Here at Brainscape we love learning new languages—and traveling! Our team has previously spent time living in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Panama, and Costa Rica, and we spent years working on the best way to learn Spanish until we got it all just right.
In the process, we've been able to condense some of the most important phrases into a quick guide for travelers who might not be as ready to dig into our comprehensive Spanish audio flashcards curriculum just yet. These should work in almost any country (and have been noted where there are variants). Have fun!
1. Where is the…? — ¿Dónde está el/la…?
Experts agree that knowing where things are is extremely important. But seriously, bathrooms (baños), hotels (hoteles), restaurants (restaurantes), and the Sagrada Família are all things you’ll likely be grateful to find during your stay in a Spanish-speaking country. Make sure you know how to ask where they are.
2. How much does it cost? — ¿Cuánto cuesta?
Presumably you’ll be buying things while you’re traveling, whether it’s lunch, souvenirs, or train tickets. If you make sure you’re also familiar with Spanish numbers and the current exchange rate of wherever you are, you’ll be set!
3. When do you open? — ¿A qué hora abre?
Depending on which Spanish-speaking country you’re in, the local culture may observe siestas—the native peoples' God-given, all-important right to an afternoon nap. This can be confusing for tourists who don’t plan their day properly, since they may end up unable to shop or eat when they want.
For example, in Spain, many shops and businesses close from approximately 2pm until 5pm, while bars and restaurants take the next siesta “shift” between 4pm and 8pm. We suggest that when in Rome—or rather, Barcelona, as the case may be—follow the locals’ lead and do as they do!
4. I would like the tamales, please. — Quisiera los tamales, por favor.
Once you’ve figured out what time dinner is being served, you’ll need to know how to ask for your food. You can say quisiera, like in the example above, or me gustaría, which means the same thing. Either way, remember to say Gracias to your server!
5. Can you speak more slowly, please? — Hable despacio, por favor.
Due to the wide variety of Spanish accents and dialects, there’s a good chance you may not understand what a native Spanish speaker is saying—especially if he or she is speaking quickly. For example, if you want a shot at understanding a Colombian accent when you are only familiar with Spain’s accent, you’ll probably have to ask your conversation partner to slow down.
6. I’m sorry, I don’t understand. — Lo siento, no entiendo.
No matter how much you prepare, communication issues will likely arise during your trip. This phrase will be useful for letting the server/taxi driver/police officer know that you didn’t understand everything they were saying.
7. Could you write it down, please? — ¿Me lo escribe, por favor?
If your ear for Spanish words and phrases isn’t great, but you’re more confident reading the language, you may wish to ask for written directions or instructions. If you think you may use this phrase, make sure to carry a notebook and pen with you!
8. Do you speak English? — ¿Hablas inglés? / ¿Habla usted inglés?
If all else fails, you might have to give up attempting to converse in Spanish in favor of finding someone who speaks English. The first translation given is informal, while the second is formal.
Learn Spanish better and faster
We hope these eight go-to Spanish phrases for travelers will serve you well in whatever Spanish-speaking country you visit. If you want to really speak and master Spanish, you’ll need to put some serious time and effort into the endeavor. But you don't need to do it alone.
Brainscape has created a complete guide to learning Spanish effectively on your own, including tips, tricks, and the ultimate list of resources. So, if you want to go above and beyond just memorizing a list of Spanish phrases, check it out and get on your way to speaking for yourself!