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Essential Notions of Spanish to Survive in Barcelona

keyboard with habla espanol in blue
Written by Adriana

When you’re in a foreign country for a while working, on vacation, or studying, you would have different needs regarding the use you will give the native language, but you’re always going to need some preliminary basics to survive the very first days.

So from ShBarcelona, we want you to offer that first essential help with this article.

Related article: Language Bookstores in Barcelona

Useful tips to learn the Spanish language

Although you speak Spanish more or less fluently, you must learn what the codes are and how to ask for something or talk to people. You should also know that in Barcelona Catalan is spoken, and, although you can live there without speaking it, perhaps understanding it it very useful.

The greeting

word 'hola' in playful letters

Photo via Pixabay

For starters, you should know how to say hello or goodbye depending on the time of the day or the place you are.

The most common is a “hola” or “buenos días/tardes/noches” as a greeting, and a “adiós“, “hasta luego“, “nos vemos” or “que te vaya bien” to say goodbye.

Initial conversation

To ask someone how is he/she doing after the greeting they say “¿cómo estás?” or “¿cómo te va?” and usually you have to answer with a “Bien, ¿y tú?”, but does not always mean you want to know how the other is, is just a courtesy formula.

Useful expressions

To order your food at a restaurant can say “¿nos toma nota, por favor?“, for example, and to ask the price of something, “¿cuánto cuesta esto?“.

You can also replace the words by gestures or start speaking in English or another language, in case you can not follow the conversation, but it is always best to get the attention of the person with one of these sentences.

You might also find helpful to know how to ask for directions to a local resident with a “¿cómo puedo llegar a…( la Sagrada Familia, for example)?”.

Related article: 4 Apps to Help you Learn Spanish


two ladies with sunglasses looking at map of the city

Photo via Pixabay

You must learn to say:

  • ” or “no“,
  • or to ask for things preceded by a “por favor
  • numbers from 1 to 10 (uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez)
  • thanking someone with a “gracias
  • responding to a thanks you with a “de nada” or “no hay de qué
  • apologizing yourself with a “perdón” or “lo siento” or an “disculpe
  • or to get to a place with indications of direction “izquierda“, “derecha“, “girar“, “lejos
  • or other vocabulary “calle”,”plaza”, “paseo”, “avenida”, “metro“, “tren”, “autobús”
  • or other words related to basic food that is already more specific and you may need a dictionary (tapas, cerveza, tortilla de patatas, paella, ensalada, vegetariano, carne, pescado, etc.).

What if…

If you do not understand what someone is saying, you can also ask them to slow down the rate of speech with a “más despacio, por favor” or simply stating that you do not speak the language with a “no hablo español“.

Many times you will have to refer to your relatives, “mi hijo”, “mi hija”, “mi marido”, “mi mujer”, “mi novio”, “mi novia”, “mi amigo”, “mi amiga”, or you’ll have to express basic actions like “ir al baño” (going to the toilet in a restaurant, museum or similar) , “bajar del metro” in a particular metro station to ask someone, etc.

There are many different situations and much vocabulary you would need, we recommend that you always carry on a dictionary or a guide, so you can understand the signals that you find on the street or can express yourself in a more or less proper way to ask locals for directions, help or your food.

How did you manage communicating in Barcelona when you were here on holiday?

About the author


Adriana is a writer, content & community manager, web designer, media analyst and tireless traveler.

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