So you’ve landed in Spain/South America/Mexico, and you’ve realised that people don’t speak quite as much English as you imagined. Have no fear! These essential Spanish phrases will help you get what you need, and will stop people laughing at you. They’re actually frequently used in every day conversation by millions of Spanish speakers world-wide.
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Greetings and pleasantries (feel free to skip!)
Everyone knows this. Don’t pronouce the “h”, and put more emphasis on the second syllable. Try not to sound too excited when you say it.
This has the advantage in that you can say it irrespective of morning, afternoon, or evening. As with hola, put more emphasis on the second syllable, and try to sound a little bit bored when you say it. The “b” is quite soft, pronounced somewhere between a “b” and a “w” – “wen-ass”.
Goodbye. As with “hola”, the “h” is not pronounced. In fact, Castilian Spanish speakers seem to gobble these words entirely, resulting in something like “at-a-lorgo”. Again, do not say with too much enthusiasm – the Spanish aren’t much for greetings.
Yes, it’s mis-spelled, and in fact not Spanish anyway. Unlike in England, you don’t need to be pretentious or wearing expensive shoes to say this, and it’s at least as common as “hasta luego”, and shorter and therefore easier to say. Use it!
Meaning, “please” and “thank you”. Here, the “v” is pronounced as a “b”, and the “c” of “gracias”, can be lisped, like “th” of “think”, or you can pronounce it as an “s”.
Either way, these two words are the most over-used by English people in Spain. Use them half as much as you would normally, and you’ll sound a bit more of a local.
Getting someone to do something
You can put together the following construction to build a phrase which is probably the most common way to ask for something. The literal translation sounds a little rude and abrupt in English – I remember feeling a little uncomfortable using it at first – but in Spanish it’s fine:
“Me” is pronounced “meh”, meaning “me”, obviously.
“Nos” is pronounced as you read it, meaning “us”.
Literally, this means “put”, but is used to say “bring” or as an equivalent to “can I have”.
Meaning “bring”, as an alternative to the above.
Meaning “take”, like “take me somewhere”.
Meaning “make”, like “make me a sandwich”.
Choose from the following items, depending on your situation:
“Cerveza” is pronounced “sir-bess-uh”. However, you may well need to be more specific. Check here for my guide to Spanish beer.
Pronounced “un-ah bott-eh-ya de been-oh”. “Red” is “tinto”, “white” is “blanco”.
Time to get the dictionary out! Or, check my guide to Spanish food. Remember though, that “menu” means “set menu”. If you say “me pones el menu”, you may well be ordering the set menu.
If you’re in a taxi, choose from some of the following useful “destinos”:
Pronounced “a la eh-stas-ee-yon”.
Pronounced “a eh-sta dee-rek-see-yon”. You probably want to show your map at this point.
Pronounced “al sen-tro”.
So, put all the above together and you’ve got a few combinations like these:
Literally: “Hello! You put us two beers!”
Meaning: “Hello! Can we have two beers”
It sounds weird translated, but it is correct!
Literally: Hi! You take me to this address, please”
Meaning: Hi! Can you take me to this address, please”
Literally: You bring me the menu, please.
Meaning: Can I have the menu, please.
To our sensitive English ears, these Spanish requests sound blunt and rude, but don’t be afraid to use them as they really are common-place. No waiter is going to slap you! But, whatever you do, please don’t use this literal translation:
What you’re asking is about your ability to obtain the menu, rather than a request for them to bring you one!
Asking about something:
“How much is it”
Here, you’re asking about the bill in total, or the price for something.
“Tienes” is for one person, and “tenéis” is plural. It means “do you have”.
Of course, you need to know the name of what you’re asking for, unless it’s beer or a bottle of wine! Here are a few common expressions to get you started:
“Tee-yen-es la or-ra?” “What time is it?”
Unless you can tell the time in Spanish, you may want to look at their watch/phone. Better yet, get your own!
You shouldn’t smoke, and if you do you should get your own cigarettes. However, a lot of people will ask you if you have one, so it’s good to be aware! If you have one, they’re then likely to ask you:
If you have neither cigarette nor lighter, then you may be asked for money. At this point, it’s probably better to reply in English.