12 of the most useful Spanish phrases to learn before your trip to Spain

Happy as a worm, donkeys talking about ears and throwing dogs at someone – the Spanish have a peculiar way with words. Thankfully a visit to Spain may not entail having to navigate their colourful idioms, but you’ll be happy to master these useful Spanish phrases to set the tone for a bueno vacation.  

¡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.

¿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 this if your new acquaintance begins to ramble in Spanish. 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 it simply precedes you pointing at something you’d like or need.

¿Dónde está?

Pointing on a map - useful spanish phrases

Similarly, these two words meaning “where is…?” could also precede a place, person or thing you’re looking for.  Particularly useful when you’re out and about will be the addition of  “…el baño” (the bathroom) at the end.

Estoy perdido

One could argue part of the magic of travel is getting a little lost, but if you’re feeling particularly insecure, confessing “I am lost” is one of those useful Spanish phrases you should know off-hand. Make sure you have the name of your hotel on hand so that your Spanish host can put you on the right path.

Tengo alergia… 

This phrase – “I have an allergy” – can quite literally save your life if you have a particularly virulent allergy that should be avoided at all costs. If all else fails, have the allergy written in Spanish on your phone or on a card so you can present it.

¿Cuánto cuesta?

Shopping for clothes

For those shopaholics in search of some serious retail therapy during their visit to Spain, this is another of the useful Spanish phrases (“how much is it?”) to find out how much something costs – again likely preceded by you pointing at your desired purchase.

Knowing your left from your right

Step aside Siri, you can always trust a Spaniard to set you on the right path. The trick is knowing your left from your right, however. 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.

¿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 “can you help me?” or “I need help” (necesito ayuda).

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). If all else fails, the universal shaking of the head up and down denoting yes, or left and right, denoting no, will do the trick.

And, there you have it – a masterclass in useful Spanish phrases to jot down before your next visit to la España. These are our favourite phrases for travel, but you’ll likely have others you’d like to share with your fellow travellers. 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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