The Spanish You Need for the Vacation You Want

When you want to go beyond the all-inclusive resort and explore the real culture of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or any other Spanish-speaking country, you need to know at least a few key phrases in Spanish. Sure, almost everyone who works at Cancun hotels speaks enough English to answer your questions, but once you set out for more remote locations, all bets are off. Adventurous travelers should master the basics to communicate with the locals for a truly amazing vacation.

Mind Your P’s and Q’s

Most locals are friendly towards a tourist who is obviously trying to reach out in Spanish, even if pronunciation and vocabulary are limited. Use these phrases to be polite and you’ll find that more people will be willing to help you:

  • Hola: Hello
  • Por favor: Please
  • Gracias: Thank you
  • ¿Podría ayudarme?: Could you help me?

Getting Directions

Asking for directions is easy; it’s understanding them that’s a challenge. Knowing the basics helps, but it’s best to get someone to draw you a map while they explain so that you have a visual you can take with you. Keep a notebook and pen on-hand at all times; you’ll be glad you did!

  • ¿Dónde está ___?: Where is ___?
  • Norte: North
  • Este: East
  • Sur: South
  • Oeste: West
  • A la izquierda de ___: To the left of ___.
  • A la derecha de ___: To the right of ___.
  • Calle: Street
  • Sigue: Keep going
  • ¿Podría darme direcciones?: Could you give me directions?
  • ¿Podría dibujar un mapa?: Could you draw a map?

Paying for Things

It’s helpful to know at least numbers one through 10 and a few things about the local currency to get you through a transaction in a small town. Writing numerals helps smooth over misunderstandings with higher numbers and exchange rates.

  • ¿Cuánto cuesta ___?: How much does ___ cost?
  • ¿Acepta tarjeta de crédito?: Do you accept credit cards?
  • Intercambio: Exchange; exchange rate
  • Precio: Price
  • Cero: Zero
  • Uno: One
  • Dos: Two
  • Tres: Three
  • Cuatro: Four
  • Cinco: Five
  • Seis: Six
  • Siete: Seven
  • Ocho: Eight
  • Nueve: Nine
  • Diez: Ten
  • Punto: Point (as in decimal point, for making change)

Sampling Local Cuisine

Perhaps the best reason to explore small towns and hidden gems is to sample truly authentic local cuisine. It’s a good idea to research popular dishes before you leave, but here are the most useful terms:

  • ¿Qué ingredientes hay en ___?: What ingredients are in ___?
  • Leche: Milk
  • Agua: Water
  • Vino: Wine
  • Cerveza: Beer
  • Pollo: Chicken
  • Bistec: Steak
  • Puerco: Pork
  • Ensalada: Salad
  • Maiz: Corn
  • Arroz: Rice
  • Frijoles: Beans
  • Verduras: Vegetables
  • Fruta: Fruit
  • Postre: Dessert

Start Practicing

Once you book your hotel in Buenos Aires or San Juan, it’s time to work on your pronunciation. Google Translate offers pronunciation examples for every phrase imaginable and can help you find country-specific words. An app like Duolingo is a fun way to start memorizing useful Spanish terms, and Word Lens can help you with advanced street sign and menu reading once you get to your destination.

Let Hipmunk help you get there so you can enjoy your Spanish adventure!

This post was published by Fiona Moriarty on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on July 17, 2015 and has been republished with permission.

Top photo: stefano60/Flickr

5 thoughts on “The Spanish You Need for the Vacation You Want”

  1. I probably understand and speak enough Spanish to make it through a trip not that I am planning on going. But I have a lot of Spanish friends and they made sure I know at least some of the language–the most important being–bathroom!!

  2. These is a great post. I’ve learned a spanish words but a little bit when i was a high school student

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