Getting to Know You: 50 Important Spanish Phrases to Break Out for Small Talk

Feel your heart pounding?

Palms cold and sweaty?

Butterflies in your stomach?

Chances are, you’re about to meet somebody for the first time.

And to make things worse, you don’t even speak his/her language.

Well, more accurately, you’re learning to speak that language.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re meeting via Skype, at a coffee shop or at a restaurant.

What matters is that you wanna make a good first impression.

Well actually, you just don’t wanna make a fool out of yourself.

You’ve probably never done anything like this before and feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

Lucky for you, you’re reading this.

In this post, I’ll give you 50 of the most important Spanish words and phrases you’ll need for a first meeting. This is all about the “best hits” of Spanish conversation. We’re gonna trace the whole meeting from the initial greetings to the final goodbyes.

But first, let me tell you why, as a language learner, you should put yourself at the mercy of native Spanish speakers.

Why It’s Important to Talk to Native Speakers

The Written Form Is Not Enough

There aren’t enough grammar books in the world to teach you Spanish. There’s no vocabulary list long enough to teach you how to speak.

The written form is short on so many things. If you wanna learn how to write in Spanish, stopping at books may be okay. But speaking Spanish? You actually have to open your mouth, move your tongue and let the mistakes come out. You simply cannot read your way to fluency.

This phenomenon is actually quite common: A person can write perfect English–everything is just pristine. All the words are in their proper form and in perfect agreement. You just know that this person learned the language in school. But when you talk to them, something’s off. They can hardly enunciate a string of English words correctly.

The reason?

They never practiced the language. They are fluent writers but not fluent speakers.

It’s Good Practice

There’s nothing like practicing and embarrassing yourself in front of a native speaker. Because if there’s anyone who can correct even the tiniest stray accent, it’s someone who’s been hearing it all his life.

A subtle misplaced word or sound will ring loudly in his ears, and he can bring your attention to it.

Having a language partner who’s also trying to learn Spanish is good (it’s better than not having anyone), but a native speaker will be much better in bringing you up to speed. He can help you place an adjective or suggest words to say something a little differently.

He’ll find your mistakes cute, and won’t feel threatened at all when you make serious gains in his native tongue.

Native Speakers Can Teach You a Thing or Two

Finally, a native speaker will teach you more than his language. He’ll let you in on the unspoken rules that govern Spanish. He’ll make context come alive for you, and tell you when to use the formal and informal forms of communication.

For example, the singular “you” in Spanish has two forms: “tú” and usted.”

“Tú” is the informal “you” and is used to show familiarity and closeness. It’s appropriate to use for friends, colleagues, kids and pets.

“Usted” is the formal “you” and is used to show respect. It’s appropriate for elders, people in positions of authority and strangers. (In our context here, we’ll use theusted” form, as this is the first meeting and we don’t want to come off too familiar.)

Without the guidance of a native speaker, it will be very difficult to divine the nuances in Spanish.

Beyond that, a native speaker can show you the rich Spanish culture and traditions. Language is a reflection of the folks who use it. Their journey as a people is reflected in the language.

So if you want to really understand Spanish, don’t just talk to a native speaker. Befriend one, cultivate long-term and deep friendships. It’ll open a world far beyond what the grammar books can tell.

Relationships, of course, start with a first meeting. So let’s proceed to the words and phrases you should be bringing into that interaction.

Getting to Know You: 50 Important Spanish Phrases to Break Out for Small Talk

1. The Greetings Phase

Before we get to the actual greetings, let me remind you that the Spanish culture is a cheek-kissing culture. So if you’re gonna fully immerse yourself in it, you better be prepared to kiss and get kissed on the cheek often, platonically. It doesn’t mean that person has the hots for you, it’s just the way they greet each other. It comes with the territory, and there’s no way around it.

Since this is a first time meeting, a firm handshake will suffice for the time being. But if the native speaker dives in for a cheek, take his/her cue and do likewise.

Here are the common Spanish greetings:

  • ¡Hola!  (Hello!)
  • Buenos días. (Good morning.)
  • Buenas tardes. (Good afternoon.)
  • Buenas noches. (Good night.)

Just so you know, you can get away with saying “Buenas tardes” as late as 7 p.m.

And as you will soon discover, time is altogether a different proposition for Spanish-speaking cultures. They have lunch around 2 p.m. or even later. So if you’re set on having a 12 p.m. lunch, you might be sitting in a restaurant alone for a very long time before your companion makes his entrance. But don’t worry, all will be forgiven once you hear him charm you in Spanish.

After the greetings, you proceed with the names. If you had plans and were waiting to meet someone, you’d probably know their name already. So when you meet the person, you could say, “¿Es usted John?” (Are you John?)

To which he could reply with a vibrant “¡Sí!”

But if this isn’t the case, you should politely ask for his name by using the formal “you” (usted) as discussed above. Because if you have to ask for a name, it only shows you’re unfamiliar with the person, and there’s nothing weird about that.

  • ¿Cómo se llama? (What is your name?)

This is literally translated as “What do you call yourself?” To answer, say:

  • Me llamo _____. (My name is _____.)

After s/he introduces himself/herself and gives you a name, say:

  • Mucho gusto. (Nice to meet you.)

This phrase is a standard response and means “much pleasure.” You’re telling the other person that you’re pleased to meet him/her.

  • ¿Cómo está usted? (How are you?)

Now you’re being asked how you’re feeling. There are many ways to answer this, depending of course on how you’re feeling:

  • bien (good)
  • muy bien (very good)
  • así-así (so-so)
  • mal (bad)
  • muy mal (very bad)

But since this is a first meeting, you probably don’t have to actually say that you’re feeling bad because your sinus is acting up again. Not a good way to start a friendship. This next one is the standard answer:

  • Estoy bien. (I’m fine.)
  • ¿Y usted? (And you?)

It’s always polite to ask about how the other person is doing. It shows that you’re concerned and interested in them as well. So always throw back the reciprocal “¿Y usted?

The golden rule is that one should never be late, especially for a first meeting. But late or not, one of you is bound to be at the meeting place first. So if you were the second one to arrive, you can say:

  • Siento llegar tarde! (Sorry I’m late!)

If the other person is late, get him to relax by saying:

  • ¡No pasa nada! (It’s nothing!)

2. The Small Talk Phase

All cultures have this. It’s just polite to have a brief, nonchalant chitchat before going into the nitty-gritty of things. And this is for a good reason.

Imagine you’re meeting someone for the first time. You’re already seated at the table, waiting for him. A few minutes later, he steps inside the restaurant, all drenched because it was raining outside. He walks to your table, introduces himself and is very apologetic. He’s still catching his breath and wiping his face when you suddenly ask, “So, what are your hobbies?”    

If you were asked this as you were taking your seat, wouldn’t you rather just brave the rain outside?

Small talk allows people to slowly get into the groove. It relaxes them and warms them up.

It shows the other person that you’re well-versed in social conventions, and more importantly, that you have no sinister agenda. To show courtesy, bring along your pleases and thank yous. They’re the tools for your charm initiative. Use them liberally when you’re meeting somebody for the first time. It sets the dynamic properly between two strangers. Of course, even when you’re with close friends and family, you should always pepper your interactions with courtesy. It just shows class.

Courtesy Goes a Long Way

Here are some Spanish expressions of courtesy:

  • Por favor (Please)

Literally, this phrase means “for favor.” You’re asking the other person to do something for you. As in, “Do me a favor.”

  • Gracias. (Thank you.)
  • De nada. (You’re welcome.)

Literally, “De nada” translates as “of nothing.” It’s like saying “it’s nothing” or “not at all.” You’re telling the other person that it’s no big deal.

  • Lo siento. (Sorry.)
  • Discúlpeme. (Excuse me.)

When You Don’t Understand

Chances are, you won’t be able to catch everything a native speaker throws your way. He or she might be speaking so fast, half of it just flies by you. In cases like this, have these expressions ready:

  • No entiendo. (I don’t understand.)
  • Hable más despacio, por favor. (Please speak slower.)
  • ¿Podría repetir, por favor? (Could you repeat that, please?)

3. The Getting-to-know-you Phase

This next phase is really a natural continuation of small talk. But this time, you are engaged in the very reason of why you’re having a first meeting. And that’s to get to know the other person. What are they like?

A big part of this is asking and answering questions. Here are common questions you could be ask or might like to ask during a typical first meeting.

Your “Question” Words & Phrases

  • ¿Qué? (What?)
  • ¿A qué se dedica? (What is your job?)

This last phrase is literally asking, “To what do you dedicate yourself?” Well, assuming that you’re totally dedicated to your job. When answering, be honest. Don’t make stuff up just so you sound interesting. If you’re an ornithologist, just say so. Who knows, your new friend might be a bird-watcher.

  • ¿Dónde? (Where?)

You will most definitely be asked a ¿Dónde?” question.

  • ¿Dónde vive? (Where do you live?)
  • ¿De dónde es? (Where are you from?)
  • ¿Dónde está el baño? (Where is the bathroom?)

It’s just good sense to have this last one ready for when you really need to go. You can’t think straight, much less listen to a native speaker, when all you’re hearing is toilet bowl flushes.

  • ¿Cuántos? (How many?)
  • ¿Cuántos hermanos tiene? (How many siblings do you have?)
  • ¿Cuántos años tiene usted? (How old are you?)
  • ¿Qué tipo de música le gusta? (What kind of music do you like?)
  • ¿Cuál? (Which?)
  • ¿Cuáles son sus pasatiempos? (Which/What are your hobbies?)

“Pasatiempos” is formed by combining “pasar” (to spend/to pass) and “tiempo” (time). So literally, it means “pastime.”

  • ¿Cuál es su película favorita? (Which/What is your favorite movie?)

“Cuál” (which) is used instead of qué” (what) because cuál” denotes a selection or choice. In the example above, you are asking something to the effect of “Among all the movies, which one is your favorite?”

  • ¿Cuál es su comida favorita? (Which/What is your favorite food?)

Still remember the lessons on Spanish genders? We use “favorita” here because it refers to “comida” (food), which ends in the letter “a.” Had we asked for his favorite book (“libro”), we would have used “favorito” because “libro” ends in the letter “o.”

  • ¿Cuándo? (When?)
  • ¿Quién? (Who?)
  • ¿Cómo? (How?)

After these questions, of course you would want to give your answers or listen for them.

So here are your most common ones.

Your “Answer” Words and Phrases

  • Sí. (Yes.)
  • No. (No.)
  • (Yo) tengo treinta años. (I am 30 years old.)
  • (Yo) vivo en Estados Unidos. (I live in the United States.)
  • (Yo) soy de Nueva York. (I am from New York.)

Notice that Yo is in parentheses? It’s unnecessary because soy,” “tengo” and vivo are first person conjugations. Their partner has to be Yo (I). It can’t be anything else. In this case, “Yo” is implied. So if somebody asks what your profession is, you can say:

  • Soy ingeniero. (I’m an engineer.)
  • Me gusta bailar. (I like to dance.)
  • Me gusta comer frutas. (I like to eat fruit.)

Make sure you don’t confuse Me gusta and Me gustaría.

  • Me gusta (I like)
  • Me gustaría (I would like)

You can use gustaría” to signify an intention or to politely ask for something. For example, when ordering at a restaurant:

  • Me gustaría un poco de vino. (I would like some wine.)

Speaking of liking, here’s a way to discuss a more specific preference:

  • Mi película favorita es “Ghost.” (My favorite movie is “Ghost.”)

Oh, and please don’t hold it against anybody if their favorite movie is “Ghost.” To each his own. That Patrick Swayze is a sexy, sexy man.

4. The Concluding Phase

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve realized just how cool your new acquaintance is, and you’re interested in hanging out some more.

For Spanish-speaking cultures, saying goodbye is an elaborate dance. You don’t just abruptly disappear into oblivion. You transition into your goodbyes. So perhaps you can hint at your exit by asking for the time or mentioning things you need to do later. Do this about 15 minutes before you absolutely have to go. As always, make a graceful exit by wishing each other well, with the promise of seeing each other in the future.

Keep these handy expressions in the bag:

  • ¿Qué hora es? (What time is it?)
  • Me tengo que ir. (I have to go.)
  • Hasta luego. (See you later.)
  • Hasta pronto. (See you soon.)
  • Hasta mañana. (See you tomorrow.)
  • Cuídese. (Take care.)
  • Adiós. (Goodbye.)

Don’t say “Hasta la vista.” Contrary to what popular culture might have you believe, you probably wouldn’t use that unless you’re Arnie saying goodbye at a “Terminator” convention.


So there you go. Your first meeting in four phases.

Remember, don’t be somebody you’re not. Don’t pretend like you can out-Spanish the other person. Make the mandatory mistakes, laugh and be open about your linguistic journey. Ask for help. More often than not, they’ll be glad to give you some pointers.

Accept that your Spanish won’t be totally smooth the first time. But with patience and persistence, you can make it smooth as silk.

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