Ah, the beauty, fluidity, and romance of the Spanish language.
Well, there ain’t nothing romantic about textbook Spanish.
You’ve learned greetings, restaurant vocabulary, and survival phrases.
Now it’s time to do more than just survive abroad. It’s time to live.
Leave small talk and asking for directions in the past. You are finally ready to engage in some real, in-depth conversations.
All you need are some Spanish conversational phrases juicy enough for people to sink their teeth into.
Why You’d Better Know These Conversational Phrases
Are you planning to travel to a Spanish-speaking country, but haven’t mastered the language? You’re probably wondering how you’re going to meet people and find your way around. It’s great that you know how to ask where the bathroom is, but that won’t help you build relationships or learn more intimate details about local culture, traditions, society, and religion.
The conversational phrases provided here are the perfect balance of engaging and simple. You wouldn’t get much out of asking people, “can you explain aerospace dynamics to me?” Even if you ask an expert who can accurately expound on the topic, you won’t have any idea what they’re talking about. Not only are the conversational phrases noted here easy to learn, but they will get you easily understandable answers so you can keep the ball rolling.
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The whole point of learning Spanish is to communicate with people. To communicate even better, you’ll have to constantly be practicing your speaking and listening skills with native Spanish speakers. It can admittedly be hard to get off the ground, take flight, and really engage deeply in a full-on Spanish language conversation.
You may be tempted to blend into the wall behind you and observe others speaking, rather than jump in and participate. Don’t let your mind be a blank. Learning key conversational phrases will give you a reserve of interesting questions and answers so you’ll always have something to say. Always having something to say will help you get to a level where you can understand and be understood.
Even if you’re just starting out and all the presented words and phrases are new to you, note that these are very common words and phrases. They are a great place to break away from your textbook and start training yourself for real-world Spanish language conversations.
9 Juicy Spanish Conversation Phrases for Language Learners
The following phrases are written in formal usted form, which is appropriate for strangers, professionals, store owners, and anyone older than you. If conversing with a child or someone approximately your age in the street, you will need to change these phrases to the informal tú form.
1. ¿Qué significa su nombre? – What does your name mean?
You probably already learned how to ask “¿Como se llama?“ (What’s your name?) on day one of Spanish speaking practice. The above conversation starter is a great follow-up question, especially if your conversation partner has a name you’ve never heard of before. You may learn about an interesting cultural origin, a linguistic derivation, or perhaps someone will tell you all about the amazing aunt or uncle they were named after. While in the United States it is often the case that our names mean nothing, you’ll quickly find that this is not the case in the Spanish-speaking word. Names are charged with a great deal of sentimental meaning and cultural significance.
2. ¿A usted le gusta jugar deportes? – Do you like to play sports?
This phrase can be shortened more simply to “¿Le gusta jugar deportes?” It may unsurprisingly be answered with an enthusiastic profession of love for fútbol (soccer) – especially in Latin America, pretty much everyone enjoys jumping in on a casual pick-up game of soccer – but there are many more answers you should be prepared for. In the Dominican Republic, baseball is the game of choice. In Ecuador, a special volleyball game has been invented and aptly dubbed Ecuavolei. Learn the following sports vocabulary to understand responses and discuss your own favorite sports.
Básquet, Baloncesto – Basketball
Béisbol – Baseball
Esquiar – Skiing
Fútbol americano – American football
Golf – Golf
Natación – Swimming
Tenis – Tennis
Vóleibol – Volleyball
3. ¿A qué se dedica? / ¿En qué trabaja? – What do you do for a living?
Granted, it’s a little “textbook,” but it’s an important thing to discuss with people. Through conversation, you may find that a person’s work defines a big part of their life. Ask them what they do, and do a little research to describe the work that you do. What makes you passionate about your work? What do you dislike about your work? Here are some common professional titles that may come in handy during this part of the conversation.
Abogado – Lawyer
Doctor, Médico – Doctor
Científico – Scientist
Enfermero – Nurse
Ingeniero – Engineer
Oficial de policía – Police officer
4. ¿Cuál es un libro que usted me recomendaría? – What is a book that you would recommend to me?
If you’re talking about a topic of great interest to you, use this as a follow up question. Has the person just mentioned a fascinating aspect of their job, or started discussing a complicated political situation in their country? Ask for a book recommendation to better understand the topic at hand. The best part is that, after you get their answer, you’ll be able to track down that book and have a memory, a greater meaning, attached to it. If you read the book in Spanish, you will pick up a more expansive vocabulary that’s related to a topic you’re interested in.
5. ¿Es usted religioso? – Are you religious?
This can be a hot-button question to really get people talking. You are bound to come across some devoutly religious people in your travels through the Spanish-speaking world. Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn what brought them to their faith, or why religion is so important in their family, community, or country? This is a yes-or-no question, so follow up with “¿De qué religión es usted?” (What religion are you?) if you want to ask for further information. Be prepared to answer questions about your own beliefs. If you are not religious, you should encounter no prejudice as long as you as respectful.
Ateo, Ateísta – Atheist
Bautista – Baptist
Católico – Catholic
Judío – Jewish
Musulmán – Muslim
6. Me gusta lo que lleva puesto. ¿Dónde lo compró? – I like what you’re wearing. Where did you buy it?
Want to open up a topic of conversation and brighten someone’s day at the same time? Try out this phrase, which is a fusion of compliment and question. There are a couple of great outcomes to this: you’ll seem friendly and outgoing, you’ll make someone feel good, and you’ll learn the story behind the clothes. Maybe they’ll tell you that their grandmother knitted their scarf by hand. Maybe they’ll direct you to the great little boutique where the bought that one-of-a-kind vintage sweater. You never know until you ask. The more fashion-savvy you and your conversation partner are, the more likely it is that this question will turn into a lengthy conversation!
7. ¿Qué tradición cultural de su país es su favorita? – Which of your country’s cultural traditions is your favorite?
This conversation could go in lots of different directions: family values, social dynamics, community relationships, or major holidays and events. You may learn about a big parade through the town square this weekend, and otherwise you would have missed out. Someone may share the address of a fantastic live music venue that remains hidden to tourists who simply plan their trips online beforehand. Learning about people’s favorite cultural traditions will clue you into some fantastic local events and give you a sense of what makes the local people most proud of their heritage.
8. ¿Cuál es la cosa más loca que hace la gente de aquí? – What is the craziest thing that people do here?
Alright, you know how to ask about religion and culture now – where’s the party at? This question may direct you to some edgier, more exciting information. Once, while traveling through South American beach towns, this question led me to a Semana Santa (the holy week leading up to Easter) tradition where everyone in the community runs into the ocean at midnight. They believe that, by means of some miracle, the ocean water turns from salty to sweet on this night. While I didn’t taste a difference, I now have an amazing memory of splashing into the dark ocean under the moonlight, surrounded by hundreds of laughing, swimming people from the community.
9. ¿Cómo celebra _________ la gente de aquí? – How do the people here celebrate _________?
The different nuances of holiday celebrations can really distinguish communities and cultures. Also, this is when lots of huge events will be happening in major cities! To fill in the blank, ask about some of the following holidays which are widely celebrated in the Spanish-speaking world:
Año Nuevo – New Year’s Eve
Carnaval – Carnival, Mardi Gras
Día de la Madre – Mother’s Day
Día del Niño – Child’s Day
Día del Padre – Father’s Day
Día de San Valentín – Valentine’s Day
Nochebuena – Christmas Eve
Pascua – Easter
*Bonus* Responding in Spanish
It’s not all about talking fluently or listening intently. In most cultures, including our own, it is considered somewhat creepy or downright rude to stare blankly at someone in silence while they’re talking to you. The awkwardness can be totally avoided with head nodding, facial expressions, and small verbal acknowledgements of what’s being said. You know, imagine a friend is talking to you for 10 straight minutes about her boyfriend – you don’t want to seem bored or spaced out, so you occasionally interject with a “totally!” or “wow, seriously?” Here are some Spanish phrases to help you respond to a conversation partner while they’re answering your awesome conversational questions:
¡Claro que si! – Of course!
¿En serio? – Seriously? (This sounds best when spoken dramatically)
¡Cuénteme más! – Tell me more!
¡Dale! – Bring it on!
¡No me digas! – No way! / You don’t say! (This is more used in casual speech, so it is provided in informal tú form)
¡Imagínese! – Imagine that!
Me da igual – Whatever / I don’t care.