Let me help you with some basics. These are phrases that’ll help you navigate your way around your new favorite places. Think of this post as your go-to quick answer phrase book.
Spanish Words and Phrases for Everyday Use
La Tienda (Grocery Store)
Let’s start with the grocery store. You aren’t going to get far without some food in your stomach, right? There are five items that pop up on my grocery list every time I go to the store because my family just consumes the heck out of them.
Helado (ice cream)
The five basic food groups. Sometimes I’ll buy some jugo/zumo (juice) or maybe some queso (cheese) depending on my mood. There are hundreds and hundreds of fruits and vegetables to choose from, especially if you’re in the tropics. The plátano (banana) and manzana (apple) find their way into my basket way more often than the coco (coconut) and the pomelo/toronja (grapefruit).
My daughter loves most vegetables like judías verdes (green beans) and maíz (corn), but she won’t touch col de Bruselas (Brussels sprouts) or berenjena (eggplant).
Now you have a few words, how about a few phrases to help you navigate your way around the local market.
¿Dónde está el/la_____? (Where is the _____?)
¿Cuánto cuesta? (How much does this cost?)
¿Me da cambio? (Can you give me change? Can you break this bill?)
Hopefully at the grocery store you won’t have to use phrases like esto está podrido (this is rotten) or es demasiado caro (this is too expensive). You may wonder to yourself ¿dónde están los empleados? (Where are the employees?) or ¿pueden abrir otra caja? (Can they open another checkout?).
Print this out, tuck it away into your wallet and bust it out when you’re lost at the grocery store again.
El Parque (The Park)
As a mother of two, I find myself quite frequently at the park. My daughter loves the toys, being outside and of course trying to eat the dirt. I have a nephew who also loves the park. This nephew of mine also speaks Spanish. You better believe that I brushed up on my Spanish park vocab before I dared venture out with him in tow.
When I’m at the park with my nephew, the words that fly out of my mouth are cuidado (careful), no comas eso (don’t eat that) and bájate de ahí (get down from there). Wow, I sound like a bossy aunt! But I have to make sure he doesn’t romperse el brazo (break his arm).
If my dog comes with me to the park, I’m in big trouble if I don’t bring his pelota (ball) because he’s an avid fetching dog. I’ll tirar (throw) that ball as far as I can and he will buscar (search for) it every time.
Now, if you find yourself in a Spanish-speaking country for a short-term trip, chances are that you’re staying at a hotel. You’re going to need to know how to navigate the hotel so that you don’t end up paying for the presidential suite when you’re expecting to pay for the smaller room.
Servicio de cuarto (room service)
Desocupar el cuarto (room checkout)
Piscina (swimming pool)
There are a few essential questions I ask anytime I book a hotel room, in English or Spanish. The most important of those is ¿está incluido el desayuno? (is breakfast included?). I’m a bargain shopper so I also like to ask, ¿tiene algo más barato? (do you have anything less expensive)?
If I’m traveling alone and have a lot of bags, I usually ask someone ¿me puede ayudar con los bolsos? (Can you help me with the bags?). It’s customary at most hotels to leave a propina (tip) when someone helps you.
Another valuable skill at any hotel is knowing how to call out of your room. In some places you’ll have to press 9 first and at others you’ll need to hit #—it’s all sorts of confusing. ¿Cómo uso el teléfono? (How do I use the telephone?) is one way to ask.
Traveling is stressful enough without having to try and communicate in another language. When my sister and I were flying back to the States from Spain, we had a seven hour delay in Munich. Luckily, most of the people spoke a little bit of broken Spanish or English because neither of us speaks a word of German. What do you need to navigate an airport?
Azafata (stewardess; flight attendant)
Taquilla (ticket counter)
If you can’t find a clock you may have to ask someone ¿Qué hora es? (What time is it) so that you don’t miss your flight. As you navigate the airport, you may get lost and need to find your puerta (gate). You can always go up to an airport employee and ask them, ¿Dónde está la puerta ____? (Where is gate ____?) and hopefully they’ll be able to help you.
Many airports also have límites de peso (weight limits) for your baggage. It’s worth the time to weigh your bag before you get to the airport. Otherwise, you may be frantically rearranging your bags at the counter.
Talking about bags, you should probably ask ¿Cuántos bolsos puedo llevar? (How many bags can I take?). Don’t forget to ask them ¿A qué hora embarcamos? (What time do we board?), otherwise you may not make it to your gate on time.
La Biblioteca (The Library)
Libraries are some of my favorite places. Just the stacks and towers of books remind me of “Beauty and the Beast.” There isn’t a lot of talking in a library, but you may need to ask a few questions to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Sección de referencia (reference section)
Tarjeta de biblioteca (library card)
If you’re asking the librarian to help you find a book you can say, ¿Me ayudas a encontrar un libro? (Will you help me find a book?) to which the librarian may sarcastically respond, “Hay uno allí” (There’s one over there). Or, if she’s a bit more helpful, she’ll say, “¿Qué libro busca?” (What book are you looking for?).
If you’ve gone to the library with your own computer, chances are you’ll need a Wi-Fi password, a valuable piece of knowledge. ¿Cuál es el código de Internet? (What is the Internet password?).
At a library it’s also important to know how many books you can check out, ¿Cuántos libros puedo llevarme? (How many books can I checkout?)
El Banco (The Bank)
Money, money, money. It makes the world go round. Of course there are banks everywhere. But not all banks are the same. Once you leave the States you’ll have to deal with Pesos or Euros. How much is your dollar worth once you step on foreign soil? That’s a different discussion for a different day. I’m just here to help you know how to communicate at the bank.
Giro Postal (money order)
Most bank transactions are pretty strightforward. Either you’re giving the bank money or you’re pulling out money. You can always ask, ¿Dónde está el cajero automático? (Where is the ATM?) if you don’t want to bother communicating with a teller. The question I always ask when I’m at the drive-thru is, ¿Puedo tener un dulce? (Can I have a candy?).
La Farmacia (The Pharmacy)
Medications are complicated when you don’t know the right words. When I was living in Buenos Aires, I had an awful headache and I wanted to get some Ibuprofen. Well, I had no idea how to ask for a simple painkiller. As I described the pounding in my ears I was just hoping they were giving me Ibuprofen instead of Prozac.
Dolor de cabeza (headache)
Gotas para los ojos (eye drops)
Gotas para la tos (cough drops)
If you don’t know the name of the medicine that you need, the farmacéutico (pharmacist) will ask you to describe your condition. ¿Dónde le duele? (Where does it hurt?) is a common question.
You can respond by telling him or her, la cabeza (my head), el estómago (my stomach), el dedo (my finger), el pie (my foot). I’m not going to give you a full anatomy lesson, but there are a few for you. When all else fails, you can always point, right? You may need to renovar mi receta (refill my prescription).
Hopefully this cheat sheet will help you during your Spanish travels.
Now you can communicate effectively at the store, the park, the airport, the hotel, the library, the bank and the pharmacy. You’re all set!
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