Spanish for Travel

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Of all the languages in the world, why learn Spanish?

If you’re reading this, we can safely assume you are one of approximately one billion people who speak English as a first or second language. That means you can speak to about one seventh of the world’s population. A second seventh could be covered if you were to learn Mandarin Chinese, and a third by learning Arabic and Spanish, both of which approximately half a billion people speak.

Spanish for travelling

Of these three languages, Spanish is undoubtedly the most accessible for English speakers, both linguistically and geographically. The Spanish tenses map well onto our English equivalents, and a good proportion – approximately 30% – of our vocabulary shares Latin roots with Spanish. This means you’ll begin to recognise many words from the very beginning. If the opportunity to open up this unexplored world of half a billion people is appealing to you, then read on. If not, you can always learn Danish, which is also a fascinating language...

Spanish for travel

If you live in the US you probably don’t have to travel very far in order to come into contact and practise your Spanish – there are over 50 million people who speak it as a native or second language, which makes the US the second biggest Spanish speaking country after Mexico. That’s right, more people speak Spanish in the US than in Spain! Ok, ok, maybe that sentence doesn’t deserve an exclamation mark – there are many more English speakers in the US than in England, after all. If you live in the UK, Spain and long evenings of tapas-fuelled joy are just a short budget-flight away. As an English speaker, it would seem to make sense to start packing a few Spanish words into your suitcase, but which ones should you begin with? The answer to that question all rather depends on your aim. That sounds obvious, but a lot of people don’t really consider it before diving headfirst into learning a language.

If you’re planning on learning Spanish to travel around South America for six months, a Spanish phrasebook isn’t really the ideal place to start. Yes, you’ll be presented with the most common Spanish words and sentences, but you won’t learn how to embed these phases within a conversation effectively – You’ll probably be able to greet people with a little more than hola, order a nice, salty portion of pimientos de padron, request a top-up of that delicious glass of vino tinto that you just made disappear, and perhaps even sort your izquierdas from your derechas to get from a to b, but that’ll be the limit of it. If you simply want to get by in Spanish, then scroll on down to our key survival Spanish phrases below. If you’re a little more ambitious, keep on reading. Still reading? Excellent. So, where’s the best place to start if you want to speak conversational Spanish by the time you take off?

Learning a good level of Spanish for travel: A few general tips

Identify the kind of media you enjoy in your native language. Do you like watching Netflix? Are you an avid music fan? Then why not switch over to Narcos or listen to some Gipsy Kings? You won’t understand much to begin with, but it’s very important to start to dedicate some time to immersing yourself in the language, listening passively to it, and, most importantly, enjoying it! You wouldn’t limit yourself to one source of information in your native language, so why do it in the Spanish language?! Of course, you’ll need to include some more serious study-time, but this needn’t be arduous. The introduction of language learning apps like Babbel offer you the opportunity to learn at your convenience, fitting short lessons into your undoubtedly hectic daily schedule while exposing you to all four of the core language skills: speaking, reading, writing and listening. Whenever you have a spare ten minutes between meetings or on the commute, you can whip out your phone and navigate your way through a lovingly tailored language course... and start dreaming of chatting away animatedly in Spanish to the locals in Buenos Aires, Quito, or Bogotá. If you do have the time to attend a Spanish course before or after work, it’s of course a great opportunity to practise your spoken Spanish with a native speaker and meet some likeminded individuals who may well also be learning Spanish for travel.

Learning a good level of Spanish for travel: A few more specific tips

So we’ve already discussed the how of learning Spanish, but not the what. Uh huh. And what exactly does that mean? Well, it’s certainly important to learn some common Spanish sentences, but if you want to start forming your own sentences, and not simply lift them directly from a Spanish phrasebook, then you should turn to the Spanish modal verbs. Modal verbs are wonderful, frequently-used verbs which express everything from possibility and probability to ability and necessity. Can you think of any of them in English? Can you? Can you? Can you? Enough of a hint. English modal verbs include must, should, can, might and may. If you learn the conjugations of these verbs and you learn some of the most important Spanish verbs like hacer (to do), ir (to go), comer (to eat), and beber (to drink), you can already start to form basic sentences and convey fairly complex sentiments like obligation and desire. Consider the following:

Spanish English
Quiero comer I want to eat
Puedo ir I can go

Not bad for about ten seconds of reading, right? And the negation of Spanish sentences is almost painfully simple. What’s that? You don’t want to eat? ¿No quieres comer? Ah, too bad. You can’t go? ¿No puedes ir? This is one of the techniques I’ve used to fast-track my learning progress in the past, and, incidentally, Babbel is perfectly designed to enable me to do so – You can adapt your learning path to jump directly to modal verbs or any other area of Spanish grammar or vocabulary. If you’re already travelling and are about to feel like you’re having trouble expressing your feelings to your new Bolivian friend, you can simply skip to the feelings and emotions course. You’ll be psychoanalysing one another like a Spanish Sigmund in no time!

Learning basic Spanish for your trip

If, on the other hand, you don’t want to be the next Don Quixote and you simply want to be able to be polite and get by, that’s also very commendable. English speakers have something of a reputation for opting for ever greater volume in their quest to be understood. This generally doesn’t result in a sudden epiphany on the part of the tortured conversation partner. Rather, it solidifies the stereotype and distances you from the local and his or her culture. Even if you make a clumsy attempt at an order in Spanish, it will be met with great appreciation. If, after a few days, you hone your delivery, it may even be met with… simple acquiescence. Can you imagine that? Seamless communication. Not the batter of an eyelash. You, my friend, are now a local. There are few things more satisfying that the sensation of being understood. This is magnified ten-fold in a new language.

So let’s take a look at common Spanish words and sentences that you’ll doubtless hear within a few minutes of stepping off the plane – these are the usual suspects you typically find lingering on the first few pages of your Spanish phrasebook.

The top 25 most useful Spanish phrases**

All these words and phrases are written with the informal ‘tú’ form. Native speakers will be fine with beginners using this form, but as you progress, you should start to pay attention to when to use the informal and formal forms.

Things to say when you meet or say goodbye to someone in Spanish

Spanish English
1. Hola Hello
2. Buenos días Good morning
3. Buenas tardes Good afternoon
4. Buenas noches Good night
5. Adiós Goodbye
6. Hasta luego See you later
7. Mucho gusto/Encantado Nice to meet you

Things to say when you don’t understand someone in Spanish

Spanish English
8. No entiendo (español) I don’t understand (Spanish)
9. Hablo inglés I speak English
10. ¿Hablas inglés? Do you speak English?
11. ¿Puedes hablar más despacio, por favor? Can you speak more slowly, please?

Things to say for simple exchanges in Spanish

Spanish English
12. ¿Cómo estás? How are you?
13. Estoy bien, gracias. ¿Y tú? I’m well, thank you. And you?
14. ¿Quieres salir esta noche? Do you want to go out tonight?
15. (Yo) quiero salir esta noche/(Yo) no quiero salir esta noche. I want to go out tonight/I don’t want to go out tonight.
16. ¿Cuánto cuesta?/¿Cuánto cuesta esto? How much is it?/How much is this?
17. Tienes ganas de tomar algo conmigo? Do you feel like going for a drink/food with me? (tomar algo – lit. to take something)
18. Tengo ganas de tomar algo contigo. I feel like going for a drink/food with you.
19. ¿Dónde estás?/¿Dónde está el baño?/¿Dónde está el banco? Where are you?/Where’s the bathroom?/Where’s the bank?
20. ¿A dónde quieres ir? (To) where do you want to go?
21. Necesito más tiempo/un billete/un médico. I need more time/a ticket/a doctor.
22. Tengo dinero./No tengo dinero. I have money./I don’t have money.
23. Puedes darme el menú, por favor? Can you give me the menu, please?
24. ¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta? Can I pay by (with) card?
25. No funciona. It doesn’t work.

Learn spanish with Babbel

So that’s it for starters, but there’s obviously a lot more to learn. Whether you want to learn a high level of Spanish for travel or are simply interested in picking up a few of the basics, Babbel provides a great way to make a strong start. Each lesson is focused on teaching practical, everyday conversations, with topics like introducing yourself and ordering food, which means you start speaking from the very first lessons.

Try it out here, and start speaking Spanish today.