13 Words and Phrases to Know Before You Go to Spain

You’re about to study abroad in Spain. How exciting is that? You’re also about to immerse yourself in a culture like no other.


Studying abroad is a learning experience but you don’t want to feel out of the loop or lost. Here are some phrases that you will definitely find useful and make your transition just a little easier once you step off the plane. (Some are for those with little to no knowledge of Spanish and others are cultural slang words.)

  1. Buenas = Hello

When you get there, you’ll have to go through customs, luggage pick-up, etc. It might be nerve wracking with everyone speaking Spanish all of a sudden. If you want to sound like an old pro, greet the locals with simply, “Buenas.” As you might have learned “Buenas días,” “buenas tardes,” “buenas noches”— the Spanish have shortened it. (Kind of like when we get lazy and say hi or hey.)

  1. Agua de grifo = Tap water

When you go to restaurants, bars or clubs, water is not free. Most of the time they’ll assume bottled water and when you get the bill, you won’t be so happy. Ask for tap water to cut a few euros off your tab. (Side note: Bread/pan is not free. Some places list it on the menu but others bring it anyway and still make you pay. Watch out!)

agua de grifo.jpg

  1. Vale = Okay

This word has so many meanings. Okay. I understand. Gotcha. I agree. Let’s go. Mhm. Etc. There’s a 100% chance you will hear it.

  1. Jamón, Chorizo, Ibérico, Lomo = Ham/Pork

If you don’t eat pork like me, this comes in handy. Sometimes the Universidad listed dinner under words like lomo which just means pork loin. Before ordering or taking something, be aware. There are a bunch of names for pork/ham. You’ll notice very quickly- the Spanish love their jamón.

museo de jamon.jpg

  1. Chupitos = Shots

If you’re going out in Spain you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. This goes for any foreign place. If someone orders you a chupito, you should probably know what they’re referring to.

  1. Qué tal? = What’s up?

It means the same thing as Cómo estás?, but it’s more casual. Usually a bien, gracias is acceptable if you’re too nervous to say anything else.

  1. Cuanto es? = How much?

While you’re in Spain you’re going to shop of course. To ask how much something is, use this phrase.

  1. Rebajas = Sales

More shopping vocabulary! Spain has amazing sales in their little boutiques. Touristy stores might rip you off so usually the smaller ones are cheaper and more authentic.


  1. Donde está el baño? = Where is the bathroom?

This is to ask for the bathroom. Even with elementary Spanish, you probably know how to ask. However on bathrooms they use other words for men and women besides hombres and mujeres. You should also know caballeros: gentlemen and damas: ladies.

  1. Guay = Cool

If you want to show enthusiasm, hit ’em with a “¡Qué guay!”

  1. Tapas = Small plates

We have tapas in America, but in Spain it’s more common. They’re good for sharing, but can be pricey if you order a lot.


  1. Zumo = Juice

You may have learned jugo in class. Most of the time, you’ll see it listed as zumo instead.

  1. ¡Viva España! = Long live Spain!

You’ll see this, hear this and live this motto. What does it mean? Fútbol/soccer is not only part of the culture in Spain, but it’s life. Especially if you’re in Madrid during the time of the world cup, you better grab a jersey and head to a café to watch the excitement. This is one of the most cultural things you can do in Spain. You’ll really feel a part of it.

viva espana.jpg

Any questions, comments or thoughts about this blog, email me at @pnieber1@binghamton.edu. Also if you have any questions about my experiences, don’t hesitate to ask!

Patricia Nieberg, a Spanish Language and Culture summer education abroad program alum and a participant of the Semester in London program

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