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Spanish 101- tips when travelling to a Spanish speaking country

May 11, 2017


If you’re planning on travelling to one of the 28 countries that speak Spanish (or the USA), you’ll want to be able to pronounce the place names. More than that, knowing some basic Spanish literally open doors and allows you to experience the culture and people. But who has time to learn a language when you’re just going on holiday for a few weeks? Here is a quick guide of tips to make the most of your Spanish or to learn as much as you can while you’re there.



Tip #1

In Spanish all letters of the word are pronounced and the word is pronounced exactly as it is written (unlike English). So as long as you learn the letters of the alphabet you’ll be able to pronounce any word. Just remember that the letter ‘h’ is silent, ‘ll’ is more like a ‘y’, and there is an additional sound of Ñ which doesn’t exist in English.


Tip #2

Don’t just learn the swear words. They aren’t going to help you when you need to ask for something or want someone to help you. They are also incredibly offensive and can be used very inappropriately when you don’t know the culture and sense of humour.


Tip #3

Get a phrasebook and learn some of the most common phrases and words that you’ll need when travelling. Words such as ‘gracias’ and ‘por favor’ can have a big effect.


Tip #4

Once you learn a word or phrase practice it! If not you’ll surely forget it.


Tip #5

Don’t worry if it’s not correct or you think you sound stupid. People always appreciate it when you’re trying and more often than not they are patient and willing to help. You’ll learn from your mistakes and progress so much faster.


Tip #6

Take advantage of the free apps and programmes like Duolingo. You can do a couple of weeks before arriving in the country and you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn in so little time.


Tip #7

If all that fails then why not use the Spanish that is all around us and that you already know (trust me you do know some Spanish). There are many words in English that have come from Spanish origins. As Spanish and Latin American food and culture has boomed in popularity in recent years words like guacamole and fiesta are part of our everyday language. But you’ll be surprised to know that there are a lot more.


Unsurprisingly many Spanish words used in English are related to food:


  • alfalfa (originally Arabic al-fasfasah. Many other English words beginning with "al" were originally Arabic, and many may have had a Spanish-language connection in becoming English.)

  • avocado (originally a Nahuatl word, ahuacatl)

  • banana (word, originally of African origin, entered English via either Spanish or Portuguese)

  • barbecue (from barbacoa, a word of Caribbean origin)

  • burrito (literally "little donkey")

  • cafeteria (from cafetería)

  • chile relleno (Mexican food)

  • chili (from chile, derived from Nahuatl chilli)

  • chili con carne (con carne means "with meat")

  • chocolate (originally xocolatl, from Nahuatl, an indigenous Mexican language)

  • churro (Mexican food)

  • cilantro

  • enchilada (participle of enchilar, "to season with chili")

  • fajita (diminutive of faja, a belt or sash, probably so named due to strips of meat)

  • flan (a type of custard)

  • flauta (a fried, rolled tortilla)

  • frijol (English regionalism for a bean)

  • guacamole (originally from Nahuatl ahuacam, "avocado," and molli, "sauce")

  • habanero (a type of pepper; in Spanish, the word refers to something from Havana)

  • jalapeño

  • jicama (originally from Nahuatl)

  • maize (from maíz, originally from Arawak mahíz)

  • margarita (a woman's name meaning "daisy")

  • oregano (from orégano)

  • paella (a savory Spanish rice dish)

  • papaya (originally Arawak)

  • piña colada (literally meaning "strained pineapple")

  • potato (from batata, a word of Caribbean origin)

  • quesadilla

  • salsa (In Spanish, almost any kind of a sauce or gravy can be referred to as salsa.)

  • taco (In Spanish, a taco can refer to a stopper, plug or wad. In other words, a taco originally meant a wad of food. Indeed, in Mexico, the variety of tacos is almost endless, far more varied than the beef, lettuce and cheese combination of U.S.-style fast food.)

  • tamale (The Spanish singular for this Mexican dish is tamal. The English comes from an erroneous backformation of the Spanish plural, tamales.)

  • tamarillo (type of tree, derived from tomatillo, a small tomato)

  • tequila (named after a Mexican town of the same name)

  • tobacco (from tabaco, a word possibly of Caribbean origin)

  • tomato (from tomate, derived from Nahuatl tomatl)

  • tortilla (in Spanish, an omelet often is a tortilla)

  • tuna (from atún)

  • vanilla (from vainilla)



  • alligator (from el lagarto, "the lizard")

  • alpaca (animal similar to a llama, from Aymara allpaca)

  • burro

  • coyote (from the Nahuatl coyotl)

  • iguana (originally from Arawak and Carib iwana)

  • jaguar (from Spanish and Portuguese, originally from Guarani yaguar)

  • llama (originally from Quechua)

  • manatee (from manatí, originally from Carib)

  • mosquito

  • mustang (from mestengo, "stray")


More words:

  • adios (from adiós)

  • canoe (the word was originally Caribbean)

  • canyon (from cañón)

  • cigar, cigarette (from cigarro)

  • desperado

  • dorado (type of fish)

  • El Niño (weather pattern, means "The Child" due to its appearance around Christmas)

  • embargo (from embargar, to bar)

  • fiesta (in Spanish, it can mean a party, a celebration, a feast — or a fiesta)

  • guerrilla (In Spanish, the word refers to a small fighting force. A guerrilla fighter is a guerrillero.)

  • hacienda (in Spanish, the initial h is silent)

  • hammock (from jamaca, a Caribbean Spanish word)

  • huarache (type of sandal)

  • hurricane (from huracán, originally an indigenous Caribbean word)

  • machete

  • machismo

  • macho (macho usually means simply "male" in Spanish)

  • mariachi (a type of traditional Mexican music, or a musician)

  • marijuana (usually mariguana or marihuana in Spanish)

  • nacho

  • nada (nothing)

  • negro (comes from either the Spanish or Portuguese word for the color black)

  • olé (in Spanish, the exclamation can be used in places other than bullfights)

  • patio (In Spanish, the word most often refers to a courtyard.)

  • piñata

  • plaza

  • poncho (Spanish adopted the word from Araucanian, an indigenous South American language)

  • pronto (from an adjective or adverb meaning "quick" or "quickly")

  • pueblo (in Spanish, the word can mean simply "people")

  • ranch (Rancho often means "ranch" in Mexican Spanish, but it can also mean a settlement, camp or meal rations.)

  • rodeo

  • rumba (from rumbo, originally referring to the course of a ship and, by extension, the revelry aboard)

  • siesta

  • sombrero (In Spanish, the word, which is derived from sombra, "shade," can mean almost any kind of hat, not just the traditional broad-rimmed Mexican hat.)

  • stampede (from estampida)

  • tango

  • tornado (from tronada, thunderstorm)


So with this long list in mind, next time you travelling or just want to go for paella and Chilean wine try busting out your near-fluent Spanish.



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