Learning complete phrases is a great way to actually start speaking and using Spanish.
Yet, one of the biggest mental blocks many people have when learning a new language, is not fully realising quite how things are said. Often we try and map what we’ve learnt back to English and look for some kind of 1 to 1 relationship for each word. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that.
It's very common for beginners to start by learning many useful phrases, and whilst they may know what each phrase means, there is a good chance they may not understand what each word means.
The aim of this post is not only to learn some useful phrases and vocabulary, but moreover, to start to get used to the concepts of how Spanish differs from English in general sentence construction.
Today we’re going to learn 10 different phrases, dissecting each so we can begin to understand what we’re saying, and what each word means. 1. Me llamo David Meaning: “My name is David”
Literal translation: myself I call David
Word by Word: me (myself), llamo (I call), David (David)
There are a few ways to introduce yourself in Spanish, but “me llamo…” is probably the most natural sounding. Notice in the literal translation, the word order is a little odd when comparing to English. In English it would be more natural to say “I call myself David”, but often in Spanish, words appear in a very different order.
We won’t spend too much time today looking at exactly why the word order is different, as this is ultimately a huge topic. But for the moment, let’s just grow accustomed to seeing these sentence constructions and understand their literal meaning. 2. Encantado de conocerte Meaning: “Nice to meet you”
Literal translation: enchanted from to know to you
Word by Word: Encantado (enchanted), de (from), conocer- (to know), te (to you)
This expression can be either said in full, or simply shortened to “Encantado”, which literally means “enchanted” in English. Again, notice that the full literal translation sounds a bit odd in English, but try to get used to seeing these literal translations, as whilst they will never scan very well as English; it’s important to try to get used to how Spanish sentences build to give an overall meaning, even if that literal meaning results in poorly formed English.
Note: The example given above is the masculine version. If you are female, you must use the feminine version which is: “Encantada de conocerte” or just “Encantada”. In the Spanish language, words have a grammatical gender (usually Masculine, Feminine or Common). We will deal with this in more detail in a future post. 3. ¿Usted me podría ayudar por favor? Meaning: “Could you help me please?”
Literal translation: you, to me could you help please
Word by Word: Usted (you formal), me (to me), podría (could you), ayudar (help), por favor (please)
Continuing to reinforce the concept of Spanish word order. This is another nice example. In Spanish we are literally saying “to me could you help”, rather than “could you help me”.
Note: this phrase uses the “usted” form for “you”, which is the polite formal form. If you want to be less formal, you could say: “¿Podrías ayudarme por favor?”. Do not worry if you don’t understand the difference at this point. The take home point is: There’s more than one way to skin a cat. 4. No entiendo Meaning: “I do not understand”
Literal translation: not I understand
Word by Word: no (not), entiendo (I understand)
Probably one of the most useful phrases any beginner will need. Literally, it means "I understand not", but with that Spanish word order again.
"No" (negation) and negative Spanish words in general, typically preceed the thing they are negating. 5. ¿Qué hora tienes? Meaning: “What time is it?”
Literal translation: what hour do you have?
Word by Word: Qué (what), hora (hour), tienes (do you have)
In Spanish, you ask what the hour is, not the time. You could also ask "¿Qué hora es?" which is more literally "What hour is it?". Both options scan well in Spanish. 6. Tiene más años que yo Meaning: “He is older than me”
Literal translation: he has more years than I
Word by Word: Tiene (he or she or it has), más (more), años (years), que (than), yo (I)
Here we see an example of a phrase where, out of context, we don't actually know who we are referring to. The way Spanish verb conjugation works means, we have already established from "tiene" that we are talking about a 3rd person. But we don't know if that's male (he), female (she) or even an inanimate object (it).
In English we establish exactly who we are talking about, using a pronoun, in this case "he". You can do this in Spanish too: "Él tiene más años que yo", however the addition of "él" is not necessary. In fact, the use of subject pronouns is typically to EMPHASISE who we're talking about, so sounds unnatural if used all the time. Once you've established who you are talking about (usually from earlier in the conversation), subject pronouns are seldom used at the start of a sentence. 7. Tengo frío Meaning: “I’m cold”
Literal translation: I have cold
Word by Word: Tengo (I have) frío (cold)
Another great example illustrating how things are said a little differently in Spanish. You never say: "I am cold" in Spanish, instead you say: "I have cold". Whilst that sounds a little odd in English, don't worry, it will feel more natural the more phrases like this you start to learn. 8. Hace sol Meaning: “It’s sunny”
Literal translation: it makes Sun
Word by Word: Hace (it makes), sol (Sun)
Describing the weather is another good example of where Spanish can differ greatly to English. In this instance, "It is.." doesn't make sense in Spanish, so we use "It makes...". Also notice, in this case there is no adjective to mean sunny, we just say the noun "Sun".
Giving another example, we could say: "hace frío" which means "It's cold". Notice this is different to describing oneself as being cold, in that case: "I have cold", but when talking about the weather "It makes cold".
We will almost certainly do an entire blog post on describing the weather in the near future. For the time being learn "Hace sol" as a piece of vocabulary. 9. Te estoy tomando el pelo Meaning: “I’m pulling your leg” or “I’m kidding!”
Literal translation: from you I’m taking the hair
Word by Word: Te (from you), estoy (I am), tomando (taking), el (the), pelo (hair)
A fun expression to illustrate that Idioms exist in Spanish too, even if the phrasing is slightly different. In Spanish you don't pull one's leg, you take the hair! But the principles of Idioms are the same. Some are identical to the English, others less so.
Like with our other examples, don't worry if you don't fully understand how the sentence construction is formed, so long as you're getting used to seeing things in a different order. 10. Hasta luego Meaning: “See you later”
Literal translation: until later
Word by Word: Hasta (until), luego (later)
This is a very common informal way to say goodbye. Notice from the literal translation we are not really saying "see you" but "until". This is in the same spirit as the English expression "Until we meet again".
Other examples of using hasta are: "hasta pronto" and "hasta mañana", meaning "see you soon" and "see you tomorrow" respectively. Conclusion | En conclusión
Deconstructing phrases is a fantastic way to start familiarising oneself with how the Spanish language is formed. Knowing just the spirit or meaning of a phrase is fine, and certainly useful. But REALLY understanding how phrases are constructed and why, will help accelerate your Spanish learning greatly.