39 Spanish phrases I used most in South America

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Like many Brits, I have never been great with languages. It’s not for the want of trying. Over the years I’ve made sporadic attempts at learning German, French, Greek and even Swahili, none of which have been very successful.

When arriving in South America I was a little nervous to say the least. My meagre Spanish consisted of a few words I had learnt from Spanish friends back in London, and most of those would only be appropriate at a football match. Luckily, I had Kia whose Spanish is far more advanced than mine.

Of course, I couldn’t rely on Kia all of the time. There would be times when she wouldn’t be by my side and more importantly I didn’t want to spend several months in South America not interacting with the people I met. I set about practising Spanish on language app Duolingo, writing down a few phases here and there and testing them out on unsuspecting waiters and hotel staff along the way.

However, I soon learnt that popular resources often don’t prepare you for life on the road in South America. While they were clearly setting the foundation for longer-term learning, Spanish phrases like “the girl drinks milk” and “the boy reads a book” didn’t arm me with the phrases and words I really needed every day.

The phrases below are those I used on an almost daily basis. They also helped drive home a few basic verbs and their conjugations. Four months on, I feel a lot more comfortable with my Spanish. I won’t be discussing failures of the global economy over morning coffee, but I can order my meals, reserve hotel rooms and get from A to B on a bus or two.

1.Can I pay with a card?¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta?
2.Do I / we need to change buses / planes?¿Tenemos / tengo que cambiar de autobús/avión?
3.How much is it?¿Cuánto es?
4.Is the service included?¿El servicio viene incluído?
5.What time do you close/open?¿A qué hora cierra/abre?
6.What time will it leave?¿A qué hora va a salir?
7.I / we have a reservation for…Tengo / tenemos una reservación para…
8.Is breakfast included?¿El desayuno viene incluído? 
9.Do you have wifi?¿Tiene wifi?
10.What is the password?¿Cual es la contraseña?
11.Where is the cash machine?¿Dónde está el cajero automático?
12.I am from England (UK)Soy de Inglaterra (Reino Unido)
13.Can you repeat it slowly?¿Puede(s) repetirlo más despacio?
14.Do you have a menu?¿Tiene(s) un menú / carta?
15.Can we hire a…?¿Podemos alquilar un/una…?
16.It was really tasty!Estuvo muy rico!
18.To sharePara compartir
19.Just the billSólo la cuenta
20.No thank you, I am fullNo gracias, estoy lleno
21.Thank you for everythingGracias por todo
22.Coffee with milk pleaseCafé con leche por favor
23.Where does it leave from? Here?Desde dónde sale? Aquí?
24.Fried / scrambled / omeletteFritos / revueltos / tortilla
25.Is it possible…?Es posible…?
26.Do you need my passport?Necesita(s) mi pasaporte?
27.Is a photocopy OK?¿Aceptan fotocopias?
28.Me too / the sameYo también / lo mismo / la misma
29.We have visited…Hemos visitado …
30.We have been in Colombia / South America for __ days / weeks / monthsHemos estado en Colombia / América del Sur por __ días / semanas / meses
31.We are going to __ nextVamos a __ próximo
32.That’s very expensiveEs muy caro
33.Yesterday / last night we paid lessAyer / anoche pagamos menos
34.I speak a little SpanishHablo un poco español
35.I don’t speak SpanishNo hablo español
36.Why?¿Por qué?
37.Do you know when / what / where / how…?¿Sabe(s) cuándo / qué / dónde / cómo …?
38.Excuse me / pardon / I’m sorryDisculpe / perdón / lo siento
39.The hotel is on the right / left / straight onEl hotel está a la derecha / izquierda / recto

Of course, never forget to couple all of the above with a friendly greeting (hola, como esta, que tal) and a por favor, muchas gracias and winning smile :)

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