Having a conversation in Spanish can feel scary at first.
There are so many things that could go wrong!
- You forget a word or some grammar mid-sentence.
- You don’t understand what they said to you.
- They reply in English!
- You’re not sure what to say.
When you start speaking Spanish, these little communication breakdowns are a normal part of the learning process.
But if you’re smart, you can turn these seemingly tricky moments into opportunities to learn more, by using a few strategic Spanish phrases.
In this post, you’ll learn 13 Spanish phrases to help you:
- Keep the conversation going in Spanish, even if you forget a word or don’t understand.
- Learn more Spanish words.
- Stop people from replying in English.
- Strike up a conversation with native Spanish speakers.
You’ll also pick up tips on where to find Spanish speakers to practise with.
Smart Spanish Phrases Help you Keep the Conversation Going
You walk into a panadería (bakery) and see a tasty pastry, but you’re not sure what it’s called. You have two options. You can:
- Point and say: “one of those please”.
- Point and say: “Cómo se dice eso en español? (how do you say that in Spanish?)
The first phrase will keep you stuck in touristville.
Option 2 will help you strike up a conversation with a Spanish speaker and learn a new Spanish word at the same time. Most Spanish speakers will welcome this kind of curiosity – once you start a conversation like this, you’ll probably end up chatting for a little longer, giving you a friendly way to keep practising your Spanish.
The more you use Spanish phrases like this, the longer you can keep the conversation going. And the longer you can keep the conversation going, the better you’ll get at speaking Spanish.
That’s why I’ve teamed up with Juan from Easy Spanish (a fab YouTube channel for Spanish learners) to bring you 13 essential Spanish phrases.
In the next section, you’ll find a video tutorial with 6 Spanish phrases to help you get unstuck and communicate better in Spanish.
Then, you’ll find 7 basic Spanish phrases for everyday conversations. For this part, Juan went out onto the streets of Mexico and posed simple questions to passers-by. In this video, you’ll hear Spanish small talk questions being used in a natural way and learn to understand the replies you might get from native speakers.
Of course, you’ll also need Spanish speakers to practise with – the last section will help you find them.
To make sure you remember the 13 Spanish phrases, you’ll also find a PDF cheatsheet that you can print off and take with you.
6 Spanish phrases to keep the conversation going
Learn these phrases by heart so you can drop them into the conversation when you need them. Get the PDF here: 13 Essential Spanish Phrases PDF.
Spanish Phrase 1: ¿Cómo se dice… en español?
How do you say… in Spanish? (Literally: How does one say … in Spanish)
To be used when you’re speaking Spanish, but you get stuck because you don’t know – or forget – a word.
In the video, Juan used the example of “tree” (¿Cómo se dice “tree” en español?) – you can just replace “tree” with any word you need to know.
You can also point and say: ¿Cómo se dice eso en español? (how do you say that in Spanish?)
Spanish Phrase 2: ¿Qué significa eso?
What does that mean?
To be used when you hear or see a word you don’t understand. It’s especially useful in restaurants – just point to the word on the menu and ask the waiter!
When you ask this question in Spanish, you’ll be more likely to get an answer in Spanish, which will help you keep the conversation going. But even if they use English to give you the definition, it’s still a good way to show your conversation partner that you’re making an effort to speak Spanish. This makes it easier to go back to Spanish once you get unstuck.
Spanish Phrase 3: Lo siento, no entendí
Sorry, I didn’t understand.
A word of warning: try not to use this phrase in isolation because Spanish people may interpret it as a cry for help and switch back to English. Be sure you follow it up with another Spanish phrase, like:
¿Puedes repetirlo, por favor? Can you repeat please?
¿Puedes hablar más lento, por favor? Can you speak slower please?
When you use these phrases, the person you’re talking will know exactly how to help you, so they’ll be less likely to jump in and use English.
You can also say: “Disculpa, no entiendo” – sorry, I don’t understand. In situations where the formal version would be more appropriate (such as a hotel reception) say “Disculpe, no entiendo.”
Spanish Phrase 4: ¿Puedes repetirlo, por favor?
Can you repeat, please? (Literally: can you repeat it, please?)
When you just need to hear the phrase again. In formal situations, you can ask: “Podría repetirlo, por favor?” Could you repeat please?
If they repeat and you’re still having trouble understanding, try to identify the problem and ask another question:
- Speaking too fast? Ask: “¿Puedes hablar más lento, por favor?” – Can you speak slower, please?
- A word you don’t recognise? Ask: ¿Qué significa eso? – What does that mean?
Spanish Phrase 5: ¿Puedes hablar más lento, por favor?
Can you speak slower, please?
For those times when the Spanish speaker is going at 100mph and you’re struggling to keep up!
A more formal version of this phrase is: ¿Podría hablar más despacio, por favor? – Could you speak more slowly please?
Spanish Phrase 6: ¿Podemos hablar en español, por favor?
Can we speak in Spanish, please?
This phrase is perfect for those frustrating moments when you manage to say something in Spanish, but they reply in English!
If the person seems friendly (and not too busy), simply explain that you’re learning and ask if they would speak Spanish with you. With this phrase, you’ll find that many people are happy to chat to you for a little while in Spanish.
A more formal version of this phrase is: ¿Podríamos hablar en español, por favor? – Could we speak in Spanish please?
7 Basic Spanish Phrases for Everyday Conversations
Now you’ve learnt a few key phrases to help you communicate, time for some Spanish phrases to get the conversations started! In this video, Juan went out onto the streets of Mexico and asked some simple small talk questions.
To make the most out of Juan’s video for learning Spanish, check out this post: 5 smart ways to learn a language by watching TV and films.
In the meantime, let’s look at some of the phrases Juan used to start everyday conversations in Spanish. You can download a PDF with these phrases here: 13 Essential Spanish Phrases PDF.
Spanish Phrase 7: Hola ¿cómo estás?
Hello, how are you?
Spanish Phrase 8: ¿Cuál es tu nombre?
What’s your name?
Alternatively, you can ask: “¿Cómo te llamas?” – What are you called?
Spanish Phrase 9: Mucho gusto
Pleased to meet you
You can also say: “Encantado” or “Un placer”
Spanish Phrase 10: ¿Qué hiciste hoy?
What did you do today?
Alternatively, if you want to ask someone what they’re going to do in the future, you can say: “¿Qué vas a hacer?”.
Spanish Phrase 11: ¿Qué me recomiendas…?
What do you recommend….
Great for getting recommendations from the locals for places to eat and visit etc. You can ask: ¿Qué me recomiendas comer por aquí? What do you recommend to eat around here?
If you’re speaking to a group (2 or more people) say: “¿Qué me recomiendan…?”
Spanish Phrase 12: ¿Qué se te antoja hacer…?
What do you feel like doing?
Spanish Phrase 13: Hasta luego
See you later! Other Spanish phrases you can use when you’re leaving include: “Ten una linda noche” – have a nice night and “Cuídate” – take care.
13 Spanish Phrases to ace your first conversation
Let’s quickly review our 13 Spanish phrases.
- ¿Cómo se dice… en español? How do you say … in Spanish?
- ¿Qué significa eso? What does that mean?
- Lo siento, no entendí. Sorry, I didn’t understand.
- ¿Puedes repetirlo, por favor? Can you repeat please?
- ¿Puedes hablar más lento, por favor? Can you speak slower, please?
- ¿Podemos hablar en español, por favor? Can we speak in Spanish, please?
- Hola ¿cómo estás? Hello, how are you?
- ¿Cuál es tu nombre? What’s your name?
- Mucho gusto. Pleased to meet you
- ¿Qué hiciste hoy? What did you do today?
- ¿Qué me recomiendas…? What do you recommend…?
- ¿Qué se te antoja hacer…? What do you feel like doing?
- Hasta luego. See you later.
Next, it’s time to practise using them!
Where can I find Spanish people to talk to?
If you’re one of those people who feels confident enough to walk up to Spanish speakers and start talking, ¡muy bien!
But this approach doesn’t work for lots of people.
It can be tricky to speak Spanish with people you meet randomly (in shops, restaurants or on the train) because these people are just going about their day – they’re not there to help you learn Spanish. This puts unnecessary pressure on you to be able to have a normal conversation.
A great (non scary) way to practise speaking Spanish is to set up a “learning agreement” with Spanish speakers. These are situations where the Spanish speaker knows you’re learning and has agreed to help you. This could be:
- A language exchange partner: Find a Spanish person who’s learning your native language – they can help you practice speaking Spanish while you help them speak your native language.
- A conversation tutor: Meet a native Spanish speaker (online or in person) for conversation practice and pay them in exchange for their time.
These options take the pressure off because you’re giving the Spanish speaker something in return for their time so you don’t need to feel embarrassed if the conversation is a bit stilted (totally normal at first!)
Also, they know you’re learning, so they’re expecting you to speak slowly and make mistakes. You can even take some tools with you to make the conversation easier, such as a notebook, a dictionary app on your phone and this Spanish phrases cheatsheet.
So where can you find some lovely Spanish speakers to chat with?
The best place to find native Spanish speakers online is italki. Here, you can book 1-to-1 conversation lessons with lovely native speaker tutors – called community tutors. They are usually pretty good value (often less than $10 an hour).
If you fancy giving it a go, here’s a $10 voucher to use after you book your first lesson here:
If you find it hard to practice Spanish because you’re busy, this is a great option – you can squeeze a lesson in whenever you have a spare 30 minutes, from wherever you are (all you need is an Internet connection).
Alternatively, if lessons are too expensive for you at the moment, you can also use italki to set up an online language exchange with a Spanish speaker.
Face to Face
If you’d prefer to connect with Spanish speakers face to face, you can set up an in-person language exchange, at a café or pub near you. Here are a couple of tools that will help you find Spanish speakers in your area.
One word of advice – when doing language exchanges, be sure to divide the time equally (e.g. 30 minutes in each language) and be strict about sticking to it so that you both get a fair chance to practice. Remember to ask:
Podemos hablar en español, por favor? (Can we speak in Spanish please?)
If you’re planning on travelling to a country where Spanish is spoken, you can use these tools to meet the locals. By setting up language exchanges in the places you visit, you’ll get to practise speaking Spanish with natives who can show you their favourite spots – a Spanish teacher and local tour guide rolled into one!
What about you?
Can you add any other handy Spanish phrases to the list? Let us know in the comments!