Practical Spanish Lessons: Useful Spanish phrases for when you’re commuting

“How’s your Spanish?”

Is probably the one question I always always hope never to get from people, who ask me about my life here in Barcelona.

Specially when it’s preceded by the question:

How long have you been living here?

The answers, by the way, are:

  • Horrible
  • Almost 2 years

I usually quickly follow it up with a declaration that I’ve turned over a new leaf and have started taking my language lessons more seriously as evidenced by my weekly 1–1 Spanish classes with a private tutor. A lame attempt at redeeming myself in the eyes of the inquisitors, which usually never works.

While I am still no Cervantes, I do manage to have conversations now. Mostly with my boyfriend who finds my attempts to speak in Spanish hilarious. And with my teacher who talks to me about everything like getting boob jobs at 16 in Argentina, the war on drugs in Philippines, or about last week’s Spinning class that nearly killed me.

But I’d like to think that even before taking classes, my Spanish wasn’t that completely useless.

  • I’ve survived so far. And have managed to get through my daily things unscathed.
  • And I actually already had the best teacher — LIFE. *ok you can roll your eyes now*

Seriously though, taxi drivers, store owners, waiters, and the cashiers at the supermarkets, are the best Spanish teachers.

  • Because they force you to speak their language because some of them hardly speak any English.
  • And most importantly, the Spanish you pick up from these guys are real life, useful Spanish — the kind you will actually need to survive your daily life in Barcelona. The kind I think language schools should teach their students first thing when they begin their lessons, but don’t.

Which brings me to this post. Since no proper language school/teacher teaches practical Spanish (or at least none that I know of), I thought I’d make a series of posts trying to share what I think are essential Spanish phrases that one must learn in order to survive their first few weeks here in Barcelona.

Starting with this:

Commuting in Barcelona: Spanish Taxi 101

It’s very rare that you will find yourself in situations where you will need to talk to people when commuting, specially if you take the metro. Even rarer if you actively avoid it like I do. But sometimes, taking a taxi is necessary — specially when you’re running late for work, like I always am. And that, ladies and gentlemen, requires a lot of talking, unfortunately.

As soon as you get inside the taxi, talking begins. Starting with you having to tell the driver where your destination is.

Vamos a/para <insert destination here>

Which pretty much means “Let’s go to <somewhere>”, loosely translated. Follow it up with an actual address, the name of a landmark, or the crossing of 2 streets like so:

  • Vamos a Escorial 23 an actual address
  • Vamos a Plaza Joanic a landmark
  • Vamos para Travesera de Gracia con Gran de Gracia crossing or corner between 2 streets

And then you’re on your merry way! That is, of course, assuming that the driver knows exactly where it is you’re going. But what if they don’t know nor do they have a map or a navigator on their dash? So they will need more details.

To be honest, I don’t always understand what they say when they ask me for more details about my destination. So I usually give some clues immediately after I say the destination. Like so:

  • Cerca de El Corte Ingles (Near El Corte Ingles)
  • Antes de Ronda de Pedralbes (Before Ronda de Pedralbes)
  • En frente de Parc Guell (In front of Parc Guell)
  • Despues de Estacion de Fontana (After Fontana Station)

Once you’ve reached your destination and you think you can get off already:

Puede parar aqui. Aqui esta bien. (You can stop here. Here is good)

Now is the time you hand in your money and pay, and then be really off on your merry way. If you don’t have cash and you only have your plastic with you, you can always just ask if that’s ok.

  • Accepta tarjeta? (Do you accept card?)
  • Puedo pagar con tarjeta? (Can I pay with card?)

By law, they have to accept payments by card, but sometimes the drivers can give you a hard time so it’s always just easier to ask if they do before even getting into the taxi to save yourself the hassle.

When paying, and the driver is not looking at you patiently waiting with his hand out for the payment, you can just say:

Aqui tiene

Which is “Here you have”, literally translated in English.

Now here’s the game changer, to make it sound like you’re not just mouthing off some phrases you learned from a Lonely Planet guidebook, always follow up your phrases with VALE. Which is a filler that everybody here uses a lot. After every sentence. Every single time.

It can also be a response on it’s own. Like so:

Me: Vamos a Diagonal 682. Sabes? (Let’s go to Diagonal 682. You know it?)
Driver: Vale.
Me: Pago con tarjeta. Vale? (I’m paying with my card, ok?)
Driver: Solo puedo acceptar Mastercard.
(I can only accept Mastercard)
Me: Vale. No pasa nada. Tengo effectivo.
(Ok. No problem. I have cash)

If you have confidence in your voice, and if you use the right amount of VALEs in your sentences, it doesn’t matter if your grammar is horrible. The taxi driver will understand you and take you to your destination in one piece, and hopefully, on time.

Don’t forget to always end your trip with a thank you and some niceties.

  • Muchas gracias. Hasta Luego! (Thank you. See you soon.)
  • Muchas gracias. Buenas noches. (Thank you. Goodnight.)

Huge disclaimer

I am by no means an expert in Spanish. Hell, I’ve also just started learning. But I’ve picked up these Spanish phrases from friends who are native Spanish speakers, or from the taxi drivers themselves, who have corrected me and my direction-giving skills over the last 2 years. So I thought why not pay it forward, right?

If you think I’ve made a mistake anywhere, please feel free to correct me. Vale?

This was first posted in my blog: