Making the decision to intern, volunteer, or study abroad can be a daunting choice, especially if you have concerns about understanding and communicating in the local language. Because Spanish is widely studied as a second language in the United States and many European countries, choosing to go abroad to a Spanish-speaking country is a fantastic option regardless of whether you’ve studied the language before or not. If you are from any of those places, chances are that you’ve been exposed to Spanish at some point in your life, and that will already give you a head start when you are just beginning.
Whether you are a novice Spanish-speaker or have been studying the language all your life, it is always helpful to brush up on some useful Spanish phrases before you start your program. We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most useful phrases as well as a few key words to get you started — but don’t worry, you’ll be immersed in the language and learning it in class in no time.
Some of the most important words to remember in Spanish are the key question words — the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Remember these, and you will be able to solve almost any problem you come across!
¿Quien? – Who
¿Que? – What
¿Cuando? – When
¿Donde? – Where
¿Por Que? – Why
¿Como? – How
These question words can be paired with nouns to indicate the subject of the question. Some common subject nouns are:
Yo – I (Me)
Tu – You
El/Ella/Ellos – He/She/They
Ustedes – You (group/plural)
Now, you can start forming sentences with some of these basic words. For example,
“¿Quien es ella?” Who is she?
“¿Cuando es la cena?” When is dinner?
This gets easier as your vocabulary widens, and you can work on that by carrying a Spanish dictionary or using online resources such as Google Translate or WordReference. When in doubt, just ask!
Buenos días/Buenas tardes/Buenas noches. – Good morning/afternoon/evening. This phrase can be used during the correct time of day as a polite greeting to both strangers and friends.
¿Cómo estás? – How are you? This simple greeting is a great way to start a conversation and show interest in speaking with another person.
¿De dónde eres? – Where are you from? You may receive this question rather frequently as a foreigner, as many people will have a friendly curiosity for you are doing in their country.
Soy de – I am from/of. If you are from the US, you can respond soy de los Estados Unidos, the United States.
¿Cómo te llamas? – What is your name? Or literally translated, what do you call yourself?
Me llamo/Mi nombre es – I call myself/My name is. Either response is perfectly fine.
Entiendo/No entiendo – I understand/I don’t understand. Be sure to let the speaker know if you do not understand them so that they can help you.
Más despacio, por favor – More slowly, please. Don’t be afraid to let someone know if they are speaking too quickly for you! It will only save you both some frustration.
¿Cómo se dice . . . en español? – How do you say . . . in Spanish? This phrase is extremely useful in working on your vocabulary and getting by in everyday conversation. Just point to something, use the English word, or improvise to indicate what you would like to say in Spanish.
These are just a few words and phrases that should help get you by, but the most important thing to remember is to practice! Language acquisition comes from a balance of taking courses, practicing on your own, and being immersed in the language. The more work you put into learning Spanish, the more you will gain — and it will make your international experience even richer.