Starting a conversation in Spanish

Our essential guide to starting conversations in Spanish, with loads of audio files featuring native Spanish speakers.

spanish conversations

You’re travelling around Spain (or Mexico, Argentina, Chile…) and you’ve just met a friendly-looking local. Chances are you’ll want to strike up a conversation in Spanish, and, you know, do a little bit of that cultural exchange stuff. Wow! you guys have internet too!!?? Yes, they do!

You’ll be astonished what you discover by, er, talking to people (in Spanish, of course).

This stunningly useful class is part of our series on Travel Spanish AND part of our course on Spanish Phrases.  It’s a multi-tasker.

The lesson also features lots of examples with native-speaker audio files so that you can start to get used to Spanish pronunciation.

So, without further distractions, let’s dive in and look at ways of starting – and continuing – a conversation in Spanish.

Breaking the ice

The Spanish and Latin Americans tend to be a fairly sociable bunch, so it shouldn’t be too hard to strike up a conversation. Here are a few opening lines which should work wonders for you:

  • ¿Eres de aquí?
    Are you from here?*
  • ¿Usted es de aquí?
    Are you from here?*
  • ¿Perdona, conoces la zona/ciudad?
    Excuse me, do you know the area/city?
  • ¿Perdona, te puedo hacer una pregunta?
    Excuse me, can I ask you a question?

*In Spain the first form (the tu form) is used for informal situations and the second (usted) for formal situations. However, in Spanish-speaking Latin America you’ll hear the second form used for all situations, both formal and informal. We’re not going to go into the difference between the informal (tu) form and the formal (usted) form in this class. If you do want to know more, check out our second class on basic Spanish phrases.

If you’re one of those direct American types, you’ll probably only need:

  • Hola, soy Matt**
    Hi, I’m Matt

**Just remember to change the name here, unless you are actually called Matt.

For evil smoker-types:

If the universal thumb & lighter mime doesn’t work, you can try:

  • ¿Tienes mechero? – Do you have a lighter?

or:

  • ¿Tienes fuego?*

*This literally means:

  • Do you have fire?

No comment.

Questions for getting this conversation rolling

I’m lost and helpless, let’s talk!

If you’re lost or looking for something, the following questions are obviously pretty essential. However, doing the whole lost-backbacker act can also come in handy as a conversation starter too:

  • ¿Me puedes ayudar?
    Can you help me, please?
  • ¿Conoces la zona?
    ¿Do you know the area?
  • ¿Dónde puedo comprar un….?
    Where can I buy a….?

If the other person looks helpful, don’t be afraid to say that you’re lost.

  • Estoy perdido.
    I’m lost.

Asking for directions:

  • ¿Me podrías decir cómo llegar a…?
    Could you tell me how to get to….?

We’ve a whole class dedicated to asking for directions in Spanish coming soon.

Ask about the area

  • ¿Hay un restaurante económico cerca de aquí?
    Is there a cheap restaurant near here?
  • ¿Cuál es la mejor discoteca* de la zona?
    Which is the best nightclub in the area?
  • ¿Me puedes recomendar un hostal?
    Could you recommend a hostel?
  • ¿Cuál es el mejor restaurante de la ciudad?
    Which is the best restaurant in the city?
  • ¿Dónde está el supermercado más cercano?
    Where is the nearest supermarket?

*Yep, the Spanish language still thinks it’s 1976. What can you do?

Asking about local culture

You’re not just here for the booze, right? Show some interest! Here are some useful phrases for holding a more cultured conversation in Spanish:

  • ¿Por qué todos llevan trajes tradicionales hoy?
    Why is everyone wearing traditional dress today?
  • ¿Qué están bebiendo?
    What are they drinking?
  • ¿Por qué están cerradas las tiendas hoy?*
    Why are the shops closed today?
  • ¿Hoy es festivo?
    Is today a holiday?
  • ¿Cuáles son los platos tradicionales de la zona?
    What are the regional dishes?

*Spain has national, regional and local holidays, that’s why!

If you find forming questions in Spanish a bit difficult check out our class on questions (with video) in our section on Basic Spanish.

Fillers and nice things to say

  • ¿De verdad? – really?
  • ¡Que guay! – How cool!
  • ¡Que chulo! – How cool!
  • ¡Que interesante! – How interesting!
  • ¿En serio? – Really?

Getting to know you

Let’s assume the whole breaking-the-ice thing has been a success. Here are some basic personal questions to find out a little more about your new buddy. We’ve a big lesson stuffed full of questions like this in our Spanish Phrases section.

  • ¿Cómo te llamas?
    What are you called?
  • ¿De dónde eres?
    Where are you from?
  • ¿Cuántos años tienes?
    How old are you?
  • ¿Trabajas o estudias?*
    Do you work, or are you studying?
  • ¿En qué trabajas?
    What do you do? (work)
  • ¿Qué estudias?
    What are you studying?
  • ¿Dónde estudias?
    Where are you studying?

*This question is a classic chat-up line in Spain, so use with caution.

Other random questions

A few questions you might get asked:

  • ¿Es tu primera vez en Londres?
    Is it your first time in London?
  • ¿Conoces la ciudad?
    Do you know the city?
  • ¿Desde hace mucho que estás aquí?
    How long have you been here?

People love to know what you think about their town:

  • ¿Qué te parece el pueblo?
    What do you think of the village?

Do say:

  • Es muy bonito
    It’s very beautiful
  • Me encanta
    I love it

Don’t say:

  • Es el pueblo más feo que he visto en mi vida.
    It’s the ugliest village I’ve seen in my life. 
  • Huele fatal.*
    It smells terrible.

The ‘H’ in Spanish is silent. You’d know that if you’d read our Idiot’s guide to Spanish pronunciation (But as we haven’t published that class yet, we forgive you…sign up to our newsletter for updates).

Getting that contact

If you’ve ever worked in sales, you’ll know this is a key moment. Don’t mess up, you’ve come so far!

  • ¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono?
    What’s your telephone number?
  • Te doy mi número de móvil*
    I’ll give you my telephone number*
  • Dame tu número de teléfono.
    Give me your telephone number.

*Notice how Spanish uses the presente de indicativo (present simple) for the immediate future, whereas in English we directly use the future tense?

Rather than just give you their number, Spaniards like to take your number and then call you so that their number is recorded by your phone.  It’s all a bit confusing if you ask me. They’ll say:

  • Te doy una llamada perdida
    I’ll give you a missed call

So, now you know.

Making Invitations in Spanish

You like your new mate so much that you’d like to see them again:

  • ¿Te apetece ir a tomar algo?
    Would you like to have a drink?
  • ¿Quieres quedar mañana?
    Do you want to meet up tomorrow?
  • ¿Cenamos mañana?
    Shall we have dinner tomorrow?

Give me more!

We’ve an entire section on Travel Spanish. Did we mention that already?

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About chris bartlett 18 Articles

Chris is the founder of Hablarama and its sister site, Linguabanca.com