It doesn't take much to be understood in Spanish—the folks who speak it in Latin America and Europe are forgiving of errors and very helpful. A combination of sometimes silly pantomime and Spanish basic words and phrases are what you need most to travel in a Spanish-speaking country. "Please"and "thank you" go a long way, and a phrasebook is a big help.
If you only learn one phrase in Spanish before your trip, make it be how to say "hello." Locals will always appreciate your making the effort to speak their language, so learn how to greet them in Spanish.
Here are the basic greetings:
- Hello: hola (oh-lah)
- Good morning: Buenos días (bway-nos dee-ahs)
- Good afternoon: Buenas tardes (bway-nahs tar-des)
- Good evening: Buenas noches (bway-nahs noh-chess)
- How are you?: ¿Cómo está? (coh-moh es-tah)
- Good, thank you: Bien, gracias (bee-ehn, grah-see-ahs)
- Can you speak English?: ¿Habla inglés? (hah-blah een-glays)?
Asking for Directions
As a traveler, some of the most common phrases you can expect to use have to do with directions. You might need to ask someone where your hotel is, where the restroom is, or where you can get a meal. And, of course, you'll need to be able to understand their response, too.
- Where is...?: ¿Dónde está...? (DHOHN-dheh ehs-TAH)
- Where is a restaurant?: ¿Dónde hay un restaurante? (Dhohn-dheh eye oon rest-ore-rahn-tay)?
- Where is the restroom? ¿Dónde está el baño? (Dhohn-dheh ehs-tah el ban-yo)?
- How far?: ¿A que distancia? (Ah kay dhees-Tan-syah)
- Right: A la derecha (Ah lah dey-ray-chah)
- Left: A la izquierda (Ah lah eez-key-ayr-dah)
- Ahead: Derecho (De-rey-choh)
- Can you help me?: ¿Puede ayudarme? (PWEH-dhe ah-yoo-dh-AHR-meh)
- Please: Por favor (por fav-ore)
- Thank you: Gracias (gra-see-uhs)
Eating in a Restaurant
When you're not asking locals for directions, you'll most likely be asking them for food and drinks in restaurants.
You should be aware that often the best food on offer comes from the places that don't have English menus for tourists. Learn the restaurant basics and you'll be all set to handle eating out in a foreign country.
- How much is it?: ¿Cuanto cuesta? (KWAHN-toh KWEH-stah)
- The bill, please: La cuente, por favor (Lah KWEHN-tah, por-fav-ore)
That was delicious: Estuvo delicioso (est-ooh-vo del-ish-ee-oh-so)
I am vegetarian: Soy vegetariano/a (soy veg-et-air-ee-an-oh/ah)
A table: Una mesa (oona me-sah)
A menu: Un menú (oon mey-noo)
A drink: Una bebida (oon-ah beh-beed-ah)
- Beer: Cerveza (ser-vay-sah)
- Red or white wine: Vino tinto or blanco (vee-noh teen-toh or blahn-coh)
- Water: Agua (ahg-wah)
- A coffee: Un café (uhn cah-fey)
- Sandwich: Torta (tore-tah)
- Burger: Hamburguesa (ham-burg-ess-ah)
- Chicken: Pollo (poy-oh)
- Spicy: Picante (pick-ant-ay)
Knowing More Than the Basics
If you want to get to know Spanish beyond the basics, there are plenty of phrasebooks, online guides, and apps that are designed to get you conversational within a few months. Here are some of the best options:
- Lonely Planet Spanish Phrasebook and Dictionary
- Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish Phrasebook
Easy Spanish Phrase Book New Edition: Over 700 Phrases for Everyday Use
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.