Basic Spanish Terms Every Slow Traveler in Latin America Should Know | Packer Backroad (2023)

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Basic Spanish Terms Every Slow Traveler in Latin America Should Know | Packer Backroad (1)

In our opinion, one of the best ways to better connect with a place is to learn the local language. Now, we're not saying you have to be fluent, it takes months, if not years. What we're saying is that learning even the most basic terms will not only help you better connect with a place, but it will also make your travels much (much) easier.

In Colombia and most of South America, the official, and most widely spoken, language is Spanish. In fact, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world, with almost 450 million people saying it is their first language (Chinese ranks first and English third). Likewise, 21 countries around the world, including those in Europe, North America and Africa, have Spanish as their official language. Also, knowing Spanish is likely to help you in the long run, as some experts almost expect it to be the case for years to come.10%of the entire world population will speak and understand Spanish (a huge jump from the current 6%).

Learning the language of your place, or of the places you hope to visit, will not only make you a better traveler, but also help you travel better (and easier). Now we know that learning a new language can be hard (trust me, we're working on it right now), but we'll let you in on a little secret: learning a new language is hard.a loteasier when you are fully immersed in it.

So if you're planning to explore a Spanish-speaking destination (one of 21), we recommend doing some research beforehand and just diving in when you arrive. These basic terms below are a good place to start.

\\ Quick tips for learning Spanish (Español)

Below are some important things to know first when starting to learn Spanish.


Spanish is a gendered language, something it inherited from its Latin origins. This means that adjectives usually end in a (for women) or in o (for men). For example,alternative(feminine, tall) and viejo (masculine, tall).

Verb tenses

Spanish also has more tenses than English (yo, tú, él/ella, nosotros). Therefore, it is important to understand how this changes the verbs. Here's a quick breakdown (note that this is very superficial):

| I (I) = o, oy (I have, I drink, I am)

| tu (you) = as, is (you have, you drink, you are)

| he/she (he, she) = he, and (has, drinks, is)

| we (nós) = omos (we fear, we drink, we are)

Once you have these two ideas in mind, it's time to start learning basic Spanish terms. The following words and phrases are terms we use repeatedly on our visits to Latin America.

\\ Greetings

Hola |Hola

goodbye |Bye

Good morning/afternoon/evening |good morning late night

How are you? |How are you?

intestine |INTESTINE

spacious |Mal

What's your name? |Is this your name?

My name is… |My name...

sorry |a lost(sorry, can i have some help) osorry(sorry, can i come in)

I don't understand |I don't understand

sorry |a loss

I don't speak Spanish |I don't speak Spanish

Speak English? |Speak English?

Basic Spanish Terms Every Slow Traveler in Latin America Should Know | Packer Backroad (2)

\\ Shopping

How much does that cost? |How much does that cost?

mi |mi

No |NO

Please |Please

Gracias |Gracias

You're welcome |You are welcome

Too expensive |very expensive

money |Box

credit card |Credit card

\\ Basic numbers

1 |as

2 |do

3 |three

4 |four

5 |cinco

6 |six

7 |Seven

8 |mi

9 |nuevo

10 |diez

20 |For

50 |fifty

100 |hundreds

GOOD TO KNOW: In Colombia, the currency is quite high (US$1 = ~3,808 Colombian pesos). Then everything is combined with a thousand (1,000). So 20,000 = four (20) thousandths of an inch; 2,000 = of the thousand.

\\ Eat Drink

What is it? |What is it?

era |Era

I want… (I want) |I want

no thanks | No, thanks

I don't like |I don't like

Com |Swindler

which |sin

agua |agua

Leite |Legend

Café |Coffee shop

coffin |Coffin

Wein |Wein

carne |Carne

queso |Ask

\\ Locomotion and travel

Where is… |Where is...

where is the bathroom |Where is the restroom

currency exchange |currency exchange

money |Money

Restaurant |restaurant

Coffee (Coffee) |Coffee shop

mercado |mercado

Groceries (Supermarket) |Supermarket

\\ Specific expressions in Colombia

While the main language spoken in Colombia is Spanish, of course, there are a number of words that have become the norm in the country that you might not find in other areas. This is mainly because there is a strong influence from other cultures and regions, particularly from the Caribbean and Africa.

Brief greeting to approve/confirm something |Dog!

All that is good and pleasant |bacano

Burnt rice, usually stuck to the bottom of the pan, served with sauce |Whose

Short for compadres, which means friend, partner and partner |compa

Good, Nice and Beautiful |Chevere

A person who enjoys the local music "champetuo", a musical genre based on African and Caribbean rhythms (can also mean a loud and boisterous person) |Champetuo

be hungry hungry |filo

cold beer |libre

Short version of "no man", which means "no man" or denial of something (note: the longer you keep the word - noooooombre - the stronger the disagreement) |Nobody

friend, comrade or partner; someone close to you Often used with mi or my: mi vale, meu amigo |Of

Learning a new language takes time and a lot of effort and dedication. But the payoff is huge, especially when traveling to a place that speaks this language. As we mentioned earlier, a great way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in it. For us, although we both had Spanish classes at school, it didn't work out until we were in Peru for three months.

These basic terms are not the same as learning the language fluently, but they are terms we use countless times while traveling in Latin America. They will help you connect with the locals on a more personal level and help you travel more easily. Because who doesn't want that?

Note: As with any skill, learning a new language requires practice and dedication. That's why we use Duolingo almost every day.Duolingois a free app (not the pro version) super intuitive to learn Spanish. Plus it's fun :)


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