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 one 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 this digital print; but executing that daily hour does not run on auto pilot until it is a working habit.
Consistency is everything. Take action daily! Strive to thrive!
The Phonemes or Sounds
Learn the 30 Spanish letters. This is your pronunciation base. Spanish letters are also phonemes, that are generally 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 relatively quickly.
TIPs for the TONGUE – ‘mil’ = thousand. ‘cien’ = hundred. These will come in handy in a country like Colombia where one dollar = around 4,000 COP (Cuatro mil). ‘Mil’ and ‘cien’ are easy and super useful. Mil has just one syllable. Pronunciation: meel, because ‘i’ = ‘ee’. Cien has two syllables. Pronunciation: 'see en'
For this moment, focus on mastering one through 10. This is as survival as it gets. Then move ahead with the rest of the necessary numbers.
Poco a poco – Little by little or 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 are trying to feed hungry mouths, so knowing the numbers will help you pay closer to a correct and ideally lower price more often. Being able to spew out numbers and understand them when they are thrown back, allows for enhanced haggling or bargaining ability, consequently stretching one’s drifting dollar.
For myself and the great vast majority of us, money does not fall out of the sky, or from a tree, so: Para estrechar mi plata (to stretch my money), is virtually critical.
Money slang: Plata directly translates to silver; however, ‘plata’ is colloquially used to mean ‘money’. We all know that ‘dinero’ means ‘money’. But in spoken Latin-American Spanish, you are much more apt to hear: ‘plata’ meaning money, while ‘efectivo’ is the actual word for cash.
TRAVEL MANTRA: Haggle. Many things are negotiable, especially in the developing world, and more so when you know the 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 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 will 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 known to 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 is 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 to give a solid vibration. Add the following words and phrases for your language amusement:
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 esta? (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 & 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 gem.
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 prior days to 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: there is 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’.
Yo – I
Tú – you
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.
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 more than likely.
Common Words & Phrases
pero – but
y – and
o – or
él / la – the
porque – because
si – if
sí – 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.
Fruits and Other Food Words
Fruit is delicious and nutritious. To me, it’s a must when in the tropics, where the freshness factor is perhaps 20 times greater than what you were used to.
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 will discover fun and tasty fruta, which is new to you.
mani – nuts
nueces – walnuts
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
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 the conjugation, or the grammatical way the verb changes form depending on who is being spoken to or about, and the time the action or emotion takes place. We should begin learning the root-form of these volatile verbs.
TIP: Remember: Poco a poco (little by little) – Earthdrifter.com 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. And the conjugation or the changing forms are perceived as endless to the vast majority of human minds, even 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. (Total 105 minutes).
You will be close to using them correctly and at minimum, you will know at least one form (perhaps 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 should not cause extra stress. You will probably remember them by the end of the seven days.
Comer – to 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
Tomar – to 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
Ayduar – to 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
Bailar – to 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
Cantar – to 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
Cambiar – to 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
Caminar – to 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
Manejar – to 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
Descansar – to 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
Comprar – to 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
Viajar – to 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
Pagar – to 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 mnemonics 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.
Hacer – to 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
Decir – to 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
Ir – to 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
Ver – to 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
Ser – to 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
Estar – to 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
Tener – to have – PRESENT: yo tengo, tú tienes, él/ella tiene, ellos tienen, nosotros tenemos – PAST: yo tuve, tútuviste, él/ella tuvo, ellos tuviron, nosotros tuvimos
Dar – to 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
Salir – to 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
Pedir – to 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.
NOTE: Linguists say that if a person knows ‘ser’ y estar’ they can speak Spanish.
Functional or survival base Spanish is possible with proper study and focus for a mere seven hours, 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. When you are around the language, which will be during most of your awake time, you will be glad you managed to free 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.