10 Spanish Words or Phrases You Should Learn Before Traveling

learn-spanishYou’ve decided you are going to South America for the first time and would love to see everything and experience the most you can. Maybe eat some delicious food and meet some locals to hang out with…but there’s just one small inconvenience: you don’t speak a word of Spanish.

Fear not! I’m here to save your day. Or, at least give you some basic Spanish words and phrases you should learn before traveling that will help you get around more easily. Remember, visiting another country means you are visiting someone else’s home, so you want to try to be polite and respectful of where you are, without looking like a total gringo*.

The ones you should learn:

  1. Yes, please! >> No, thank you!
    Sí, por favor! >> No, gracias!
    Always say ‘the magic words’ if you are accepting something or not. It’s better to be extra polite than to be seen as rude.
  2. How Much?
    Cuánto cuesta?
    This is an easy one and probably very helpful if you want to learn more about the object you are looking at.
  3. Why so expensive?
    Por qué tan caro?

    Ah, now you want to bargain the price, which is totally acceptable if you’re buying anything in the streets. At least make it sound like you know you’ve been charged more for being a visitor (it happens).
  4. Nice to meet you!
Mucho gusto!

    When you are introduced to someone, give a handshake and add “mucho gusto.” If the person is more friendly, you can go for the hug, but that’s not always the case (and I’m a hugger!).
  5. My name is (…) – What’s your name?
    Me llamo (…) – cómo te llamas?

    There are many variations on how you can ask someone’s name, but this is the most standard one.
  6. I don’t understand.
    No entiendo.
    This is going to be your #1 phrase, so learn it well and use it as many times as you want with a charming smile. You’ll be taken care of.
  7. I don’t speak Spanish.
    No hablo español.

    Simple, clear. If the other person doesn’t speak English, then you two better start finding translators.
  8. I don’t know.
    No se.
  9. I’m hungry!
    Tengo hambre.
  10. Where is the bathroom? // Can I use the bathroom?
    Dónde está el baño? // Puedo user el baño?
    Classic. When you need to go, you need to go.

Bonus for the gents:

11.  You are so pretty.
      Eres muy linda.

Bonus for the ladies:

12. I’m not interested.
      No estoy interesada, gracias. 

The ones you should understand (or at least recognize):

  • Abierto >> Open
  • Cerrado >> Closed
  • Prohíbido Estacionar >> No Parking
  • Libre >> Vacant/ Free
  • Empuje >> Push
  • Tire >> Pull
  • Damas >> Ladies
  • Caballeros >> Gentlemen
  • Salida >> Exit
  • Privado >> Private/ No entry

* In Colombia, when we use the expression “looking like a gringo” (pareces gringo), it means you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Do you have more phrases that have helped you move around? Share them with us!


Joanna Riquett
Joanna Riquett

Joanna is the founder and Editor-In-Chief of Hayo Magazine. She's an award-winning publisher and editor, community builder, and designer of experiential content focused on combating apathy, misinformation, and lack of education about Climate Change and what is happening on our planet today.

Post your Comments