Survival Spanish in seven days. A sign in Spanish and English in the lushly forested foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in Minca, Magdalena, Colombia.

Imagine traveling to sultry South America, somewhere near its northernmost tip. The climate, geography, way-of-life and language are different; yet it is a tropical wonderland in the backyard of the USA’s southeast. It can be reached in under three hours from the Florida peninsula.

There is a language barrier for non-Spanish speakers. But great communicative hope, and fantastic fun can be part of the puzzle, too. Here is how to acquire survival Spanish in seven days.

Start Hitting the Books A Week Before Your Trip

Study for an hour a day for each of the seven days leading up to your excursion. Follow this formula and you should be ready to linguistically survive when you arrive. It sounds easy on paper or digital print; but executing that daily hour doesn’t run on auto pilot until it’s a working habit.

Consistency is everything. Take action daily! Strive to thrive!  

Phonemes (Sounds)

Learn the 30 Spanish letters. This is your pronunciation base. Spanish letters are phonemes that are fast and easy to remember, especially when you look and listen to them simultaneously right here.

Study the letters and sounds for six minutes a day for seven straight days. That’s a total of 42 minutes.

The Numbers (Los Numeros) & Dinero

Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez. Great work! Don’t stop there. Eventually learn up to one million. Notwithstanding, once you have one through 10 memorized, the rest goes quickly.

Study the numbers five minutes per day for seven days. That’s a total of 35 minutes. If you do this, you will know the numbers in Spanish. Try it and let me know if it was that easy.

TIPs for the TONGUEmil (thousand), (cien) = hundred. These will come in handy in a country like Colombia where one dollar is around 4,000 COP (Cuatro mil). Mil and cien are easy and super useful. Mil has one syllable. Pronunciation: meel, because i = ee.  Cien has two syllables.  Pronunciation: see en.

Focus on mastering one through 10. This is as survival as it gets. Then move ahead with the rest of the necessary numbers.

Survival Spanish in seven days. Sign outside Waira Café where they serve deliciously fresh organic and vegan ice cream in Minca, Magdalena, Colombia
Sign Outside Waira Café, Minca, Colombia

Poco a poco Little by little (one step at a time).

Learn how to say: ‘How much?’. You can say: ¿Cuanto Cuesta? ¿Cuanto? or my favorite and the most colloquial version: ¿Cuanto vale? Most people are honest but everyone cannot be when they’re trying to feed hungry mouths.

Knowing numbers will help you pay the correct price. Being able to spew out numbers and understand them when they are thrown back allows for enhanced haggling ability, consequently stretching your drifting dollar.

Money doesn’t fall out of the sky, or from a tree, so: Para estrechar mi plata (to stretch my money), is critical.

Money slang: Plata directly translates to silver; however, plata is colloquially used to mean money. We all know that dinero is money. But in spoken Latin-American Spanish, you are more apt to hear: plata (money), while efectivo is cash.

TRAVEL MANTRA: Haggle.  Many things are negotiable, especially in the developing world, and more so when you know Spanish numbers.

Uno a diez is where the numero journey has to begin. Try to have them learned before you step off the airplane, the sailboat or when cross the border into magical México.

You can write numbers or show them on your phone, but it is more efficient to put in a total of 35 minutes, which includes five minutes a day, for the seven days leading up to your trip. Then, in exotic America Latina, you'll find yourself able to rattle off and understand Spanish digits.

Learn the numbers in Spanish and your spending integrity will be enhanced in Latin America. Without Spanish numbers you could be prey for a monetary predator. Most people are not out to rob you of your plata, but they exist, and more so in areas that attract tourists. You could be seen as a wealthy gringo who is a walking sack of sustenance. The great and growing economic divide is a tragedy; yet it’s the fierce reality.

Greetings and Replies

Before asking or requesting something, you’re more apt to get what you want by providing a greeting and a smile. Add the following greetings and phrases to your small talk arsenal:

Hola – the ‘h’ is silent or not pronounced

Buenos dias – in the morning until around noon

Buenas tardes – from noon til around 6 pm.

Buenas noches – from 6 pm until you’re going to go to bed when someone may say to you:

A que descansa. (Rest well, instead of the standard good night that we use in English).

¿Que tal? (What’s up)

¿Como estas? (How are you?)

Estoy bien. ¿Gracias y tu? (I am well. Thanks and you?)

Todo bien. Gracias, y tu? (All is well, thanks and you?)

Study the above greetings and replies for three minutes per day for seven days for a total of 21 minutes.

Asking Questions and Giving Answers Using Hay

Hay” silent ‘h’ pronounced ‘Ahy’ is a Spanish word that can be translated into different English words. This user-friendly form of the verb: ‘to be’ literally means: ‘There is/are’. You can flip that to Is/are there? In this case it is used as a question: ¿Hay? Is there? OR Are there?

For example, if, when walking into a restaurant, you’re not sure if they are open. You could say: “¿Hay comida?” (Is there food?) There’s a great chance they will say: “Si, hay.” – (Yes, there is). If not, they may say: “No hay”. (No, there isn’t.)

Hay comida vegana” could translate to: “We have vegan food available”.

Spend two minutes a day studying different ways to use ‘hay’. In a total of 14 minutes over seven days studying ‘hay’, you will have more ways to enhance survival upon arrival. This word is a jewel.

Days of the Week

Domingo – Sunday

Lunes – Monday

Martes – Tuesday

Miercoles – Wednesday

Jueves – Thursday

Viernes – Friday

Sabado – Saturday

Say these days of the week for one-minute per day for the seven days before your trip and you will know the seven days in Spanish.

Months of the Year

Enero – January

Febrero – February

Marzo – March

Abril – April

Mayo – May

Junio – June

Julio – July

Agosto – August

Septiembre – September

Octubre – October

Diciembre – December

Noviembre – November

Use one-minute per day for seven days saying the months in Spanish. They are similar to English so you will easily remember them. And if you don’t the first, second or third day, it’s completely OK, because it’s not a life or death situation. One wonderful thing about learning a language is that it’s never a catastrophe.

Eventually you remember. And if you don’t, there is still no reason to not be grateful for the opportunity to keep learning.

TIP for the TONGUE: the Spanish ‘J’ is pronounced just like an English ‘H’.

Personal Pronouns

Yo – I

– you

Él– he

Ella – she (two ‘l’s together in Spanish makes an English ‘y’ sound. Ella = ayah

Nostotros – we

Ellos – they

Study personal pronouns for one-minute per day for seven days leading up to your trip. They are needed for the conjugation of verbs. You might remember them faster than you think.

Key Prepositions

en – in, on, at

por/para – for

a – to

con – with

sin – without

antes – before

despues – after

entre – between

a lado de – beside, next to

de – of, from

contra – against

ababjo – under, below

adentro – inside

afuera – outside

hasta – until

sobre – about, over

al frente – across

desde – from, since

durante – during

a traves de – through

aunque – although

It is recommended that you study these key prepositions for six minutes per day, for seven days (42 minutes) leading up to your trip. They will then be embedded in your brain.

Common Words & Phrases

pero – but

y – and

o – or

él / la – the

porque – because

si – if

– yes

no – no

no problemo – no problem

ahora – now

entonces – then

¿Que? – What?

¿Como? – How?

¿Donde? – Where?

¿Cuando? – When?

¿Por que? – Why?

¿Quien? – Who?

Perdon – Excuse me

¿Donde esta el baño? – Where is the bathroom?

¡Bienvenidos! – Welcome!

Mas o menos – More or less

It is recommended to study common words and phrases for five minutes per day for a total of 35 minutes.

Tengo Hambre (I Have Hunger)

Food is an integral part of travel, for both the necessity and awe & wonder. Edible items can have different names across countries. For example, in México and Colombia, aguacate is avocado; whereas in Perú and Argentina, palta is avocado. So, for our general-gastronomical-introductory-Spanish-survival-mini guide, we will keep food names general.

Survival Spanish in seven days. Pitaya (Spanish) OR dragon fruit (English).  It's one of my tropical favorites.
Pitaya or dragon fruit, one of my tropical favorites, Minca, Colombia.

Fruits and Other Food Words

Fruit is delicious and nutritious. To me, it’s a must when in the tropics, since the freshness factor is perhaps 20 times greater than what you were used to if you’re not from the tropics.

fruta – fruit

manzana – apple

naranja – orange

piña – pineapple

fresa – strawberry

mora – blackberry

sandia – watermelon

maracuyá – passion fruit

pitaya – dragon fruit

jugo – juice

jugo de uvas – grape juice

NOTE: Different tropical areas have specific regional fruits. Be inquisitive: ¿Que es? (What is that?) ¿Como comelo? (How do I eat it?) You’ll discover new, fun and tasty fruta.



marañones – cashews

almendras – almonds

pasas – raisins

verduras – vegetables

ensalada – salad

sopa – soup

lechuga – lettuce

pepino – cucumber

tomate – tomato

cebolla – onion

ajo – garlic

espinaca – spinach

apio – celery

papas – potatoes

yuca (casava) – a potato-like root vegetable

comida – meal

desayuno – breakfast

almuerzo – lunch

cena – dinner

postre – dessert

torta – cake

helados – ice cream

pan – bread

huevos – eggs

carne – meat (beef)

pollo – chicken

pescado – fish

mariscos – seafood

menu – set lunch or dinner

carta – menu

cerveza – beer

vino – wine

gaseosa – soda

bebida – drink

trago – alcoholic drink

Survival Spanish in seven days. Vegan food (vegano) salad and colombian style arepa from Duni in Minca, Magdalena, Colombia.
Vegan food: salad and arepa from Duni, Minca, Colombia.

Useful food phrases

Soy vegano/vegetariano – I am vegan/vegetarian

Quiero – I want

Quisiera – I would like

Sin queso (without cheese)

Sin azucar (without sugar)

Con aceite (with oil)

Con gas (carbonated or sparkling water)

Un agua, porfa (a water, please)

La cuenta porfa (the bill, please)

Gracias. (Thank you.)

Spend about ten minutes a day (70 minutes in total) developing that Spanish food base as it will come in handy every day you’re in that exotic Latin land.

NOTE: Our introductory survival español has been relatively easy up to this point.

When Spanish Makes English Speakers Want to Cry

First placing eyes on conjugation (grammatical verb form changes) depending on who is being spoken to or about, and the time the action or emotion takes place. We begin by learning the root-form of these volatile verbs.

TIP: Remember: Poco a poco (little by little) – wasn’t built in a day. Actually, it hasn’t even been set up properly at the time of this writing, or updating. 

MANTRA: paciencia (patience).

12 Useful Regular Root Verbs in Spanish

comer – to eat

tomar – to take, to drink

ayduar – to help

bailar – to dance

cantar – to sing

cambiar – to change

caminar – to walk

hablar – to talk, to speak

manejar – to drive

descansar – to rest

comprar – to buy

viajar – to travel

pagar – to pay

NOTE: There are many more, these are some commonly used regular verbs to get you started.

10 Useful Irregular Root Verbs in Spanish

hacer – to make, to do

decir – to say

ir – to go

ver – to see

ser – to be (permanent)

estar – to be (temporary)

tener – to have

dar – to give

salir – to leave

pedir – to request, to ask for

NOTE: There are many more, these are a few to put you on the right path.

Verbs are obligatory for the construction of an action-word depository. Conjugation is endless, even for native Spanish speakers.

For practical purposes, I will give you the present simple and past simple for the 22 verbs above.

It would be a stellar idea to study these verbs for 20 minutes per day, for the seven countdown days up until your viaje (trip). (Total 105 minutes).

You’ll be close to using them correctly and at minimum, you’ll know at least one form (the infinitive (above) which will allow you to survive after you arrive. Ohala. (We hope. God willing. More than likely.)

GEEK SPEAK: Just like the Arabic, in’sha’Allah, the Spanish equivalent, ohala can have many fun translations into English.

Regular Verbs: a Logical Pattern

This will enable you to remember the forms relatively quickly, once you get the hang of them, the regular verbs shouldn’t cause extra stress. You’ll probably remember them by the end of the seven days.

Comerto speak – PRESENT: yo como, tú comes, él/ella come, ellos comen, nosotros comemos – PAST: yo comi, tú comiste, él/ella comio, ellos comeron, nosotros comimos

Tomarto take, to drink – PRESENT: yo tomo, tú tomas, él/ella toma, ellos toman, nosotros tomamos – PAST: yo tome, tú tomaste, él/ella tomio, ellos tomaron, nosotros tomamos

Ayduarto help, to assist – PRESENT: yo ayudo, tú ayudas, él/ella ayuda, ellos ayudan, nosotros ayudamos – PAST: yo ayude, tú ayudaste, él/ella ayudo, ellos ayudaron, nosotros ayudamos

Bailarto dance – PRESENT: yo bailo, tú bailas, él/ella baila, ellos bailan, nosotros bailamos – PAST – yo baile, tú bailaste, él/ella bailo, ellos bailaron, nosotros bailamos

Cantarto sing – PRESENT: yo canto, tú cantas, él/ella canta, ellos cantan, nosotros cantamos – PAST: yo cante, tú cantaste, él/ella canto, ellos canaron, nosotros cantamos

Cambiarto change – PRESENT: yo cambio, tú cambias, él/ella cambia, ellos cambian, nosotros cambiamos – PAST: yo cambie, tú cambiaste, él/ella cambio, ellos cambiron, nosotros cambiamos

Caminarto walk – PRESENT: yo camino, tú caminas, él/ella camina, ellos caminan, nosotros caminamos – PAST: yo camine, tú caminaste, él/ella camino, ellos caminaron, nosotros caminamos

Manejarto drive – PRESENT: yo manejo, tú manejas, él/ella maneja, ellos manejan, nosotros manejamos – PAST: yo maneje, tú manejaste, él/ella menejo, ellos menejaron, nosotros manejamos

Descansarto rest – PRESENT: yo descanso, tú descansas, él/ella descansa, ellos descansan, nosotros descansamos – PAST: yo descanse, tú descansaste, él/ella descéanso, ellos descansaron, nosotros descansamos

Comprarto buy – PRESENT: yo compro, tú compras, él/ella compre, ellos compran, nosotros compramos – PAST: yo compre, túú compraste, él/ella comprio, ellos compraron, nosotros compramos

Viajarto travel – PRESENT: yo viajo, tú viajas, él/ella viaja, ellos viajan, nosotros viajamos – PAST: yo viaje, tú viajaste, él/ella viajo, ellos viajaron, nosotros viajamos

Pagarto pay – PRESENT: yo pago, tú pagas, él/ella paga, ellos pagan, nosotros pagamos – PAST: yo pague, tú pagaste, él/ella pago, ellos pagaron, nosotros pagamos

STUDY TIP: Write down the verbs and their forms in a notebook and use that to casually study the present and past forms. Writing with a pen on paper provides better mnemory insight compared to finger touching a screen.

Irregular verbs: an Illogical Pattern

Irregular verb forms in Spanish can be some of the most challenging aspects of learning in any language. Knowing irregular verb forms is not necessary for initial survival, although it helps to start taking a glance. Like the regular verbs, there is logic to the forms, but not as much. Even just knowing the base form is a superb start. Things that are worthwhile are not typically easy.

Feel free to wonder what was going on while ancient Iberian linguists created verbos irregulares en español.

Hacerto make, to do – PRESENT: Yo hago, tú haces, él/ella hace, ellos hacen, nosotros hacemos – PAST: Yo hice, tú hiciste, él/ella hizo, ellos hicieron, nosotros hicimos

Decirto say – PRESENT: yo digo, tú dices, él/ella dice, ellos dicen, nosotros dicimos – PAST: yo dije, tú dijiste, él/ella dijo, ellos dijeron, nosotros dijimos

Irto go – PRESENT: yo voy, tú vas, él/ella va, ellos van, nosotros vamos – PAST: yo fui, tú fuiste, él/ella fue, ellos fueron, nosotros fuimos

Verto see – PRESENT: yo veo, tú ves, él/ella ve, ellos ven, nosotros vemos PAST: yo vi, tú viste, él/ella vio, ellos vieron, nosotros vimos

Serto be (permanent) – PRESENT: yo soy, tú eres, él/ella es, ellos son, nosotros somos – PAST: Yo fui, tú fuiste, él/ella fue, ellos fueron, nosotros fuimos

Estarto be (temporary) – PRESENT: yo estoy, tú estás, él/ella esta, ellos están, nosotros estamos – PAST: yo estuve, tú estuviste, él/ella estuvo, ellos estuvieron, nosotros estuvimos

Tenerto have – PRESENT: yo tengo, tú tienes, él/ella tiene, ellos tienen, nosotros tenemos – PAST: yo tuve, tútuviste, él/ella tuvo, ellos tuviron, nosotros tuvimos

Darto give – PRESENT: yo doy, tú das, él/ella da, ellos dan, nosotros damos PAST: yo di, tú diste, él/ella dio, ellos dieron, nosotros dimos

Salirto leave – PRESENT: yo salgo, tú sales, él/ella sale, ellos salen, nosotros salimos – PAST: yo sali, tú saliste, él/ella salió, ellos salieron, nosotros salimos

Pedirto request, to ask for – PRESENT: yo pido, tú pides, él/ella pide, ellos piden, nosotros pedimos – PAST: yo pidí, tú pidiste, él/ella pidió, ellos pidieron, nosotros pedimos

There it is. The absolute hardest part was saved for last. And you don’t need to remember every form of the present and past. For stepping foot into Spanish-speaking territory, the original form of the verb will do for the time being, especially for the grueling irregular verbs.

Linguists say that if a person knows ‘ser’ y estar’ they can speak Spanish.

Functional (survival base) Spanish is possible with a mere seven hours of focus, ideally during the fresh seven days leading up to your exploratory endeavors in a Spanish speaking land.

Have fun, you should be ready to give your Spanish a go with the locals. Throw out the words you know and keep building. You’ll be glad you freed up those seven study hours in the last seven days leading up to your viaje (trip).

¡Buena suerte! – Good luck!

Has this or a similar language-study system helped you achieve communication ability abroad? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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