four students learning spanish in Spain

For students

Talk the talk: Speaking Spanish in Spain

If you’re aiming for fluency in a foreign language, there’s nothing more powerful than practicing it in the places where it’s from. But even if acing your language skills isn’t on your to-do list, you should still try to speak the local lingo whenever you’re somewhere new. That’s because, whether you want to deepen your understanding of local customs, strike up conversations with new people, or simply gain the confidence that comes from stepping (or speaking) outside of your comfort zone, knowing a few key words and phrases will make your travel experience much more meaningful.

Of course, talking the local talk is easier said than done—no pun intended. But, practice makes progress. And by pushing yourself to speak up in low-stake situations, you’ll be even more prepared to use your voice in the high ones. Watch the videos below to see how three students translated their classroom learnings into real-world wins, then complete one (or all!) of the same challenges when you join an EF tour to Spain. It might seem daunting, but we know you can do it. Or, as the girls kept cheering to hype each other up, ¡si se puede!

Challenge #1
Order a sweet treat

When it comes to immersing yourself in a new culture, sampling new foods is just as important as speaking the local language. So, why not combine the two, like our challenger Lizzie did during her trip to Madrid? While she was nervous at first, her worries soon melted away as quickly as the gelato she was coveting. And as a reward for her toils, she walked away with a sweet new sense of pride and a trophy in the shape of an ice cream cone.

3 key phrases:

I’d like to order – Me gustaria pedir

May I sample…? – ¿Puedo probar una muestra de…?

I’m allergic to… – Soy alérgico/alérgica a…

Pro tip: Even if you only know a few basics—things like “hola,” “cómo estás,” and “buenas tardes”— starting a conversation in the local language shows you’re trying to make an effort, and that you aren’t simply entering a new space expecting the people who live there to cater to your own western-centric needs.

Challenge #2
Ask for directions

This task is a little trickier. In addition to asking for help, you’ll need to listen extra carefully so you can retain the directions as you’re on the move. To practice, we recommend asking strangers for directions when you aren’t actually lost just so you can work on your comprehension skills. Or, if you’re an advanced Spanish speaker, like student Constanza, use this as an opportunity to get more comfortable approaching strangers. After all, it can be nerve-wracking asking strangers for directions even when there isn’t a language barrier.

3 key phrases:

Excuse me, I’m lost – Disculpa, estoy perdido/perdida

Where is…? – ¿Dónde está…?

Can you help me find… – ¿Puede ayudarme buscar…?

Pro tip: Still feeling tongue-tied? Just remember you don’t have to be fluent to be friendly. According to local guide Carlos from Toledo, travelers really only need to know two phrases to get by in most parts of Spain: por favor and gracias. As Carlos says, “If you’re courteous, everyone will try to help you.”

Challenge #3
Buy a souvenir

Magnets and postcards are great and all, but if you complete this challenge, you’ll return home with a souvenir that’s far more valuable. (Hint: In Spanish, it’s confianza.) That’s exactly what happened when student Bella decided to practice her shopping vocabulary with a local vendor. Ironically, she bought eyewear to block out the sun, but nothing could dim how brightly she glowed after that experience.

3 key phrases:

How much does this cost? – ¿Cuánto cuesta?

Can I have change? – ¿Puedo tener cambio?

Do you have…? – ¿Tiene…?

Pro tip: As you’re shopping, don’t worry if you get stuck on the word for a certain item you’d like to buy. Just gesture to it if it’s within view, and if it isn’t, put your charades skills to use and mime what you’re hoping to find.

learning spanish in Spain on a beautiful street

Want to try talking the talk for yourself?

¡Si se puede! Get started by exploring our tours to Spain.

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Sarah McLaughlin

Sarah is a senior copywriter at EF Education First. When she isn’t writing, you can find her browsing through bookshops, trying to cook, or going to improv class (which is basically just an excuse for adults to play make-believe).