Even if you’re not interested in becoming a Spanish pro, learning a few basic phrases for use in everyday life can go a long way to making you functionally proficient.

Here we’ll survey a few common Spanish words and phrases that you’ll likely use on a daily basis once you move to Spain, Latin America, or anywhere the beautiful Latin-derived language is spoken.

Introductory phrases

Everyone needs friends – and that’s doubly true if you’re a foreigner in a strange land. Here are some words and phrases you can use to meet new people and build personal relationships:

How are you?¿Cómo estás?
Nice to meet youMucho gusto
What’s your name?¿Cómo te llamas?
Hello, my name is [name]Hola, me llamo [name]
I’m well, thank youEstoy bien, gracias
Good eveningBuenas noches
Good afternoonBuenas tardes
Good morningBuenos días

The ‘W’ interrogatives

Here are the “W” words, translated into Spanish. Note the use of the upside-down question mark, one of the most delightful peculiarities of the Spanish language:

What?  ¿Qué?
Why?¿Por qué?

Navigational terms

When you venture abroad – whether you find yourself in Barcelona or Shanghai – you will inevitably lose your way. Even with Google Maps, you might have to rely on the guidance of good-willed locals to get where you’re going.

Here are some handy phrases you can use to that end:

I am lostEstoy perdido/a*
Where is… (the bathroom)?¿Dónde está… (el baño)?
Where can I take a taxi?¿Dónde puedo tomar un taxi?
What is the best way to go to…?¿Cuál es la mejor forma de ir a…?
How far is the… from the…?¿Qué tan lejos está el/la… del/de la…?
I’m looking for the closest metro station.Busco la estación del metro más cercana.
How do I get to the hospital?¿Cómo llego al hospital?
Is there a park around here?¿Hay un parque cerca de aquí?

*Spanish is a gendered language. When using an adjective, such as “lost” (“perdido/a) in the above example, the proper ending (a or o) depends on the gender of the speaker. So if you’re a guy, it would be “estoy perdido,” whereas, if you’re a lady, the correct formulation would be “estoy perdida.” Some native English speakers struggle with this issue when they first begin learning Spanish, but after a while adjusting word endings based on gender becomes second nature.


Dovetailing with the navigational terms, here are a few prepositions as well as how to say “to the left/right of”:

In front ofDelante de
BehindDetras de
Far fromLejos de
close toCerca de
BetweenEntre de
BelowAbajo/debajo de
To the right of…A la derecha de…
To the left of…A la izquierda de…

Directional phrases

Last on the list of navigational terminologies, here are the cardinal directions in Spanish:

SouthwestSur oeste

Basic verbs

Moving around Madrid or Santiago, here are a few verbs that you’ll find handy:

Go (command)Ve
I am goingYo voy
Go upSube
Go downBaja
To leaveSalir/Dejar
To enterEntrar
I wantYo quiero
I amYo soy/Yo estoy*
You areTue eres/Tu estas*

The correct use of the form of the term “to be” in Spanish depends on context. There are two separate words that both mean “to be”:

  • “Ser” is used to refer to a condition or action that is permanent and unchanging – for instance, when describing someone’s name or national origin. “I am from the United States” is translated as “Yo soy de los estados unidos.”
  • “Estar” is used to refer to a condition or action that is transient, meaning it is limited in time or will change in the future – for instance, when describing someone’s current location or mood. “I am at the park” translates to “Yo estoy in el parque.”

The delineation between these two forms of “to be” presents a challenge to many native English speakers. There are more nuances associated with the use of ser vs. estar that you’ll pick up as you progress in your language skills.

Romantic Spanish words

In case you plan on finding a sweetheart (“novio/a”) abroad – since people of Spain and Latin America are so lovely, no one can blame you — here are a few phrases you can use to sweet-talk your darling.

I love youTe amo/Te quiero
I love you tooYo también te amo/quiero
I’m in loveEstoy enamorado/a
We are datingEstamos saliendo
My boyfriend/girlfriendMi novio/a
We are engagedEstamos comprometidos
My husband/wifeMi esposo/a
Beautiful (feminine)Hermosa
Handsome (masculine)Guapo

Spanish school/classroom vocabulary

For the sake of fostering an immersive learning environment, most schools in Spain prefer that native English speakers only use their mother tongue in the classroom with students.

However, certain circumstances might require the use of the students’ native tongue. Here are a few terms associated with the school and classroom that are convenient for teachers to know:

ClassroomLa clase/El aula
Blackboard/WhiteboardLa pizarra/El pizarrón
DeskEl escritorio/El pupitre
BookEl libro
PaperEl papel
To studyEstudiar
To knowSaber
To learnAprender
To readLeer

Common Spanish interview phrases

If you’re on the prowl for an ESL position in Spain or Latin America, job interviews will be conducted almost exclusively in English. Spanish proficiency generally is not a job requirement, nor it is customarily expected in a candidate.

Nonetheless, it can’t hurt to impress your prospective new employer by slipping in a few off-the-cuff Spanish phrases. Here are a some examples:

Job InterviewEntrevista de Trabajo
Resume/CVCurriculum/Hoja de Vida
Employment ContractContrato de Trabajo
To HireContratar
Personal ReferencesReferencia personal
DegreeTítulo, Licenciatura
BossJefe, Jefa
Work ExperienceExperiencia Laboral

Convenient online apps to improve your Spanish repertoire

If you don’t have the bandwidth to invest in a formal Spanish class, that’s totally understandable. We’re all busy enough these days without an extra time commitment.

The good news is that — provided you have a phone with an internet connection and a few spare minutes each day — there are numerous excellent apps out there that offer bite-sized Spanish lessons you can squeeze into even the busiest of schedules.

I’d recommend the totally-free DuoLingo app to get your feet wet. If you enjoy it, you can always upgrade to the paid version or try out another paid service like Rosetta Stone.

Contact RVF International, your local experts on all things Spain and Spanish

To learn more about premium English-teaching opportunities in Spain or just to brush up on your casual Spanish, please feel free to contact RVF International. We’re always happy to chat – in English or in Spanish.

Ben Bartee is a Bangkok-based American journalist, grant writer, political essayist, researcher, travel blogger, and amateur philosopher. Contact him on Linkedin and check out his Portfolio.