Spanish Phrases for Travelers

Sandy Mitchell
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Learning a few Spanish phrases for your next trip to Mexico, Spain, or South America can really come in handy when you're traveling. Whether you're eating out, shopping or playing the part of the typical tourist, your knowledge of Spanish can come in handy.

Quick Pronunciation Guide

You'll find that many words in Spanish are familiar. Spanish, like French, has Latin as its base, and many English words are also derived from Latin. Many letters are pronounced the same in Spanish as they are in English. A few exceptions are:

  • i is pronounced like ee in beet
  • u is pronounced like oo in loot
  • y is pronounced like ea in eat
  • ll is pronounced like y in kayak
  • h in Spanish is silent.

Greetings

In Mexico and Spain, it's considered good manners to greet a shopkeeper when entering a store and to thank them when leaving. It's also polite to greet the front desk personnel at the hotel, and the hostess in a restaurant when you arrive. For these situations, you can use the following:

  • Buenos días (bway-nos dee-ahs) - Good morning, Good day
  • Buenas tardes (bway-nahs tar-dehs) - Good afternoon
  • Buenas noches (bway-nehs no-chehs) - Good evening
  • Por favor (por fah-vohr) - Please
  • Gracias (grahs-see-ahs) - Thanks

At a Restaurant

You can expect that in most cases, you'll be able to order in English or point. For those occasions where you cannot, here are a few handy phrases you may need:

At the Table

  • Camarero (cah-ma-reh-ro) - waiter
  • El menú (el men-oo) - the menu
  • Un vaso (BAH-soh) - glass
  • Un tenedor (teh-neh-DOHR) - fork
  • Un cuchillo (koo CHEE yoh) - knife
  • Una servilleta (sehr-bee-YEH-tah) - napkin
  • Una chuchara (koo-CHAH-rah) - spoon

Beverages

  • Cerveza (cehr - vay-sah) - beer
  • Vino (BEE-no) - wine
  • Bebida (beh-bee-dah) - drink
  • Agua (ah-gwah) - water
  • Café (kah-FAY) - coffee
  • (tay) - tea

Food

  • Queso (KAY-so) - cheese
  • Pescados y mariscos (pehs-KAH-dohs ee mah-REES-kohs) - fish and seafood
  • Pollo (POH-yoh) - chicken
  • Carne (KAHR-nay) - meat
  • Verduras (bair-DOO-rahs) - vegetables
  • Frijoles (free-HOH-lehs) - beans
  • Fruta (FROO-tahs) - fruit
  • Pan (pahn) - bread
  • Arroz (ah-rrohs) - rice

Condiments

  • Mantequilla (mahn-tay-KEE-yah) - butter
  • La sal (sahl) - salt
  • La pimienta (pee-MYEHN-tah) - pepper
  • El azú car (ah-SOO-kahr) - sugar
  • El vinagre (veen-ah-gray) - vinegar
  • Limón (lee-moan) - lemon

Reading the Signs

Below are Spanish phrases you will see posted all over Mexico and Spain. Keep these in mind to better understand public notices.

  • No fumar (No foo-mahr) - No Smoking
  • Entrada (en-trah-dah) - Entrance
  • Salida (sah-lee-dah) - Exit
  • Información - Information
  • Tire (tee-ray) - Pull
  • Empujar (ehm-poo-hahr) - Push
  • Señores (sehn-yor-es) - Gentlemen
  • Mujeres (hoo-hair-es) - Ladies
  • Cuidado (kwee-dah-doh) - Caution

Have Fun

Keep in mind that it's okay to make mistakes. Most tourist areas will host shops, restaurants, venues and hotels where the personnel speak at least a little English. However, if you want guaranteed phenomenal service, try your hand at a few words here and there; you'll be surprised how friendly and helpful the native speakers become.

Spanish Phrases for Travelers