25 Essential Spanish Words And Phrases You Should Know Before Traveling In Latin

Learn the essential words and phrases that you need to enjoy your trip to Latin America.

When traveling in Latin America, it is helpful to know at least a little bit of the language. You will find that most people will respond to you better if you at least attempt to speak their language, even if you butcher it a bit. A little laughter and humility never hurt anyone, and your efforts will go a long way towards goodwill, as well as making your basic needs known. In addition to the words and phrases offered here, don't forget that you can also rely on pantomime, which adds a fun dimension to conversation, especially among the people of Latin America, who can be very physically expressive. Included with the words are the basic pronunciations, done in a more user-friendly way than those icky little phonetic markings that are found in most dictionaries. Say the letter "s" out loud when using them. However, your language will still sound a bit stiff unless you take the time to listen to the words. You can easily find programs on the Internet that will helpfully provide you with audio clips of the correct pronunciation.

1. Hola, como estas? (Ola, coe moe s tas?) Hello, how are you? This phrase is a nice one to know, even if you don't speak another word of Spanish. It is a social nicety, and shows people that you are willing to initiate transactions and conversations in their native language, even if you can't follow through. That's okay.

2. Bien, gracias. (bee in, grah see us) Fine, thank you. The response to the previous question. Also, gracias is a pleasantry that you will use over and over. Generally speaking, the peoples of Latin American conform more to social niceties than do North Americans in recent years. It is pleasant to hear these words, again and again.

3. Comida. (coe meeda) This means food.

4. Aqua. (ah gua) Water is a good word to know. Always make sure that you get it in a bottle so that you avoid pathogens that can live in the tap water.

5. Cerveza. (sir baysa) You can drink top quality beer at rock bottom prices in many Latin American countries.

6. Por favor. (poor favv or) Please. Used at the end of sentences, as in "Mas aqua, por favor."

7. Mas despacio, por favor. (mahs day spah cio) Please speak more slowly. This is one of the phrases that comes in particularly handy if you are trying to have a conversation with someone as opposed to saying a word or two and pointing. Spanish is a rapid-fire language that can take new speakers by surprise. Of, course, I'm sure that English sounds the same when the situation is reversed.

8. De donde eres? (day doen day air s)This means "Where are you from?" You will probably be asked this a lot. If you ask it, it is a nice way of showing interest while being able to understand the answer, which will usually simply be the name of a city. In Mexico, if someone answers, "Mexico," instead of thinking, "Duh!" keep in mind that in Mexico, if someone says they are from Mexico, they mean that they are from Mexico City. Mexico City is also sometimes referred to as D.F. (day effay).

9. Hotel. This one is easy, because it is the same in Spanish. Just remember that the h is silent. (otel)

10. Restaurante. (rest au ron tay) This one is also easy to remember. These words are called cognates, the term for words that have great similarities from one language to the next.

11. Embarazado. (em bar ah sa doe) This is perhaps one of the most common and embarrassing mistakes that English speakers make when dealing with cognates. Doesn't it look very similar to the word the word embarrassed? It certainly sounds similar. Don't use this word to try to indicate humiliation. You will be informing your conversational partner that you are pregnant. The word for embarrassed is avergonzado. ( ah bare gone zado) If you use embarazado the wrong way, you will be quite avergonado.

12. El bano. (ell bon yo) This is the word for the bathroom, which may come in quite handy at some point.

13. Cuanto cuesto? (quan toe ques toe) How much does it cost? This phrase assumes that you know the numbers from one to ten in Spanish. If someone rattles off a complicated number, try holding up your fingers with a questioning look on your face, or get out a pencil and paper for some serious bargaining.

14. Como te llama? (coe mo tay yama) What is your name? This is an easy one to ask and to answer. Generally, it is a casual question, meaning your first name.

15. Me llama es _________. (may yama s _______) My name is (insert name here).

16. Mucho gusto. (moo cho goose toe) Nice to meet you. Usually said while shaking hands. Don't forget to say "aidios," (i dee oos) which means "goodbye" when you leave.

17. Bueno? (boo ay no) This word usually means "good," but in this case, it is how many people answer their phones. Good luck figuring out what to say when the phone is answered! It can be difficult for those without strong Spanish skills to get a point across without the benefit of pantomime, but it never hurts to try.

18. Te quiero. (tay key err o) When uttered by a casual acquaintance, these words mean, "I find you to be very attractive," or literally, "I want you." It is also used as a term of endearment for those who are in love, although a serious expression of love is "Te amo." (tay amo) Of course, as in any country, you may encounter individuals who say it but don't mean it.

19. Quiero. (key err o) This verb means "I want." It is a very useful word, as it can be used in all sorts of situations. For example, at the restaurant, you can say, "Quiero aqua, por favor." At the market, you can say, "Quiero dos limones, por favor." Guess what "limones" means. If you guessed lemons, then you were close. It means limes.

20. Ayudame. (ah you da mey) This phrase means, "Help me." If you look at the end of the word, you will see "me" neatly attached. This is a handy phrase to know if you are in trouble of any kind.

21. Dolor. (doe lore) Pain. Most Latin American countries have pharmacies where the pharmacist will helpfully point you to the medication that you need. With this word, you can say it and point to your head, stomach, or wherever the pain is, and the pharmacist will most likely catch on, with a little bit of pantomiming. Of course, you want to make sure that you are getting medicine for a simple headache or stomachache, so for safety's sake it never hurts to double-check with someone else to make sure that you are being understood.

22. Habla Espanol? (a blah s pan yol) Do you speak Spanish? Many people will ask you this question, unless you have already made an attempt, and then they will simply smile and be very sweet to you.

23. Un poco. (oon poko) A little. You may even want to add the word "muy" (moo ee), which means "very." Muy pocito. (moo ee poke ee toe) How much is "only a little" can be difficult to quantify, so if someone starts to go on a bit, and you don't understand, simply shake your head.

24. Si. (see) Yes. Simple enough.

25. No. (no) No. Even simpler!

Enjoy your trip to Latin American. Most likely, your favorite part of your trip will be your interactions with its people, and the more Spanish you can become comfortable using, the more fun you will have. Remember, everyone who is learning a new language makes mistakes, and with the right attitude, that will be part of the fun!

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