Spanish Travel Phrases
Spanish Speaking Destinations
¡Hola! Welcome to the Fodor's Spanish Language Page, brought to you by the language experts at Living Language. Here you'll find over 150 essential phrases for your trip.
For more Spanish language and cultural tips, visit the Living Language Spanish Blog.
Spanish is spoken by more than 300 million people worldwide, and is the official or national language in a number of countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Spanish is also spoken in Andorra, Belize, and the Philippines. In the United States, Spanish is widely spoken in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Antonio, among other cities, and is used officially as a second language in the state of New Mexico.
Each vowel in Spanish is pronounced clearly and distinctly. Some important vowel sounds to remember in Spanish are: a as in father, e as in day, i as in police, o as in no, and u as in rule. Diphthongs include ai or ay as in bide, ei or ey as in day, io or yo as in yoga, ue as in west, uo as in woe, and ui as in week. Also, an accent over a vowel indicates stress, as in información, or is simply used to distinguish two identical words, as in si (if) and sí (yes).
Many consonants sounds are similar to English, but keep in mind some of the exceptions: gü as in Gwen, ll as in yes or jar, ñ as in onion, v as in boy, and silent h. D between vowels is pronounced as in thin. The consonant r at the beginning of a word or the double rr within a word is a trilled sound made with the tongue against the ridge behind the upper teeth. A single r within a Spanish word sounds a lot like dd in udder or tt in butter, pronounced as in American English.
While traveling you'll notice local differences in pronunciation. For example, c (before i and e) and z are pronounced as soup in Latin American, but as think in Spain. Another variation you'll hear is in the pronunciation of ll: like the lli in million, the j in juice, the sh in show, or the s in pleasure.
A lot of Spanish vocabulary will look familiar to you: el centro (center), el museo (museum), el taxi (taxi), el hotel (hotel), diferente (different), estudiar (to study), and so on. Many English words have Latin roots, and Spanish originated from Latin. Spanish also has similar word endings to English: conversación (conversation), profesión (profession), general (general), posible (possible), etc. Of course, there's a lot more you need to know, but this is a good start!
If you want to learn to speak Spanish, you're going to have to deal with a few issues that we don't have in English.
- All nouns in Spanish are either masculine or feminine. There are exceptions to every rule, but in most cases, nouns ending in –o are masculine, and most ending in –a are feminine.
- When nouns are masculine, the article el or un precedes them. When they are feminine, la or una precedes them: el/un fotógrafo (the/a photographer), la/una familia (the/a family), etc. Adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify: un fotógrafo famoso (a famous photographer), los fotógrafos famosos (the famous photographers.)
- There are both polite/formal and familiar/informal forms of the pronoun you. Use the formal usted (you) and ustedes (you all) when showing courtesy or respect. Use tú (you) and vosotros/as (you all) with friends, family, or children. Note that vosotros/as is only used in Spain; ustedes is both formal and informal in Latin America.
- Spanish verbs are highly inflected, with different endings for every person (I, you, she, all of you, etc.) in several different tenses. There are also three major conjugation patterns, grouped according to the infinitive endings -ar, -er, or -ir. Many common verbs are irregular.
- Questions are preceded by an inverted question mark (¿), and exclamations are preceded by an inverted exclamation point (¡).