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How to Pronounce Useful Phrases when Asking for Directions in Spanish (and giving directions in Spanish)

Walking around in a new city is one of the best ways to know more about the local culture and find interesting places to visit. But, what if you are in a Spanish speaking city? “No hay problema”, in this article we will learn words and phrases that will make the process of asking and giving directions in Spanish much easier and enjoyable.

First, we will go over a few phrases to ask for directions, then, phrases to give directions, and finally, a summary section with vocabulary related to asking and giving directions in Spanish.

As a note, the phrases included in this article are based on the Spanish spoken in Mexico (which is VERY similar to the Spanish spoken in other countries) and they use a tone that is formal and relaxed. Considering you will usually use these phrases with strangers on the street, it is advisable to be polite in order to make things easier.

Now, let’s get started.

 

Asking for Directions in Spanish:

Casual Greetings:

Before asking a question to someone on the street, it is usually a good idea to greet them casually to get their attention so they can listen to your question. For that, you can use a big smile and one of these casual greetings:

  • Hello – Hola
  • Excuse me – Disculpe
  • Good morning – Buenos días
  • Good afternoon – Buenas tardes
  • Good evening – Buenas noches

Optional preliminary phrases:

These are optional, but they an easy way to get someone’s attention so they are ready to listen to your questions:

  • Excuse me, do you have a moment? – Disculpe, ¿tiene un momento?
  • Do you have a minute? – ¿Tiene un minuto?
  • I have a question – tengo una pregunta
  • I need a little help – necesito un poco de ayuda
  • Can you help me find something please? – ¿puede ayudarme a encontrar algo por favor?
  • I am visiting the city and I need a little help – Estoy visitando la ciudad y necesito un poco de ayuda
  • I am new in town and I have a question – Soy nuevo(a) en la ciudad y tengo una pregunta

 

Where is “the place you want to find”? – ¿Dónde está + “the place you want to find”?

  • Where is the subway? – ¿Dónde está el metro?
  • Where is the Cathedral? – ¿Dónde está la Catedral?
  • Where is the Casa Bonita Hotel? – ¿Dónde está el Hotel Casa Bonita?

After hearing your question, people will usually use their hand to point you in the right direction. To make sure you understood, you can ask:

This way? – ¿Por aquí?

Once you know which way to go, you can ask how far you should walk in that direction. You can find out by asking:

Walking, how many minutes? – Caminando ¿cuántos minutos?

.

Where can I + “a verb in infinitive” + “what you want”? – ¿Dónde puedo + “a verb in infinitive” + “what you want”?

to find – encontrar

  • Where can I find a taxi? – ¿dónde puedo encontrar un taxi?
  • Where can I find a good restaurant? – ¿dónde puedo encontrar un buen restaurante?
  • Where can I find a hotel? – ¿dónde puedo encontrar un hotel?

to buy – comprar

  • Where can I buy water? – ¿dónde puedo comprar agua?
  • Where can I buy sun block? – ¿dónde puedo comprar bloqueador solar?
  • Where can I buy batteries for my camera? – ¿dónde puedo comprar baterías para mi cámara?

to eat – comer

  • Where can I eat paella? – ¿dónde puedo comer paella?
  • Where can I eat tacos? – ¿dónde puedo comer tacos?
  • Where can I eat inexpensive food? – ¿dónde puedo comer comida barata?

to drink – beber

  • Where can I drink water? – ¿dónde puedo beber agua?
  • Where can I drink a beer? – ¿dónde puedo beber una cerveza?
  • Where can I drink alcohol? – ¿dónde puedo beber alcohol?

to catch – tomar

  • catch a taxi – tomar un taxi
  • catch the metro – tomar el metro
  • catch a bus that goes downtown – tomar un autobús que va al centro de la ciudad

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How do I get to…? – ¿Cómo llego a …?

  • How do I get to Villa Bonita Hotel? – ¿Cómo llego al Hotel Villa Bonita?
  • How do I get to the Sagrada Familia Church ? – ¿Cómo llego la Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia?
  • How do I get downtown? – ¿Cómo llego al centro de la ciudad?

Is it far from here? can I get there walking? – ¿Está lejos de aquí? ¿puedo llegar caminando?

Walking, how many minutes? – Caminando ¿cuántos minutos?

I want to go to the Cathedral, am I heading in the right direction? – Quiero ir a la catedral ¿voy bien por aquí?

Is it near the park? – ¿Está cerca del parque?

Is it safe to walk that way? – ¿Es seguro caminar por ahí?

Is there a bus that goes nearby that place? – ¿Hay algún autobús que pasa cerca de ese lugar?

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Using a Map:

  • Can you show me on the map? – ¿Puede mostrarme en el mapa?
  • Where are we on the map? – ¿dónde estamos en el mapa?
  • Where is “a specific place” on the map? – ¿dónde está “a specific place” on the map?
  • Where is the cathedral on the map? – ¿dónde está la catedral en el mapa?
  • I am looking for this address, how do I get there? – Estoy buscando esta dirección, ¿cómo llego ahí?

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Giving Directions in Spanish:

In this section, we will go over vocabulary and phrases that can be used when giving directions, or, when you want to be able to understand when Spanish speakers give you directions. Let’s see…

Vocabulary for giving directions:

  • North – Norte
  • South – Sur
  • East – Este
  • West – Oeste

 

  • Left – Izquierda
  • Right – Derecha

 

  • Turn left – Dé vuelta a la izquierda
  • Turn right – Dé vuelta a la derecha
  • Go straight – vaya derecho

 

  • Entrance – la entrada
  • Exit – La salida
  • Side – Lado
  • Next to – A un lado de
  • In front of – Frente a
  • Behind – Detrás de
  • Between – En medio de
  • Near – Cerca de
  • Far – Lejos de
  • Go up – Suba
  • Go down – Baje
  • Up – Arriba
  • Down – Abajo
  • To walk – Caminar
  • To turn – Dar vuelta
  • To cross – Cruzar
  • To arrive – Llegar
  • To keep going – Seguir
  • To take a bus – Tomar un autobús

 

  • Stop here – alto aquí
  • Stop there – alto ahí

 

  • Go faster – más rápido
  • Go lowly – más despacio

Roads:

  • Street – La calle
  • Alley – El callejón
  • Avenue – La avenida
  • Corner – La esquina
  • Roundabout – La rotonda
  • Highway – La carretera
  • Address – La dirección
  • City block – Una cuadra
  • Street corner – La esquina
  • Crosswalk – cruce de peatones
  • Main street – Una calle principal
  • Secondary street – Una calle secundaria
  • The first street – La primera calle
  • The second street – La segunda calle
  • The third street – la tercera calle
  • Lane – carril

 

Examples of phrases for giving directions:

  • Walk 5 blocks straight – Camine derecho 5 cuadras
  • Walk straight until you see a big park – Camine derecho hasta que vea un parque grande
  • Walk for 10 minutes, and then ask again – Camine 10 minutos, y entonces pregunte otra vez
  • Then, turn left – entonces, dé vuelta a la izquierda
  • Then, turn right on the corner – Entonces, dé vuelta a la derecha en la esquina
  • after the second traffic light, turn left – después del segundo semáforo, dé vuelta a la izquierda
  • When you see a green building, turn right – Cuando vea un edificio verde, dé vuelta a la derecha
  • Walk on this street for 10 minutes, when you get to a big yellow building, ask someone how to get to the plaza – Camine sobre esta calle por diez minutos, cuando llegue a un edificio amarillo, pregunte a alguien cómo llegar a la plaza
  • The store will be on your left – La tienda va a estar a su izquierda
  • Cross the street – Cruce la calle
  • It is close to the Church – Está cerca de la iglesia
  • It is far from your hotel – Está lejos de su hotel
  • Go up the stairs – Suba las escaleras
  • Go down the stairs – Go down the stairs
  • When you get to the bus stop, take the green bus that says “centro” – Cuando llegue a la parada de autobuses, tome el autobús verde que dice “centro”
  • Take bus number 12 – Tome al autobús número doce
  • It is in the corner of Avenue Juarez and Romero Street – Está en la esquina de la Avenida Juárez y la calle Romero

 

Additional phrases:

  • Write it down, please – Escríbalo, por favor
  • Please speak more slowly – Por favor hable más despacio
  • I am learning Spanish – Estoy aprendiendo español
  • Please speak slowly, I am learning spanish – Por favor hable lentamente, porque estoy aprendiendo español
  • Is there anyone who speaks English? – ¿Hay alguien que hable inglés?
  • How do I get there? – ¿Cómo llego ahí?
  • How far is las Ramblas? – ¿Qué tan lejos están las Ramblas?
  • How do I get to La Sagrada Familia Church? – ¿Cómo llego a la Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia?
  • What are the best places to visit in Barcelona? – ¿Cuáles son los mejores lugares para visitar en Barcelona?
  • What are a few good places to visit in the city? – ¿cuáles son algunos buenos lugares para visitar en la ciudad?
  • What is the best restaurant in Barcelona? – ¿Cuál es el mejor restaurante en Barcelona?
  • Where can we drink a beer? – ¿Dónde podemos beber una cerveza?
  • What is the best clothes store in Barcelona? – ¿Cuál es la mejor tienda de ropa en Barcelona?
  • Where can we go to party? – ¿Dónde podemos ir de fiesta?

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Vocabulary:

Places:

  • Hotel – El hotel
  • Apartment – El departamento
  • Airport – El aeropuerto
  • Bus station – La estación de autobuses
  • Bus stop – La parada de autobús
  • Train station – La estación de tren
  • Downtown – El centro de la ciudad
  • Market – El mercado
  • Hotel – Un hotel
  • Hostel – Un hostal
  • Restaurant – Un restaurante
  • School – La escuela
  • University – La Universidad
  • Gym – El gimnasio
  • Bar – Un bar
  • Beach – Playa
  • Cinema – El cine
  • Bank – El banco
  • Art gallery – una galería de arte
  • Museum – Museo
  • Library – Biblioteca
  • Book shop – Librería
  • Store – una tienda
  • Clothes store – una tienda de ropa
  • Shopping mall – un centro comercial
  • Shoe store – una tienda de zapatos
  • Good restaurant – un buen restaurante
  • Park – un parque
  • Good places to visit in the city – Buenos lugares para visitar en la ciudad

Distance:

  • Kilometers – Kilómetros
  • Meters – Metros
  • Miles – Millas

Means of transportation:

  • On foot – A pie
  • By bus – En Autobús
  • By car – En Automóvil
  • By plane – En avión
  • Bicycle – Bicicleta
  • Motorcycle – Motocicleta
  • Boat – Bote
  • Cruise – Crucero

Other useful words:

  • To walk – Caminar
  • To run – Correr
  • To walk around – pasear
  • To go for a walk – dar un paseo
  • I am lost – Estoy perdido
  • We are lost – Estamos perdidos

 

What other words or phrases related to giving directions in Spanish would you like to learn? Write them down in the comments section so I can help you.

 

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Spanish phrases you can use at Customs and Immigration in a Spanish speaking Country

Visiting a foreign country is an eye opening experience that invites us to learn about ourselves as we open our minds to a different world. However, there are times where having a little extra preparation can be very useful. For example, when you visit Customs and Immigrations in a Spanish speaking country.

Most likely, you will find someone who will speak English, but just in case there are no English speakers available (it DOES happen), here is an article with a list of words and phrases that may be useful in a scenario like this at the airport.

First you will find a video, where you will be able to listen to the pronunciation of the phrases; followed by a written list so you can take notes on your own.

Here is the first video with phrases related to your arrival, as well as the purpose and length of your visit. If there are any additional phrases you would like to learn, add them in the comments section so I can help. Here’s the video:

Common Customs and Immigration Questions and Answers about you and your trip

Questions about you…

  • What is your nationality? – ¿Cuál es su nacionalidad?
  • In what country do you live? – ¿En qué país vive?
  • What is your date of birth? – ¿Cuál es su fecha de nacimiento?
  • Where were you born? – ¿En dónde nació?
  • Do you have your passport with you? – ¿Trae su pasaporte con usted?
  • May I see your passport? – ¿Puedo ver su pasaporte?
  • May I have your passport please? – ¿Me permite su pasaporte por favor?

Answers about you…

  • I am an American citizen – Soy un ciudadano estadounidense
  • I am Canadian – Soy canadiense
  • I am from France – Soy de Francia
  • I have German nationality – Tengo nacionalidad alemana
  • I live in England – Vivo en Inglaterra
  • My date of birth is March 7 1978 – Mi fecha de nacimiento es el 7 de Marzo de 1978
  • Here is my passport – Aquí está mi pasaporte

Questions about your arrival…

  • Where are you coming from today? – ¿De dónde viene hoy?
  • Where are you traveling from today? – ¿Desde dónde viaja hoy?
  • Did your flight make any stops? – ¿Su vuelo hizo alguna escala?
  • Where have you been recently? – ¿Dónde ha estado recientemente?

Answers about your arrival…

  • I’m coming from Canada – Vengo de Canadá
  • Yes, my flight stopped in Amsterdam – Sí, mi vuelo hizo escala en Amsterdam
  • No, my flight didn’t make any stops – No, mi vuelo no hizo escalas
  • Recently, I’ve been to Honduras and Costa Rica – Recientemente he estado en Honduras y en Costa Rica

Questions related to the purpose and length of your visit…

  • Are you here on business or leisure? – ¿Este es un viaje de placer o de negocios?
  • What is the purpose of your visit? – ¿Cuál es el propósito de su visita?
  • What is the purpose of your trip? – ¿Cuál es el propósito de su viaje?
  • What is the reason for your visit? – ¿Cuál es la razón de su visita?
  • Where are you going? – ¿Adónde va a ir?
  • Why are you visiting Mexico? – ¿Por qué visita México?
  • Do you have proof of financial support? – ¿Tiene comprobantes de solvencia económica?
  • Have you been convicted of a crime? – ¿Ha sido condenado por algún crimen?
  • What is the address where you will be staying? – ¿En qué dirección va a quedarse?
  • Do you have hotel reservations? – ¿Tiene reservaciones de hotel?
  • Where are you planning to stay? – ¿Dónde planea quedarse?
  • Are you traveling alone? – ¿Viaja solo?
  • How many people are traveling with you? – ¿Cuántas personas viajan con usted?
  • How long will you be staying in Mexico? – ¿Cuánto tiempo va a quedarse en México?
  • How long do you plan to stay? – ¿Cuánto tiempo planea quedarse?
  • When are you returning to your country? – ¿Cuándo va a regresar a su país?

Answers related to the purpose and length of your visit…

  • Im’n on vacation – Estoy de vacaciones
  • This is a business trip – Este es un viaje de negocios
  • Because I want to know Mexico and relax on the beach – Porque quiero conocer México y relajarme en la playa
  • Because I want to rest with my family – Porque quiero descansar con mi familia
  • Because I want to improve my Spanish and visit Mexico City – Porque quiero mejorar mi español y visitar la Ciudad de México
  • I plan to visit Mexico City, Guanajuato and Guadalajara – Planeo visitar la Ciudad de México, Guanajuato y Guadalajara
  • I plan to stay a friend’s house – Planeo quedarme en casa de un amigo
  • This is the address where I will be staying – Esta es la dirección donde voy a quedarme
  • Here is a copy of my hotel reservation – Aquí está una copia de mis reservaciones de hotel
  • Yes, I am traveling alone – Si, viajo solo
  • I am not alone, I am traveling with my family – No vengo solo, viajo con mi familia
  • I am not alone, I am traveling with my wife and my 2 kids – No vengo solo, viajo con mi esposa y mis dos hijos
  • I plan to stay in Mexico for 2 weeks – Planeo quedarme en México por dos semanas
  • I will return to my country on November 15 – Voy a regresar a mi país el 15 de noviembre

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Common Customs and Immigration Questions and Answers about your belongings

Now, it’s time to review a few common questions related to things you may be carrying with you. Here is the video with the pronunciation of the phrases in English and Spanish:

Questions about things you may be carrying with you…

  • Do you have anything to declare? – ¿Tiene algo que declarar?
  • What are you declaring today? – ¿Qué va a declarar hoy?
  • Have you filled your declaration form? – ¿Ha llenado su forma de declaración?
  • Do you have your declaration form with you? – ¿Tiene su forma de declaración con usted?
  • How much money do you have with you right now? – ¿Cuánto dinero trae en este momento?
  • Where did you buy that? – ¿Dónde compró eso?
  • How much did this cost? – ¿Cuánto le costó?
  • Do you have a receipt that shows the price of this item? – ¿Tiene un recibo que muestre el precio de este artículo?
  • Are you bringing any gifts? – ¿Trae regalos?
  • Are you bringing any foods, meats, vegetables, alcohol or tobacco? – ¿Trae alimentos, carne, vegetales, alcohol o tabaco?
  • Are you bringing any fruits, vegetables, seeds or plants? – ¿Trae frutas, vegetales, semillas o plantas?
  • Have you been in a farm or a ranch recently? – ¿Ha estado en una granja o rancho recientemente?
  • Are you importing any tobacco, alcohol or firearms? – ¿Está importando tabaco, alcohol o armas de fuego?

Answers about things you may be carrying with you…

  • I don’t have anything to declare – No tengo nada que declarar
  • Here is my declaration form – Aquí está mi forma de declaración
  • I have 800 dollars in cash with me – Traigo 800 dólares en efectivo
  • I bought it in a duty-free shop in this airport – Lo compré en una tienda libre de impuestos en este aeropuerto
  • I cost 19 dollars – Costó diecinueve dólares
  • Here is the receipt with the price – Aquí está el recibo con el precio
  • Yes, I have 2 gifts in my bag, here they are – Sí, tengo 2 regalos en mi maleta. Aquí están
  • No, I am not bringing any gifts – No traigo regalos
  • I am not bringing any of that – No traigo nada de eso

Questions about your luggage…

  • How many suitcases are you taking today? – ¿Cuántas maletas lleva hoy?
  • Have you had your bag with you at all times? – ¿Ha tenido su maleta con usted todo el tiempo?
  • Are you carrying anything for anyone else? – ¿Lleva algo para alguien más?
  • Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry an item on this flight? – ¿Alguien que usted no conoce le ha pedido que lleve algo en este vuelo?
  • Did you pack your own bags? – ¿Usted empacó sus maletas?
  • What is inside your bag? – ¿Qué hay en su maleta?
  • Can I inspect your bags? – ¿Puedo inspeccionar su maleta?
  • May I check your bags? – ¿Me permite inspeccionar su maleta?

Answers about you…

  • I am bringing 2 bags – Traigo dos maletas
  • I am not bringing any bags, just my carry-on luggage – No traigo maletas, sólo mi equipaje de mano
  • I have had my bag with me at all times – He tenido mi maleta conmigo todo el tiempo
  • I am not brining anything for anyone else – No llevo nada para nadie más
  • Nobody has asked me to carry something on this flight – Nadie me ha pedido llevar algo en este vuelo
  • In my suitcase, there are some clothes, a camera, a charger for the camera, two pairs of shoes and three books – En mi maleta hay ropa, una cámara de fotos, un cargador para la cámara, dos pares de zapatos y tres libros
  • Yes, go ahead. You may inspect my bag – Sí, adelante. Puede inspeccionar mi maleta

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A Few Additional Phrases that can be useful at the Airport:

Phrases about finding your way around the airport:

  • How are you doing Sir / Madam? – ¿Cómo está usted?
  • How is your day going? – ¿Cómo va su día?
  • Excuse me, I have a question – Disculpe, tengo una pregunta
  • Do you have a moment? – ¿Tiene un momento?
  • Where are you headed? – ¿Adónde se dirige?
  • I’m going to Mexico City – Voy a la Ciudad de México
  • What terminal do you need? – ¿Qué terminal necesita?
  • I’m looking for terminal B – Busco la terminal B
  • Terminal B is for international flights. – La terminal B para los vuelos internacionales.
  • I’m looking for the American Airlines flight to Mexico City – Estoy buscando el vuelo de American Airlines que va a la Ciudad de México
  • May I see your ticket? – ¿Me permite ver su boleto?
  • May I see your boarding pass? – ¿Me permite ver su boleto?
  • Here’s my ticket – Aquí está mi boleto

Phrases related to arriving to your destination:

  • Go to Immigration please – Vaya a Inmigración por favor
  • Where is the Immigration Office? – ¿Dónde está la Oficina de Inmigración?
  • Go this way with your passport in your hand – Vaya por aquí con su pasaporte en mano
  • Go to customs please – Vaya a Aduanas por favor
  • Where is customs? – ¿Dónde está la Aduana?
  • Where can I claim my luggage? – ¿Dónde puedo reclamar mi equipaje?
  • How many bags do you have?- ¿Cuántas maletas tiene?
  • I have 3 bags – Tengo tres maletas
  • Where can I get a taxi? – ¿Dónde puedo conseguir un taxi?
  • Where can I rent a car? – ¿Dónde puedo rentar un auto?
  • What is a cheap and safe way to get to the city? – ¿Cuál es una forma segura y barata de llegar a la ciudad?
  • Where can I buy a map? – ¿Dónde puedo comprar un mapa?
  • Where can I make a phone call? – ¿Dónde puedo hacer una llamada telefónica?
  • How can I pay for a phone call on this phone? – ¿Cómo puedo pagar una llamada telefónica en este teléfono?
  • Can you help me make a phone call please? – ¿puede ayudarme a hacer una llamada telefónica por favor?
  • Do you have coins for the phone? – ¿Tiene monedas para el teléfono?
  • I need coins for the phone, can you give me change for this bill? – Necesito monedas para el teléfono, ¿puede darme cambio de este billete?
  • Where is the bathroom? – ¿dónde está el baño?
  • Where can I buy food? – ¿Dónde puedo comprar comida?
  • Where can I buy water? – ¿Dónde puedo comprar agua?
  • Enjoy your stay – Disfrute su estancia
  • Have a good trip – Que tenga buen viaje

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Related Vocabulary:

Here is a video with the pronunciation of vocabulary words related to these topics (as well as a written list)

 

Places at the airport:

  • Terminal building – El edificio de la Terminal
  • International arrivals section – Sección de llegadas internacionales
  • Domestic arrivals section – Sección de llegadas nacionales
  • Runway – La pista de aterrizaje
  • Gate – La puerta
  • Waiting area – El area de espera
  • Information desk – El mostrador de información

Documents:

  • Ticket – El boleto
  • Boarding pass – El pase de abordar
  • Boarding time – Hora de abordaje
  • Departure time – Hora de salida
  • Documents – Documentos
  • Passport – El pasaporte
  • Passport stamp – Sello de pasaporte
  • Visa – La visa
  • Connection flight – Vuelo de conexión

Check points:

  • Security – Seguridad
  • Security guard – El guardia de seguridad
  • Metal detector – El detector de metal
  • X-ray machine – La máquina de rayos equis
  • Conveyor belt – La banda transportadora
  • Customs office – La oficina de aduanas

Luggage and bags:

  • Suitcase – Una maleta
  • Baggage – El equipaje
  • Baggage claim area – El area de reclamo de equipaje
  • Baggage claim ticket – El boleto de reclamo de equipaje
  • Luggage cart – El carrito de equipaje
  • Carry-on bag – El equipaje de mano
  • Checked-in luggage – El equipaje documentado
  • Excess baggage – Exceso de equipaje

People at the airport:

  • Captain – El Capitán
  • Flight attendant – La asistente de vuelos
  • Customs officer – El oficial de aduanas
  • Security guard – El guardia de seguridad
  • Police officer – El oficial de policía
  • Taxi driver – El conductor de taxi
  • Bus driver – El conductor de autobús

On the plane:

  • Flight – El vuelo
  • Take off – El despegue
  • Landing – El aterrizaje
  • First class – Primera clase
  • Business Class -Clase de negocios
  • Coach class – La clase turista
  • Aisle – El pasillo
  • Seat – El asiento
  • Aisle seat – El asiento de pasillo
  • Window seat – El asiento en ventanilla
  • Row – La fila
  • Turbulence – Una turbulencia
  • Tray table – La mesita vuelo
  • Food cart – El carrito de comida
  • Luggage compartment – El compartimento de equipaje
  • Seat belt – cinturón de seguridad
  • Live vest – Un chaleco salvavidas
  • Oxygen mask – Una máscara de oxigeno
  • Pillow – Una almohada
  • Blanket – Una manta
  • Button – botón
  • Wing – El ala
  • Tail – La cola del avión
  • Cockpit – La cabina
  • Fuselage – El fuselaje
  • Emergency exit – La salida de emergencia
  • Bathroom – El baño
  • Occupied – Ocupado
  • Available – Disponible
  • In-flight entertainment system – Sistema de entretenimiento de abordo
  • Headset – Los audífonos
  • Comfortable – Cómodo
  • Uncomfortable – Incómodo

Are there any other words or phrases you would like to learn? Share them in the comments section so I can help you move forward.

 

 

 

 

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How to Make Learning Spanish Easy and Fun?

Some time ago I was having an interesting conversation with Umir, a friend of mine who I was helping learn Spanish. He was just getting started but he had an inquisitive mind and was curious about finding ways to make things easier and one of those things was learning Spanish.

He asked me this question:

“Miguel, how can I make learning Spanish easy and fun?”

I paused for a moment, and then started to share a few of the main lessons I had acquired over the years as I learned languages on my own and helped others do the same. This article is a summary of that conversation as well as a few additional notes. It is intended to be an overview that will include links to other articles with more information about specific topics. Feel free to click and explore, and most importantly, HAVE FUN!

Ready? Let´s get started.

First, Understand the WHY

What’s your goal? Why do you want to learn Spanish?

If the goal is important for you, it will keep you going when things get a challenging.

If the goal is important for you, it will keep you going when things get a challenging

  • Is it because you want to make more money at work?
  • Because you want a better job?
  • Because you want to be called for job interviews that are currently out of reach?
  • Because you want to make your customers feel welcome?
  • Because you want to help customers, patients or students?
  • Because you want to help your children learn Spanish?
  • Because you want to make new friends?
  • Because you want to travel?

Visualize yourself after reaching your goal and THINK how speaking Spanish would make you FEEL. Keep it in mind as you practice and throughout your day. If you keep it in mind often, it will soon become a reality.

The Secret: Keep it Simple and Focused

As with most things in life, there is more than one way to learn a new language and certainly, some ways are easier than others.

I want to help you by sharing what I have learned as a language teacher and a language learner so that your Spanish learning process is easy and fun (Yes, it is possible!)

The key is to keep things simple and focused in these three areas:

  • Selecting an Effective Game Plan
  • Focusing on Learning Useful Things
  • Enabling Simplified Persistence

Now, let’s take a closer look at each one of them to learn what they are about.

Selecting an Effective Game Plan

As I said before, there is more than one way to fry an egg, so why not choose a way that allows you to make breakfast in an easier and faster way while making things fun? (nothing wrong with that, right?)

Imagine you had to learn to use a computer all over again, starting from zero (let’s pretend you have some form of a “happy temporary amnesia”)

How would you go about it? Would you start by reading the user’s manual from page 1? Or would you grab the mouse, ask a couple of questions to a friend and click your way to clarity? Probably the second one right?

The computer won’t break and if something doesn’t work the first time, you can try a different method until you get it right. Feels more natural, right?

 

If you had to learn how to swim from scratch, what would you prefer?

A traditional class (in a classroom with tables and chairs) were a highly educated professor with 3 PhDs in Applied Physics explained the principles of hydrodynamics involved in the process of swimming, where you’d have to take notes to pass a written exam at the end of the semester?

Or would you prefer to attend class in a pool where a qualified instructor explained a few basic techniques that would allow you to start swimming after a few minutes of practice so you can improve as you continue?

Probably the second option, right?

But, why is that?

 

Probably because swimming is a skill no different than riding a bike or playing the guitar. These are skills that require practice, that require you to make innocent and playful mistakes as you go along in order to get better (It works; I learned to cook that way!)

If you think about it, that’s how we learn many experiential skills during childhood and our adult life. All the way from walking, talking, writing, riding a bike, driving a car, playing a sport or using a computer.

After all, you don’t need to learn about the mathematical equations or the electronic principles that were used to design the device you are using to read this article. You only need to know how to scroll down. That’s it.

Learning a language is not that different. You only need to focus on what is useful and keep it simple.

The problem is that we often make things more complex than they need to be.

So, if learning a language is not that different than learning how to ride a bicycle (both require you to know the basics and make playful mistakes along the way as you practice and figure things out) have you ever wondered why languages are taught in a classroom where we are punished if we make mistakes in an exam? That’s a great question, I am glad you ask…

This is a good example of a paradigm, which is nothing else than a pattern or a way of looking at the world that is widely accepted even without questioning if it is useful or not.

It is similar to wearing sunglasses that have a certain “reddish” shade. If you use those sunglasses all day long, everything would look “a little red” even if things around you are not red at all (and after some time, you wouldn’t even realize you are wearing them!)

A similar thing happens with education, and that is why many schools teach languages using a style that resembles the one used to teach other “information centric” subjects such as geography or history. Tim Ferriss (a friend of mine and mentor, even if he doesn’t know about it yet) has an interesting point of view about this topic, and you can read it here.

However, that is not the biggest problem. The big problem is the negative mental associations most of us develop about making mistakes and learning a new language.

Most of us begin to learn a new language in a classroom, where mistakes are often punished with a “red X” as if they were incorrect dates in a history class.

Over time, this teaching style conveys the message that making mistakes when learning a language is bad (this often happens at a subconscious level) and we become afraid of not speaking a second language perfectly, which prevents us from using (practicing) the second language we are trying to learn and get better at it. This becomes a vicious circle of doubt and fear. A self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to temporary failure.

In other words, the fear of not speaking a second language well enough prevents us from practicing in order to be able to speak the language well enough. It becomes a never ending story.

So, what does all this have to do with “The Game Plan” you choose? Great question. Once again, I’m glad you asked.

This will help you realize why learning a new language is often seen as a boring, tedious and almost impossible goal. It’s all about the game plan.

If you had taken a 2 year class about riding a bicycle, without the possibility of actually riding the bike until you passed a written exam about the history and milestones of bicycle design and manufacturing, you probably would’ve never learned how to ride one, because like any 10-year-old you would’ve quit. If something is tedious, boring and useless, that is what most of us do, run away (I know that is what I did when I was trying to learn how to play the piano when I was a kid. The lessons were SO boring, I just gave up!)

However, there certainly are other ways to learn to ride a bicycle. Other methods that are more fun and engaging than attending a classroom for two years to learn about bicycle related facts and the different stages of the pedaling process.

That is the point of this whole thing. There are other ways to learn languages beyond the classroom, and as a matter of fact, you have already done it with your native language.

Let me tell you about Armin, one of the guys I helped learn Spanish over the years.

One of the methods we used to improve his Spanish was to read children’s books together so I could help him with his pronunciation and comprehension. He would read the book at hand out loud and he would stop and ask questions whenever he stumbled upon a word or phrase he did not understand. After asking a question, he would make a small note on the book so he could review it later.

In the beginning, Armin stopped to ask questions frequently, but after few weeks he barely stopped at all. His brain started filling in the gaps to help him understand the book. He started to recognize the verbs and words used most frequently; he recognized sentence patterns, common phrases and so on.

Now, the obvious question that comes to mind is:

“Among the MANY alternatives to consider, how can I select a good Game Plan to learn Spanish for my job?”

This website has been created to answer that question. So, you have come to the right place to get started.

Useful Relevance: Learn what is Useful

What is the point of learning the names of a bunch of things that exist in an airport, a hotel or a kitchen if what you really want is to speak Spanish for your job?

What is the point of learning verbs and conjugations that not even native Spanish speakers use in their daily lives? Why make it more difficult than it needs to be?

Instead, you can focus on the words and verbs used most frequently in everyday conversations, as well as the vocabulary you use most often at your job.

One way to accomplish this is to use the 80/20 Principle.

The 80/20 Principle

According to Entrepreneur and Author, David Koch; “The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs or efforts usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs or rewards” (David Koch, The 80/20 Principle, Doubleday Publishing)

In other words, what are the few things that matter most?

So, we can use the 80/20 Principle to determine what we need to learn in order to move faster. In this case, determine a segment (which is usually around 20% of verbs and words, but the specific percentages can vary) that are used most often in common conversations.

By focusing on that 20% you can get disproportionate results in the progress of your language skills, which often (but not always) is around 80%.

Breaking the Rules

Understanding the rules of the game in order to rewrite them (or break them ethically) is another important thing to keep in mind.

Also, identifying rules that are not rules but just paradigms. They are like “imaginary” chains that keep things in their place, when in reality, we are free to move around and explore.

Just because something is usually “done a certain way” is not a good enough reason to keep following a method that can be improved.

When it comes to learning languages, understanding how our brain works (neuroscience) can make the memorization process more effective and fun.

One way to do this is to use mnemonics, which are simple mental association techniques designed to help you memorize things faster.

Simplified Persistence (in other words “making things easy”)

What is the point of having the right plan and the right tools if you don´t actually use them?

If you wait for things to be perfect “l-a-t-e-r” you will not move forward NOW (which often ends up meaning “never”) so even if you are not entirely ready to get started; start today and get going!

As you start moving forward you will gain momentum and things will become easier. Just focus on making things work and keep moving. Action leads to action. Think things through, make a plan, and get started!

 

Two simple strategies have proven to be useful over the years both for me and my students when it comes to selecting study materials:

First,

Recognize your predominant learning style. Some people prefer to read, others to listen, others like to watch videos and others prefer activities like cooking or dancing. What you choose to use doesn’t matter, what matters is that you use it to practice your Spanish often.

You can either take a test or try to determine your predominant learning style or try different ways to practice and select the one that feels easy and engaging. This will facilitate the learning process. It’s all about knowing yourself and understanding what is your predominant learning style.

Second,

Select learning materials about topics that interest you. I’m not talking about grammar books here, I’m talking about radio shows, audio books, TV shows, films, books or text articles in Spanish.

Find materials in Spanish about the topics that currently interest you in your native language.

Are you passionate about fashion, music, basketball or entrepreneurship? Then, use that interest to learn about these topics in Spanish. Your curiosity will facilitate persistence and motivate you to keep going. It’s like learning to cook a new recipe when you are super hungry. You will want to finish cooking the recipe so you can eat what you make. Your “hunger” will motivate you to cook faster.

So, if you enjoy learning about healthy living in English, and prefer audio over text; you could find free podcast audio files with tips related to living a healthy life in Spanish.

If you like reading magazines and feel interested about computers, then you could find online articles in Spanish about computers and things related to them.

If you’re an engineer, you could read articles about engineering in Spanish or watch documentaries in Spanish about engineering or manufacturing if you like visual content (with subtitles in Spanish).

It’s easy. Use materials in Spanish that talk about topics that interest you to practice your language skills and learn more about the topic of your choice.

Besides making practice interesting and fun, you will stumble upon words and expressions that are frequently used in that topic, and if the topic of choice is related to your job it´s even better.

So far, we have talked about choosing a solid Game Plan, selecting useful things to learn, and finding ways to facilitate simplified persistence.

Now, it’s time to bring it all together with the overarching themes that make it all work…

Simplicity and Focus

As you go along the process of learning Spanish for your job, keeping things simple, fun and interesting will help you practice consistently, and staying focused on learning things that are useful will help you move faster.

Now, I would like to close this with a question for you.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to learning Spanish? Please let me know in the comments section available below these lines so I can help and we can all learn together.

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Why is learning a new language often seen as boring and difficult?

It was a sunny day of summer, the sky was blue, Lake Chelan’s (Washington State) water was a little cold, and the boat’s engine sounded like a lion that was getting ready to devour its prey.

I was not entirely sure about what I was doing, but I was already in the water and according to my friend’s instruction I was supposed to “not let go of the handle” and try to stay vertical until the board came out to the surface. I was about to try wake boarding for the first time and the instructions I was supposed to follow were not as clear as I wish they had been.

Round 1…

First try, the boat starts moving and I hold the handle as hard as I can while the bottom half of my body feels stuck. I felt like being pulled out of quicksand by a sports car without moving more than an inch during the process. After a few seconds the pressure on my fingers became too much and I let the handle go.

The first attempt was not fun and my forearms were starting to hurt. The second attempt was a similar story, after a few seconds I had to let the handle go again. I was doing something wrong, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Then, my friend yelled at me: “just hold tight and keep the board steady until it comes out of the water.” It felt like insufficient information at the time, and 14 unsuccessful attempts later, my exhausted hands and forearms were evidence that I should have asked more questions before getting wet.

The whole thing seemed so difficult, and I ended up feeling frustrated and little disappointed.

In retrospect, the whole thing was my fault. If I didn’t feel like I understood the instructions I was given well enough, I should have paused after a few attempts to get feedback and ask questions instead of forging through in a relentless and hopeless pursuit of exhaustion. A recipe for disaster and very sore arms.

It is a similar thing with Languages…

That’s how learning a new language can feel at times. Although persistence is valuable, it can become stubbornness if it is used to follow a bad plan.

It is because of things like these that learning Spanish is often seen as a boring and difficult thing.

As I experienced that day when I tried wake boarding without having a good plan, following a difficult method usually makes things seem difficult.

Generally, when things seem difficult we get bored and lose motivation and when something seems difficult and boring, the process becomes frustrating and we often develop negative mental associations that make things seem even more boring and difficult than they really are.

This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that leads to temporary failure, which may become permanent if changes are not made.

To avoid this negative process it is important that you select a method that is effective and interesting. In order to do this, we need to prioritize what we choose to study based on usefulness, follow methods that facilitate persistence and find study materials we consider to be interesting.

I did learn One Water Sport that day…

Not everything was frustrating that day at Lake Chelan (Washington State) since I eventually did get to master a discipline that was easier than wake boarding. I am talking about riding a big round inflatable “doughnut” that gets to be dragged at full speed across the lake (aka “tubing”.)

The instructions I got for this were more precise according to the requirements of the task at hand. My friend said “just hold on tight and don’t fall down” that was all I needed to know to have a great time.

So, just as it happened with my day at the lake, choosing a simple plan that is useful, fun and interesting can make a big difference on how you feel about the process.

It is the same with Spanish. If instead of following a difficult, boring and uninteresting plan, you choose to keep things simple, useful and interesting, the way you feel about learning Spanish will change instantly.

It’s all in your head and you have the power to transform the way learning Spanish feels by changing how you feel while you learn Spanish. You can make you Spanish learning process more fun starting today. Learn how to do it over here: How to Make Learning Spanish Easy and Fun

 

What about you?

Tell me about one time when your perception about something made things seem more difficult than they really were.

What happened? Please share it in the comments section so we can all learn together.

 

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Can Negative Mental Associations Affect you when Learning Spanish?

I hated mayonnaise while I was growing up. If someone made me a sandwich and it had mayonnaise in it, I just would not eat it.

If I ordered a sandwich at a restaurant and I forgot to request a mayonnaise-free version (which often slipped my mind,) I would just eat the French fries even if I was still hungry after finishing them.

Although it was not a huge problem, this is something that troubled me for years because I couldn’t understand what was the cause of it.

.

An then, one day I realized…

One day when I was in college, I was watching a cooking show on TV and they showed how to make mayonnaise at home. I remember it as if it were yesterday. They said: “the ingredients for homemade mayonnaise are: eggs, salt, lemon and vinegar” and at that moment I thought to myself: “vinegar???

The 3 seconds that followed felt like a couple of minutes. Suddenly, I had flashbacks that brought me back to my childhood during the few times that I fell down while I was playing around at home and ended up hitting my head against the floor. Each one of those times, my mom would lovingly pick me up and bring me to the kitchen. Then, she would open the fridge and get a bottle of cold vinegar to pour some of it onto a kitchen towel to press it against the area of my head that was in pain.

To this day, I am not sure if that actually helped (I can’t remember) but according to to my mom, it helped to reduce the swelling (home remedies, who knows?)

During this 3 second flashback, I was able to feel the pain, hear my five-year-old self cry and get a good whiff of that saturating smell. The vinegar!

Flashback over. Those 3 seconds helped me realize that was it. That was the reason why I hated mayonnaise. It was because of the vinegar. Its smell reminded me of the pain, the crying and the stress I felt at times during my childhood. Even if they were accidental falls, my brain made the connection (similar to Pavlov´s Dogs)

I had associated the smell of vinegar with pain, and because of this the mere smell of mayonnaise made me feel repulsed. It was a mental association that had made my life unnecessarily difficult for years.

After understanding what caused my mayonnaise-related distress, it suddenly went away. From that day on, I was able to enjoy a sandwich full of mayonnaise just like everybody else.

How does the Brain work?

This episode got me curious about the mind. “How was it possible that something so small, that happened when I was a little kid, had stuck with me for so many years?” “Why does that even happen?” “What else am I carrying around without realizing it?” These are all questions that came to mind during the days that followed what I’ve come to call “The Mayonnaise Revelation.”

Since that day, understanding how the brain works and the impact it has on our lives has been a topic of interest for me.

Over time, I have read many interesting materials on the topic. Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is a valuable book I strongly recommend and a great place to get started. In his book, Mr. Goleman explains how our surroundings have changed “quickly” in recent centuries, which has not given us enough time for our brain’s evolution to catch up.

Centuries ago, our brain had to learn quick to help us survive. This often meant recording the sounds or smells of a predator in order to make a decision between fighting or escaping as quickly as possible.

“The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.”

-Daniel Goleman

 

This process of compiling a mental catalog of threats was crucial for survival centuries ago. However, there are times when it can be problematic in the modern world, and learning a new languages can be one of those scenarios.

If you are trained to be afraid of making mistakes while learning Spanish in school, that is a mental association that will make things unnecessarily difficult over time.

Why? Because even after a few years of finishing school, your brain will associate the process of learning Spanish with the discomfort and stress experienced in school previously.

This kind of mental associations are particularly strong when an emotional component is involved. So, if you ever felt afraid of being embarrassed in front of your classmates for answering a question incorrectly in Spanish class, chances are you have a few negative mental associations of which you will get rid of today after reading this article.

Just like it happened with “The Mayonnaise Revelation”, once you become aware of the seemingly hidden mental associations that affect your Spanish learning experience, you will be able to set free from the mental restraints that have been holding you back.

 

Can your Mind really make Things more Difficult?

So, coming back to the initial question. Can negative mental associations affect you while learning Spanish? The answer is: yes they can, and the opposite is also true.

In fact, you can retrain your brain so it sees learning Spanish as a fun and interesting activity. One simple way to accomplish this is to use the power of repetition to influence the brain. If you say the wrong word or find yourself struggling with a verb in Spanish, instead of thinking something that sounds like: “this is impossible. I’m never going to learn the language. There are too many words to learn”, consciously choose to think something that sounds more like: “This is easy. I am learning. It’s just a matter of time and I am getting better every day. Thank you!”

Over time, this will change your mental attitude (mental association) towards learning Spanish and it will help you to see it as a process of constant growth that is challenging and fun at the same time.

What do you think about this topic?

Have you had any experience with negative mental associations?

Share them in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

 

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Listening: Conversation between a Nurse and a Patient (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 025

 

In this session, we will go over a Dual Spanish practice to help you understand more spoken Spanish as we review a Conversation between a Nurse and a Patient. You can listen here:

Continue reading Listening: Conversation between a Nurse and a Patient (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 025

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Listening: Conversation between a Customer Service Representative and the Buyer of a Printer (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 024

 

In this session, we will go over a Dual Spanish practice to help you understand more spoken Spanish as we review a Conversation between a Customer Service Representative and the Buyer of a Printer. You can listen here:

Continue reading Listening: Conversation between a Customer Service Representative and the Buyer of a Printer (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 024

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Listening: The Day of the Dead in Mexico (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 023

 

In this session, we will go over a Dual Spanish practice to help you understand more spoken Spanish as we learn about The Day of the Dead in Mexico. You can listen here:

Continue reading Listening: The Day of the Dead in Mexico (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 023

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22 Phrases for Teachers in Spanish (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 022

 

In this session, we will review a list of common phrases in Spanish that Customer Service Representatives can use when talking with customers. You can listen to the audio here:

Continue reading 22 Phrases for Teachers in Spanish (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 022

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Listening: Conversation with a Father in Law and a Son in Law (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 021

 

In this session, we will go over a Dual Spanish practice to help you understand more spoken Spanish as we review a Conversation between a Father in Law and a Son in Law. You can listen here:

Continue reading Listening: Conversation with a Father in Law and a Son in Law (Podcast) – Dual Spanish – SPJ 021