125 Spanish Words That Every Expat Should Know

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Authors note: There are two other resources we have to assist you with learning Spanish. The first is our article 6 Ways to Learn Spanish for Free. The second is a Facebook group we have set up for those looking to learn Spanish (or native speakers willing to help us out with questions), which you can join at Expat Spanish Study Group.

In past articles, I’ve spoken pretty openly about how important it is to learn at least basic Spanish if you want to be successful in Panama. Some retirement websites like to sell Panama “as a place where everyone speaks English,” this is simply not true. While there are some Panamanians who do, this is mostly in the professional side of life. In your day to day interactions – in the store, at a restaurant, taking a taxi, etc, you are unlikely to find someone who speaks even basic English. So unless you’re the type who communicates well with your hands, not being able to speak Spanish will quickly become frustrating for you.

For me, my journey to learn Spanish has been difficult and slow moving at times. My original goal when I moved to Panama was to be functionally fluent within two years of moving here. With 13 months left, I think that with a lot of work, it is still doable. I have grown leaps and bounds in my ability to speak since I first moved here, but my Spanish can be very hit or miss. Some days I’ll be on and have full conversations with taxi drivers. Other days it will feel like I just got off the plane and don’t understand a word.

I tell you this to let you know that I am not writing this article from the perspective of someone who is fluent in Spanish or is a Spanish teacher. I am writing it from the prospective of a guy who is slowly improving his Spanish and sometimes still struggles to get by. The words I put together on this list come from the basics I’ve learned to help me communicate with little knowledge of Spanish. They will not make you conversational by any means, but will help you with the basics you need to help communicate and get around Panama. I have broken them up into different sections based on where I think they will be of most use.

Before I start the list, a couple of notes on the list. Unless specified else where, each word that is a noun will be listed with “un” or “una,” depending on if they are masculine or feminine. This is the way you would say “a house” or “a taxi.” to say “the house” or “the taxi,” you would use “el” or “la” instead.  For the handful of verbs on this list, they are already conjugated, most of the time into the command tense. So if the word turn is listed as “gira,” that would be the tense you use to tell someone to turn. I think those are the only notes I need, so without further ado, here is my list of 125 Spanish words (a few of them are phrases) that every expat should know.

Greetings

Hello - HolaGoodbye - Adios/CiaoGood Morning - Buenos Dias
Good Afternoon - Buenas TardesGood Evening - Buenas Noches See You Later - Hasta Luego
Please - Por FavorThank You - GraciasYou're Welcome - De Nada
Excuse me - Disculpe/PermisoI'm Sorry - Lo SientoMy Name is - Me Llamo "Mike"
Pleased to Meet You - Mucho Gusto

At the Restaurant

restaurant - un restaurantetable - una mesamenu - un menu
plate - un platoglass - un vasocup - una copa
bottle - una botellafork - el tenedorspoon - una cuchara
knife - un cuchillowater - un agua*beer - una cerveza
white wine - vino blancored wine - vino tinto juice - un jugo
meat - una carnechicken - un pollopork - un cerdo
fish - un pescado(the) shrimp - los camaronesgrilled - a la plancha
breaded - apanadohamburger - una hamburguesa (the) rice - el arroz
(the) french fries - las papas fritas mashed potatoes - un puré(the) fried plantains - los patacones
salad - una ensaladasoup - una sopa sandwich - un emparedado
(the) breakfast - el desayuno (the) lunch - el almuerzo(the) dinner - la cena
for here - para aquitakeout - para llevardelivery - para domicilio
(the) check - la cuenta (the) tip - la propinapen - una pluma

*words that end in “a” are usually feminine, and words that end in “o” are usually masculine. However the word “agua” is feminine but uses “el” and “un” in it’s singular form, but stays feminine in it’s plural form. So it would be el agua and las aguas. Don’t blame me, I don’t make the rules. 

At the Store

(the) store - la tienda(the) supermarket - el supermercado (the) bread - el pan
(the) milk - la leche(the) ground beef - la carne molidachicken breast - un pechuga de pollo
turkey - un pavoham - un jamoncheese - un queso
pound - una librakilo - un kilohalf - un medio/una media*
quarter - un cuartobanana - un guineo plantain - un platano
orange - una naranja apple - una manzana onion - una cebolla
tomato - un tomatelettuce - una lechugagarlic - un ajo
avocado - un aguacate egg - un huevo

*you would use medio or media depending on whether the object it is describing is masculine or feminine. So it would be una media libra and un medio kilo.

In the Cab

car - un carrotaxi - un taxi to the right - a la derecha
to the left - a la izquierda straight - directoturn - gira
here - aquíthere - allíbefore - antes
after - despues(the) street - la callewait - espera
the same street as - la misma calle denear - cerca denext to - a lado de
across from - enfrente de (the) building - el edificiotraffic - tráfico/tranque
How much is it? - Cuanto es?change - cambioI always pay three - Siempre pago tres

At the House/Apartment

house - una casaapartment - un apartmento (the) floor - el piso
ground floor - planta baja(the) pool - la piscina bed - una cama
couch - un sofáchair - una sillawindow - una ventana
(the) television - la televisión(the) refrigerator - el refrigerador (the) freezer - el congelador
(the) oven - el horno(the) stove - la estufa (the) washing machine - la lavadora
(the) dryer - la secadora shower - una duchadesk - un escritorio
computer - una computadora door - una puerta

Emergency

(the) police - la policiacall - llama ambulance - una ambulancia
I am sick - estoy enfermoI am in pain - tengo dolori need a doctor - necesito un medico
help - ayuda911 - nueve-uno-uno

BONUS LESSON

As I was putting this together, I realized that as one additional step to help you form Spanish sentences, I needed to talk briefly about conjunctions. Translating conjunctions from English to Spanish is not a simple direct translation, as many Spanish conjunctions are used for several English words, and their meaning will change depending on the context. But here are a couple to get your started that will help you put together some of the worlds in this article>

y – and

de -of/from

con – with

en – in/on

Hopefully this guide will help beginners get a base of Spanish words and phrases that will help them get around Panama. For those at a more intermediate level, I hope at least a couple of the words were new to you and will help you in the future. The best advice I can give to learn these words and other Spanish words is to just keep studying and practice. With some practice, this lesson should help you form some small useful sentences like “gira a la derecha aquí (turn right here)” or “pollo a la plancha con arroz, por favor (grilled chicken with rice, please).” And as I mentioned in the beginning, take advantage of the 6 Ways to Learn Spanish for Free article and our Expat Spanish Study Group to learn more Spanish and improve your skills.

Posted in While You're Here.

13 Comments

  1. I’ve been told that words that were originally Greek that end with a “a” are masculine and their article is “el”…el agua, el systema, el programa….

    • This is true for many words like un sofa. However, agua is a different beast entirely. It is still feminine, and has feminine properties otherwise. For example, it would be el agua fría and not el agua frío. Also, in the plural form, it is las aguas and not los aguas. The reason why agua is el and un in the singular is so that there isn’t to a’s one after another. Why they don’t do this for every feminine word that begins with a, I don’t know. But that’s how it’s been explained to me.

  2. When in a restaurant, it’s quite common for panamenians to say “me da el pollo a la suprema” instead of saying “me da un pollo a la suprema”( please give me the chicken supreme/please give me a chicken supreme) it’s not completely right but it is a special nuance you might want to use too.

  3. Great article! This a really good start for someone just learning the language. I would add ¨siempre pago__¨ or ¨I always pay __¨ to the In the Cab section. That one’s helpful for when you get a taxi driver who wants to over charge. If the taxi should cost $3, you can say ¨siempre pago 3¨ hand him exact change and get out.

    If any of your readers want to Learn a little more Spanish we offer Surival Spanish Courses in Panama City at Casco Antiguo Spanish School. Contact us david@cascospanish.com or check out our website for more info. Keep up the good work!

  4. Thanks for posting! We are going to Panama for 10 days in Feb. I am going to make flash cards with these words to practice until the trip! We’re staying with my husband’s Panamanian friends so it will be fun to impress them with some Spanish! 😉

  5. one thing I also found helpful in my pronunciation was to remember that
    – the ‘e’ makes the long ‘a’ sound
    – ‘I’ makes the long ‘e’ sound,
    – ‘h’ is silent
    – two ‘ll’ together makes a sound that I think of as a cross between a ‘j’ and a ‘y’ sound

  6. Buenos dias a todos y todas. Soy ptofesora de Espanol. Estoy de vacaciones hasta marzo. Puedo ofrecer un curso de espanol a todos los que esten interesados en aprender este lindo e importante idioma. Mi tel. Son 67935061/244-2023.
    Good morning. My names is Lourdes Cordoba. I am a Panamanian english teacher. I have a great background experience in teaching english for both University and high shool level. I consider that I am also able to teach spanish for those who might probably be interested on learning spanish with the advantage that I can alsp speak english. Based on Krashen s natural approach , We know that we can learn a second language by communication and practice and practice makes perfection. So my methods are usually based on developing communication skills mainly. For thos who are interested in learning a good spanish, my cel phone is 6792-5061. Email: lic128@hotmail.com.

  7. Pingback: panamadude.com – 28 Spanish Swear Words And How to Use Them

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