Survival Spanish

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Hola from Costa Rica! I’ve spent the past week here, and consequently I’ve had the opportunity to sharpen my embarrassingly rusty  Spanish skills. I was astonished at how much of the language came back to me — and also at how much was lost to time. If you’re traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, here’s a list of words and phrases you might want to memorize before you go, along with some that I wished I’d taken the time to relearn before my plane touched down in San Jose.


  • “Por favor.” Please.
  • “Gracias.” Thank you.
  • “De nada” or “con gusto” You’re welcome.
  • “Buenas dias” or just “buenas”– “Good day,” used as a greeting.
  • “¿Como esta?” How are you?


  • “¿Donde esta…?” Where is?  If what you’re asking about is plural, use “¿Donde estan?”
  • “Puente en mal estadio.” Bridge in poor condition.” We saw a lot of these signs on the way to our rural mountainside resort.
  • “El taxi.” Taxi.
  • “Gire a la derecha.” Turn right.
  • Gire a la izquierda.” Turn left. 
  • ” Un plano.” A map.
  • “¿Por favor, puedo usar los servicios sanitarios?”  Please, can I use your bathroom? (Also, muchas gracias to the wonderful Costa Rican woman who let a pregnant gringa she’d never met into her home to use her bathroom!)

Food/ Restaurants

  • “La propina” The tip. In Costa Rica, this is generally  included, though you may tip a little extra if the service was exceptional.
  • “La cuenta, por favor.” Check, please.
  • Soda : A restaurant serving inexpensive Costa Rican staples.
  • “¿Acepta usted tarjetas de crédito?” Do you accept credit cards?
  • “Quiero…” I want…


  • “Habla ingles?” Do you speak English?
  • “Habla español?” Do you speak Spanish?
  • “Lo siento, solo hablo un poquito de español.” I’m sorry, I only speak a little Spanish.
  • “Hable despacio, por favor.” Speak more slowly, please.


  • “Quisiera hacer una reservación/ Tengo una reservación.” I would like to make a reservation/I have a reservation.
  • “¿Podria llamarme un taxi, por favor?” Could you call me a taxi, please?
  • ¿Tiene el hotel acceso a Internet? Does the hotel have internet access?
  • “La llave.” Room key.
  • “El aire acondicionado en mi cuarto no está funcionando.” The air conditioner in my room isn’t working.

Can you think of any other essential travel phrases? Share them in the comments!

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