“Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco. This seems simple enough.” So, I assumed I would be all fluent in Spanish once I was done with my lessons. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My trip to Spain was looming and my grasp of the language was still woeful. Yes, I could greet someone and order some food, but everything else was a bit of a blur. It seemed like my ever-present struggle with language was rearing its ugly head again.
So, before I started panicking, I decided to re-learn the necessary terms and phrases that might help me get through Spain without insulting her language and her beautiful people. Here are some of the more helpful phrases that worked for me.
¡Hola! Buenos días – Hello. Good morning!
The Spaniards are generally very friendly folk, but say this with gusto (and a warm smile) and I assure you things will be a whole lot smoother for you. Even if you can’t continue in Spanish, the people you talk to will be ok with that. Honestly, it’s just good ol’ common courtesy.
¿Qué tal? or ¿Como estas? – How are you?
Muy bien, gracias – Good, thank you
This simple exchange can be used with anyone – the waiter that serves you breakfast every morning, the lady who cleans your room or even the old man that plays the accordion at a street corner. It’s nice to be asked how you’re doing, so why not return the gesture when you travel. And who knows, you might just get a yummy orange juice on the house. It happened to me in Seville!
Lo siento – I’m sorry
Perdone, señor/a – Excuse me, sir/madam
“No tocar! No tocar!” said a man rather sternly as he pointed at the peach I picked up. I honestly didn’t know I couldn’t pick it up, let alone touch it. Don’t we normally pick up the fruit we intend to purchase? Anyway, instead of picking a fight with him, I simply said “Lo siento, señor” and walked away. Problem averted!
“Perdone” was of great help when stopping someone in the middle of the street to ask for directions. Add in a “I am completely lost” look and you are good to go.
No se hablo español – I do not know how to speak Spanish
Se hablo español un poquito/un poco – I know how to speak Spanish a little bit
When a friendly old man on the overnight train to Valencia thought I could speak Spanish, I quickly resorted to the second phrase here to help me out. He was tickled by my usage of “un poquito” for some reason, but he happily accepted my linguistic limitations and pointed at his non-reclining seat. With some demonstration and sign language on my part, he got it to work. Bless!
¡Gracias! or ¡Muchas gracias! – Thank you or thank you very much
As you all know, in any culture and in any part of the world, “thank you” is such an important phrase. Not only is it polite, but it is also an important gesture of gratitude. If none of the other phrases work out for you, stick to this. It will be much appreciated.
I do hope these basic phrases will help you out on your next trip to Spain or even other Spanish-speaking countries. Once I stopped panicking and started using these phrases more, I started to enjoy my time in Spain. Even the little laughs or quizzical looks I got from people made things all that more fun.
Go on! Give it a try. Remember, if all else fails – just smile. Nothing warms the heart more than that. Adiós, amigos!