Survival Spanish 101

Making Friends - Survival Spanish

When you set out to visit Latin America, having some knowledge of the Spanish language can be incredibly helpful. My first solo trip was in Peru and while it was a great trip overall, I found it frustrating to not be able to express myself and communicate with the locals in a way that I could have if I knew the language, even if it’s just some survival spanish words to get me by.

That said, I’m laying out all the basics that you need to communicate sufficiently when traveling to South America.

Need to Learn Fast?

Survival Spanish 101 -

I remembered feeling very frustrated after being consistently misunderstood at a mercado in Cusco, Peru. What made me feel comfortable and confident was a week-long Spanish class at Qente Spanish School. A bonus is that Karem, the owner, paired me up with my host family that made my stay in Cusco more memorable. They offer both in-person and online classes!

Latin America is a place of diverse cultures and breathtaking sights, and Spanish is the language that connects it all. Whether you’re hiking the Andes in Peru, strolling through vibrant markets in Mexico, or dancing to the beats of Cuba, speaking even a little Spanish can make your time more enjoyable. Learning Spanish doesn’t have to be overwhelming; by focusing on essential phrases and key language skills, you can begin your language adventure and enjoy a more immersive experience in Latin America.

Shall we get started?

Basics and Greetings

From the friendly “Hola” to the warm “Adiós,” these survival spanish phrases are more than niceties; they’ll help you get a good first impression with new friends.

Structure:

  1. Common Greetings:
    • “Hola” – Hello
    • “Adiós” – Goodbye
    • “Buenos días” – Good morning
    • “Buenas tardes” – Good afternoon
    • “Buenas noches” – Good evening/Good night

💡 In many Spanish-speaking countries, it’s customary to greet with a kiss on the cheek, especially among friends and family. Additionally, addressing someone with their title and last name (e.g., “Señor Pérez”) is a sign of respect in formal situations.

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” (Hello, how are you?)
  • Example 2: “Adiós, nos vemos mañana.” (Goodbye, see you tomorrow.)
  • Example 3: “Buenas noches, ¿puedo ayudarte?” (Good evening, can I help you?)
  • Example 4: Qué tal?” – How are you?
  • Example 5: “¡Claro!” – Of course!
  • Example 6: “¡Buena suerte!” – Good luck!

Introducing Yourself

Want to rock survival Spanish? Start with the cool move of introducing yourself. Saying “Me llamo [Your Name]” isn’t just about names; it’s your way to break the ice with the Latin American crowd.

Structure:

  1. Self-Introduction:
    • “Me llamo [Your Name]” – My name is [Your Name].

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Me llamo María. Soy de España.” (My name is María. I am from Spain.)
  • Example 2: “Me llamo John. ¿Y tú?” (My name is John. And you?)

Definite Articles, Personal Pronouns, and Basic Verbs

Getting into the groove of survival Spanish means stringing out phrases like “El coche” (The car) or “Yo hablo español” (I speak Spanish). From there, you’ll make your way to more complex sentences and phrases.

Structure:

  1. Definite Articles (Artículos de Determinados):
    • “El” – The (masculine singular)
    • “La” – The (feminine singular)
    • “Los” – The (masculine plural)
    • “Las” – The (feminine plural)

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “El coche” (The car)
  • Example 2: “La casa” (The house)
  • Example 3: “Los niños” (The boys)
  • Example 4: “Las niñas” (The girls)
  1. Personal Pronouns (Pronombres Personales):
    • “Yo” – I
    • “Tú” – You (informal)
    • “Usted” – You (formal)
    • “Nosotros/Nosotras” – We
    • “Ellos/Ellas” – They

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Yo hablo español.” (I speak Spanish.)
  • Example 2: “Tú eres mi amigo.” (You are my friend.)
  • Example 3: “Usted es muy amable.” (You are very kind.)
  • Example 4: “Nosotros vamos al parque.” (We are going to the park.)
  • Example 5: “Ellos estudian juntos.” (They study together.)
  1. Basic Verbs:
    • “Ser” – To be
    • “Llamar” – To call
    • “Soy” – I am
    • “Eres” – You are (informal)
    • “Es” – He/She/It is

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Soy un estudiante.” (I am a student.)
  • Example 2: “Llamo a mi madre todos los días.” (I call my mother every day.)
  • Example 3: “Eres muy inteligente.” (You are very intelligent.)
  • Example 4: “Ella es doctora.” (She is a doctor.)

These example sentences illustrate the use of each language element, making it easier to understand their practical application in real conversations.

Numbers

Knowing your numbers means you can count, tell time, and even haggle like a pro in the mercado. Uno to diez will be your survival spanish numbers, but we’ll expand that vocabulary later.

Structure:

  1. Numbers from 1 to 10:
    • “Uno” – 1
    • “Dos” – 2
    • “Tres” – 3
    • “Cuatro” – 4
    • “Cinco” – 5
    • “Seis” – 6
    • “Siete” – 7
    • “Ocho” – 8
    • “Nueve” – 9
    • “Diez” – 10

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Tengo uno perro.” (I have one dog.)
  • Example 2: “Dos hermanos” (Two brothers)
  • Example 3: “Cinco manzanas, por favor.” (Five apples, please)

Basic Phrases

From a simple “Sí” (Yes) to a cheeky “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?), these phrases will help you get you what you need done from ordering tacos to finding the nearest beach.

Structure:

  1. Basic Phrases:
    • “Sí” – Yes
    • “No” – No
    • “¿Cómo estás?” – How are you?
    • “Estoy bien” – I am fine

💡 Informal language and slang can vary significantly across regions. In Spain, it’s common to use “Vale” as a casual way of saying “Okay,” while in Mexico, “Chido” is a slang term for something cool.

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “¿Quieres café?” – “Sí, por favor.” (Do you want coffee? – Yes, please.)
  • Example 2: “¿Tienes hambre?” – “No, gracias.” (Are you hungry? – No, thank you.)
  • Example 3: “¿Cómo estás hoy?” – “Estoy bien, gracias.” (How are you today? – I am fine, thank you.)

Survival Spanish Words

Think of survival Spanish words as your go-to phrases like “Por favor” (Please) and “Lo siento” (I’m sorry). These will help you smoothly surf through everyday situations and come out sounding like a local (maybe not immediately but practice makes perfect).

Structure:

  1. Survival Words:
    • “Sí” – Yes
    • “No” – No
    • “Por favor” – Please
    • “Gracias” – Thank you
    • “Lo siento” – I’m sorry

💡 In Mexico and some other countries, “¡Orale!” is an expression of enthusiasm or encouragement.

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Sí, quiero un café.” (Yes, I want a coffee.)
  • Example 2: “No, gracias.” (No, thank you.)
  • Example 3: “Por favor, ayúdame.” (Please, help me.)
  • Example 4: “Lo siento, llegué tarde.” (I’m sorry, I arrived late.)

Forming Simple Sentences

A while ago, you were just stringing phrases together. Now is the time to turn those phrases into sentences. Let’s start forming simple spanish sentences to help you get your point across.

Structure:

  1. Basic Sentence Structure:
    • Subject – Verb – Object

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Yo como pizza.” (I eat pizza.)
  • Example 2: “Ella lee libros.” (She reads books.)
  • Example 3: “El perro ladra.” (The dog barks.)

Common Questions

Questions like “¿Dónde está el baño?” (Where’s the bathroom?) or “¿Cuánto cuesta?” (How much does it cost?) are lifesaver phrases in a lot of situations (especially if you badly need to go to a bathroom) so don’t underestimate your knowledge of these survival spanish questions.

Structure:

  1. Common Questions:
    • “¿Dónde está el baño?” – Where is the bathroom?
    • “¿Cuánto cuesta?” – How much does it cost?
    • “¿Qué hora es?” – What time is it?
    • “¿Cómo llego a [place]?” – How do I get to [place]?
    • “¿Puedes ayudarme?” – Can you help me?

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “¿Dónde está el restaurante?” (Where is the restaurant?)
  • Example 2: “¿Cuánto cuesta este libro?” (How much does this book cost?)
  • Example 3: “¿Qué hora es?” (What time is it?)
  • Example 4: “¿Cómo llego al museo?” (How do I get to the museum?)
  • Example 5: “¿Puedes ayudarme con esta maleta?” (Can you help me with this suitcase?)

Expressing Preferences

Saying “Me gusta” (I like) or “No me gusta” (I don’t like) will most likely be 20% of what you’ll use in the first few months of consistently speaking Spanish. But that’s not a bad start! Expressing your preferences will be important to help you share your opinion.

Structure:

  1. Expressing Preferences:
    • “Me gusta” – I like
    • “No me gusta” – I don’t like
    • “Prefiero” – I prefer
    • “Quiero” – I want
    • “Odio” – I hate

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Me gusta el café.” (I like coffee.)
  • Example 2: “No me gusta el brócoli.” (I don’t like broccoli.)
  • Example 3: “Prefiero el coche rojo.” (I prefer the red car.)
  • Example 4: “Quiero pizza para la cena.” (I want pizza for dinner.)
  • Example 5: “Odio los lunes.” (I hate Mondays.)

Food-Related Words

Learning foodie survival Spanish words like “Comida” (Food) and “Café” (Coffee) is like unlocking the menu to a whole Latin American feast, from street tacos to café con leche mornings.

Structure:

  1. Food-Related Words:
    • “Comida” – Food
    • “Café” – Coffee
    • “Pan” – Bread
    • “Cerveza” – Beer

💡 In many Latin American countries, “buen provecho” is a polite way to wish someone a good meal before they start eating. Using this phrase shows respect for local customs and traditions

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Me gusta la comida mexicana.” (I like Mexican food.)
  • Example 2: “Un café por favor.” (A coffee, please.)
  • Example 3: “Compré pan fresco.” (I bought fresh bread.)
  • Example 4: “Una cerveza fría en verano es genial.” (A cold beer in the summer is great.)

Ordering in a Restaurant

Avoid getting the wrong dish by at least learning the basic survival phrases like “Quiero [dish]” (I want [dish]) to order from a restaurant.

Structure:

  1. Ordering Phrases:
    • “Quiero [dish]” – I want [dish]
    • “La cuenta, por favor” – The bill, please
    • “¿Tienen menú en inglés?” – Do you have an English menu?
    • “Una mesa para dos, por favor” – A table for two, please

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Quiero una pizza margarita.” (I want a Margherita pizza.)
  • Example 2: “La cuenta, por favor.” (The bill, please.)
  • Example 3: “¿Tienen menú en inglés?” (Do you have an English menu?)
  • Example 4: “Una mesa para dos, por favor.” (A table for two, please.)

💡 To express your appreciation for food that is served to you, you can simply say “Muy rico!” which translates to food so rich with flavour. Such compliments go a long way and will earn you better service.

Shopping

Saying “Comprar” (To buy) and “Precio” (Price) will be your ticket to bargaining, scoring souvenirs, and getting through the mercado maze like a pro.

survival spanish - cerrado

Structure:

  1. Shopping Vocabulary:
    • “Comprar” – To buy
    • “Vender” – To sell
    • “Precio” – Price
    • “Dinero” – Money
    • “Tienda” – Store

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Voy a comprar ropa nueva.” (I’m going to buy new clothes.)
  • Example 2: “El precio es negociable.” (The price is negotiable.)
  • Example 3: “Necesito dinero en efectivo.” (I need cash.)
  • Example 4: “La tienda está cerrada.” (The store is closed.)
  • Example 5: ¿Cuánto cuesta?” (How much does it cost?)

The Five W’s plus How (What, Where, Why, Who, When, and How)

It’s normal to not know everything in a new place, so knowing how to ask using the five W’s will be helpful in your day-to-day errands and adventures.

Structure:

  1. The Five W’s:
    • “Qué” – What
    • “Dónde” – Where
    • “Por qué” – Why
    • “Quién” – Who
    • “Cuándo” – When
    • “Cómo” – How

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “¿Qué haces?” (What are you doing?)
  • Example 2: “¿Dónde está el parque?” (Where is the park?)
  • Example 3: “¿Por qué llegaste tarde?” (Why did you arrive late?)
  • Example 4: “¿Quién es tu amigo?” (Who is your friend?)
  • Example 5: “¿Cuándo vamos al cine?” (When are we going to the cinema?)
  • Example 6: “¿Cómo llego a la estación de tren?” (How do I get to the train station?)

Travel

Add spice to your vocabulary by adding words like Viajar” (To travel) and “Hotel” (Hotel) when describing your sweet digs and Latin American adventures to friends back home.

Structure:

  1. Travel Vocabulary:
    • “Viajar” – To travel
    • “Aeropuerto” – Airport
    • “Estación de tren” – Train station
    • “Autobús” – Bus
    • “Hotel” – Hotel

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Me encanta viajar a lugares nuevos.” (I love traveling to new places.)
  • Example 2: “El aeropuerto está lejos de aquí.” (The airport is far from here.)
  • Example 3: “La estación de tren es fácil de encontrar.” (The train station is easy to find.)
  • Example 4: “Tomar el autobús es conveniente.” (Taking the bus is convenient.)
  • Example 5: “Nos alojaremos en un hotel bonito.” (We will stay in a nice hotel.)

Directions

Learning words and phrases like like “¿Cómo llego a…?” (How do I get to…?) and “Gire a la izquierda” (Turn left) will get you to hidden gems and offbeat discoveries that only locals know.

survival spanish - stop sign

Structure:

  1. Giving and Asking for Directions:
    • “¿Cómo llego a…?” – How do I get to…?
    • “Gire a la izquierda” – Turn left
    • “Gire a la derecha” – Turn right
    • “Siga todo recto” – Go straight ahead
    • “Está cerca/lejos” – It’s near/far
    • “En la esquina” – At the corner

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “¿Cómo llego a la estación de tren?” (How do I get to the train station?)
  • Example 2: “Gire a la izquierda en la siguiente calle.” (Turn left on the next street.)
  • Example 3: “Siga todo recto hasta el semáforo.” (Go straight ahead to the traffic light.)
  • Example 4: “El supermercado está cerca de aquí.” (The supermarket is near here.)
  • Example 5: “La tienda está en la esquina.” (The store is at the corner.)

More Advanced Numbers

In the survival Spanish game, leveling up means rocking numbers beyond the basics – it’s like achieving the high score in the real world. Numbers like “Veinte” (20) and “Cien” (100) turn you into a numeric ninja, handling everything from counting cervezas to catching buses with style.

💡 If there’s anything that you should really learn, it should be your numbers. It is essential when buying or bargaining at the local market or navigating public transportation schedules

Structure:

  1. Numbers from 11 to 20:
    • “Once” – 11
    • “Doce” – 12
    • “Trece” – 13
    • “Catorce” – 14
    • “Quince” – 15
    • “Dieciséis” – 16
    • “Diecisiete” – 17
    • “Dieciocho” – 18
    • “Diecinueve” – 19
    • “Veinte” – 20
    • “Treinta” – 30
    • “Cuarenta” – 40
    • “Cincuenta” – 50
    • “Sesenta” – 60
    • “Setenta” – 70
    • “Ochenta” – 80
    • “Noventa” – 90
    • “Cien” – 100

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Tengo quince años.” (I am fifteen years old.)
  • Example 2: “La reunión es a las dieciséis horas.” (The meeting is at sixteen o’clock.)
  • Example 3: “Necesito cuarenta dólares.” (I need forty dollars.)
  • Example 4: “Vamos a la tienda a las tres y media.” (We’re going to the store at three-thirty.)
Survival Spanish 101 -

Time

If you can count in Spanish, the next big leap is learning your time in Spanish.

💡 It’s common to use the 24-hour clock in South America, so “15:00” is used instead of “3:00 PM.” Be aware of this when talking about travel times and appointments.

Structure:

  1. Telling Time:
    • “La hora” – The time
    • “Es la una” – It’s one o’clock
    • “Son las dos” – It’s two o’clock
    • “y” – and
    • “media” – half (30 minutes)
    • “cuarto” – quarter (15 minutes)

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “¿Qué hora es?” (What time is it?)
  • Example 2: “Es la una y cuarto.” (It’s one fifteen.)
  • Example 3: “Son las dos y media.” (It’s two thirty.)
  • Example 4: “La cita es a las tres y cuarto.” (The appointment is at three fifteen.)

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Survival Spanish 101 -

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Emergencies and Health

In any foreign country, understanding how to handle emergencies and navigate health-related situations is of utmost importance.. These language skills provide a safety net in unforeseen situations, making your travel experience in Spanish-speaking regions more secure and less stressful.

Structure:

  1. Emergency Vocabulary:
    • “Ayuda” – Help
    • “Emergencia” – Emergency
    • “Médico” – Doctor
    • “Hospital” – Hospital
    • “Dolor” – Pain

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “¡Ayuda, por favor!” (Help, please!)
  • Example 2: “Llame a una ambulancia, es una emergencia.” (Call an ambulance, it’s an emergency.)
  • Example 3: “Necesito ver a un médico.” (I need to see a doctor.)
  • Example 4: “Vamos al hospital.” (Let’s go to the hospital.)
  • Example 5: “Tengo dolor de cabeza.” (I have a headache.)

Weather

Weather is usually among the first few things people chat about when making small talk, so learning some common words related to weather can be helpful in engaging in casual conversations with locals about the climate.

Survival Spanish 101 -

Structure:

  1. Weather Vocabulary:
    • “Clima” – Weather
    • “Soleado” – Sunny
    • “Lluvioso” – Rainy
    • “Nublado” – Cloudy
    • “Viento” – Wind
    • “Frío” – Cold
    • “Calor” – Hot

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “El clima hoy es soleado y cálido.” (The weather today is sunny and warm.)
  • Example 2: “Va a llover mañana, lleva tu paraguas.” (It’s going to rain tomorrow, take your umbrella.)
  • Example 3: “Hace mucho viento en la playa.” (It’s very windy at the beach.)
  • Example 4: “En invierno, hace frío y nieva.” (In winter, it’s cold and snowy.)

Family

Let’s say you’ve made some local friends, you probably want to know them better, no? What better way to start that by asking how their fam is?

Structure:

  1. Family Vocabulary:
    • “Familia” – Family
    • “Padres” – Parents
    • “Hermano” – Brother
    • “Hermana” – Sister
    • “Hijo” – Son
    • “Hija” – Daughter

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Mi familia es muy unida.” (My family is very close-knit.)
  • Example 2: “Tengo dos hermanos y una hermana.” (I have two brothers and one sister.)
  • Example 3: “Mi hijo se llama Juan.” (My son’s name is Juan.)
  • Example 4: “Mi hija mayor estudia medicina.” (My older daughter is studying medicine.)

By exploring emergencies and health, the weather, and family, you’ll be better prepared to handle unexpected situations, discuss daily matters like the weather, and talk about your loved ones. These language elements will empower you to communicate effectively in various real-life situations in Spanish.

Advanced Verbs and Adjectives

If you got this far, congratulations!!! Getting to this stage means that you’ve learn the very basics to at least get your point across and at least not be frustrated when traveling to Spanish-speaking countries. Mind you though that you still have to practice 😬

Structure:

  1. Advanced Verbs:
    • “Entender” – To understand
    • “Escribir” – To write
    • “Aprender” – To learn
    • “Conseguir” – To get/achieve
    • “Decidir” – To decide
    • “Comprender” – To comprehend
  2. Advanced Adjectives:
    • “Increíble” – Incredible
    • “Maravilloso” – Wonderful
    • “Sorprendente” – Surprising
    • “Fascinante” – Fascinating
    • “Espectacular” – Spectacular
    • “Excepcional” – Exceptional

Example Sentences:

  • Example 1: “Entiendo perfectamente lo que dices.” (I understand perfectly what you’re saying.)
  • Example 2: “Escribo cuentos cortos en mi tiempo libre.” (I write short stories in my free time.)
  • Example 3: “Aprendo nuevas palabras cada día.” (I learn new words every day.)
  • Example 4: “Conseguí el trabajo que quería.” (I got the job I wanted.)
  • Example 5: “Decidí viajar por todo el mundo.” (I decided to travel around the world.)
  • Example 6: “Comprendo las complejidades de este tema.” (I comprehend the complexities of this topic.)

Wrapping Up


Survival Spanish 101 is not just about picking up words; it’s really about making friends, integrating into the community vibes, and truly getting the hang of the language. I hope that these basic lessons has at least made you confident as you visit your next Spanish speaking destination.

So, enjoy the ride, keep practicing, and let your new language skills open up a world of awesome possibilities.

¡Buena suerte y buen viaje! (Good luck and safe travels!) 🌎✨


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