiency, but a friendly smile and an effort to greet them in their own language will go a long way to ensuring you get on the right side of your hosts.

Por favor and Gracias

Please and thank you – Polite interactions are made of these, no matter what language you’re conversing in. Take note however that in the Catalan region of Spain, the locals have a tendency to pronounce their ‘c’ as a ‘thee’. So, place your tongue on the tip of your top incisors and practice “gra-thee-as” to say thank you. If you say gracias and hear a de nada in return, this simply means it’s nothing.

¿Habla inglés?

lost person looking at a map

This is one of the best phrases to have in your arsenal, on the off chance you encounter a Spaniard who speaks English. Try with your new acquaintance to see if you can find some common ground in English. If their response is a vigorous shaking of their head, a simple “yo no entiendo” (I don’t understand) will buy you some time.  

Yo quiero

“I want” – the first two words guaranteed to get you what you need, even if you end up just pointing at something.

¿Dónde está?

Pointing on a map - useful spanish phrases

Similarly, these two words meaning “where is…?”, and then all you need to say is the thing you’re looking for. If you’re out at a restaurant, you may want to combine this with el baño to make ¿Dónde está el baño? – Where is the bathroom?

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Estoy perdido

Part of the magic of travel is getting a little lost. But if you really need a bit of help, confessing “I am lost” is one of those useful and basic Spanish phrases that’ll help people relate to you instantly. Combine this with the previous question in Spanish, Donda está, so you’re able to find your way again. Make sure you have the name of your hotel on hand so that your Spanish helper can put you on the right path.

Tengo alergia… 

This phrase – “I have an allergy” – can quite literally save your life! If all else fails, prepare the allergy written in Spanish on your phone or on a card so you can present it after using this easy Spanish phrase.

¿Cuánto cuesta?

Shopping for clothes

One of the most common Spanish phrases for those shopaholic travelers in search of some retail therapy during their visit to Spain. This useful Spanish phrase “how much is it?” asks how much something costs. Like the other examples here, a healthy amount of pointing and gesturing will help the Spaniard understand what object you’re talking about.

Knowing your left from your right

Step aside Siri, you can always trust a Spaniard to set you on the right path. In Spanish, “to the left” is “a la izquierda”, while “to the right” is “a la derecha”. The latter is not to be confused with the word “derecho”, which means straight ahead. The detail is in the masculine/feminine ending of the word.

¿Qué me recomienda?

Ordering food - useful spanish phrases

Who better to guide your culinary experience in Spain than your local hosts? One of the best Spanish phrases for travel is “what would you recommend?” You may have no idea what’s about to arrive on your table, but it’s guaranteed to be delicious.

¿Puede ayudarme?

One of the useful Spanish phrases to be kept front of mind at all times is this basic Spanish phrase, which means “can you help me?”. You can also say “I need help”, (necesito ayuda). Puede is a really useful Spanish word to remember, it just means ‘can you’. To make it about yourself, change the e for an o to make puedo. You can use this for things like Puedo reservar una mesa (can I reserve a table) and other slightly more advanced conversations.

Cómo

Cómo (with the accent) is one of the key Spanish question words, and means different things in different contexts. A good rule of thumb is to think of it as meaning ‘how’. Cómo te llamas is used when asking someone their name, literally meaning “How are you called?” (informal tense), and cómo estás means “how are you?”. Yes, lo siento (I’m sorry) to make things more confusing, but there are other ways to say ‘How are you?’ than just ¿Que tal? We do the same in English too, though. We say “what’s up”, “how’s it going”, “how are you doing”, “how are you” and they all still mean the exact same thing!

Listen out for cómo, which is used as the base for so many questions and phrases in Spanish.

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No entiendo

Telling someone ‘I don’t understand’ is a good one to have in your locker, so you can politely let someone know you’re not following along. You can combine that with a lo siento, followed by No hablo español (I don’t speak Spanish). This way, you’re sure to avoid awkward silences when faced with a conversation you can’t understand.

And kings of Spanish phrases – Sí or No

Last, but not least, the best phrases to keep on hand are a simple yes and no.  Of course, it’s not nearly as easy as saying yes or no. The Spanish are said to have a multitude of ways of saying ‘yes’ – sin duda (without a doubt), dale (hit it) and claro (of course)

And, there you have it – a masterclass in useful Spanish phrases to jot down before your next visit to la España. These are our favorite phrases for travel, but you’ll likely have others you’d like to share with your fellow travelers. Our final bit of advice is to lean on technology. Translation apps may not be perfect, but they’re certainly better than nothing. Download Google Translate, iTranslate or TripLingo before your visit to Spain as a handy back-up.

Adiós por ahora!

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