I want to speak Spanish
Alright, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.
Okay, bad news first: If you want to become fluent in Spanish you’ve got to do more than just learn grammar and vocabulary. Practicing speaking what you’ve learned from textbooks doesn’t quite cut it either.
Sure, all of these elements are necessary to build a solid foundation, but learning another language entails a whole lot more than just translating individual words and grammatical structures from English. I know—it’s natural to want to literally translate from your native language. I mean, that’s all you have to work with, right?
Wrong. Here’s the good news: I’ve been living in Madrid, Spain for the past two years and have learned a thing or two (or twenty-five) about Spanish phrases.
For every literal English to Spanish translation, there’s almost always a colloquial phrase in Spanish that’s used way more often. Using literal translations (even technically correct ones) is a dead giveaway that you’re a foreigner who hasn’t quite reached fluency.
Conversely, trading those literal phrases for more colloquial ones will immediately connect you to native speakers. After all, language doesn’t exist inside a bubble! The culture of a country is so interwoven with its language that you can’t help but integrate into that culture once you start speaking like a native.
You already have the vocabulary and grammar you need to express your ideas, but here you’ll find the colloquial phrases to express them more fluently. Most of these widely-used Spanish phrases are impossible to work out through translation alone. So here they are: 25 intermediate Spanish phrases to immediately boost your fluency.
1. You want to say: “Don’t worry, it’s not necessary to do anything.”
Literal translation: No te preocupes, no es necesario hacer nada.
Colloquial phrase: No te preocupes, no hace falta hacer nada.
2. You want to say: “It’s not important.”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): No es importante/No importa.
Colloquial phrase: Qué más da.
A similar colloquial expression the Spanish use to express this sentiment is no es para tanto (it’s not a big deal).
3. You want to say: “I feel really comfortable here.”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Me siento muy cómodo aquí.
Colloquial phrase: Me siento muy a gusto aquí.
4. You want to say: “We’ve finished off all of the ham.”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Hemos terminado el jamón.
Colloquial phrase: Nos hemos ventilado el jamón. (note that ventilarse is a reflexive verb)
You can polish off any kind of food with this phrase, for example, nos hemos ventilado las galletas (we’ve finished off all of the cookies).
When you use with beverages it means to “down” or to “chug, ” e.g., se ha ventilado la cerveza de un trago (he downed the beer in one gulp).
5. You want to say: “I can’t cook Spanish omelette well.”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): No puedo cocinar bien la tortilla española.
Colloquial phrase: La tortilla española no me sale.
This phrase structuring is similar to “just doesn’t work out for me.” No me sale is such a simple phrase and it can be paired with so much! For example, no me sale el pino (I can’t do a handstand/My handstands don’t turn out right).
You can also use this phrase in other types of situations, for example, no me ha salido el trabajo ese del que te hablaba el otro día. (that job I was talking to you about the other day didn’t work out for me.)
6. You want to say: “I’m really excited!”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): ¡Estoy muy emocionado!
Colloquial phrase: ¡Estoy muy ilusionado!/¡Tengo mucha ilusión!
7. You want to say: “I really have to pee!”
Literal translation (just plain incorrect): ¡Tengo que hacer pis mucho!
The above phrase would actually mean “I usually have to pee a lot” in a general sense, and if this is you then you’re what the Spanish call un meón/una meona.
By the way, hacer pis in Castilian Spanish isn’t considered vulgar at all, although in the context of Latin American Spanish I would be cautious about saying it.
Colloquial phrase: ¡Me estoy meando!
The colloquial phrase literally means “I’m peeing myself, ” so you’ll notice we’ve got another reflexive verb here with mearse.
The first time I heard a Spaniard say this I couldn’t believe my ears. You’re peeing yourself?! Like, at this very moment?! It’s quite an emphatic (if not melodramatic) way to get the point across, but so incredibly common here.
8. You want to say: “I feel terrible.”
Literal translation (just plain incorrect): Me siento terrible.
The Spanish word “terrible” is not used in this sort of context. The correct context for terrible would be as follows:
Anoche hacía un viento terrible. (The wind was terrible last night.)
Era un monstruo terrible. (It was a terrible monster.)
Colloquial phrase: Me siento fatal/Me encuentro mal.
Me encuentro mal is more formal than me siento fatal, and literally translates to “I find myself unwell.” Rather formal indeed!
9. You want to say: “Could I take a look?”
Literal translation (just plain incorrect): ¿Podría tomar una mirada?
Tomar una mirada does not exist in Spanish.
Colloquial phrase: ¿Puedo echar un vistazo?
10. You want to say: “I can’t think of anything.”
Literal translation (just plain incorrect): No puedo pensar de nada.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Don’t say this—please. This doesn’t mean anything, although de nada by itself means “you’re welcome.”
Colloquial phrase: No se me ocurre nada.
The colloquial phrase uses yet another reflexive verb (ocurrirse) so it literally means “nothing occurs to me.”
Another thing you might say to express this same idea is “tengo la mente en blanco, ” (I’m drawing a blanks).
11. You want to say: “I’m sorry but I didn’t understand a thing you just said to me.”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Perdona pero no he entendido nada de lo que me acabas de decir.
Colloquial phrase: Perdona pero no me he enterado de nada. (comes from enterarse, which is reflexive)
12. You want to say: “I’ve been in Spain for two weeks.”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): He estado en España dos semanas.
Colloquial phrase: Llevo dos semanas en España. (Literally: “I carry two weeks in Spain”—kind of hilarious if you ask me)
13. You want to say: “The meeting was so boring.”
Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): La reunión fue muy aburrida.
Colloquial phrase: La reunión fue un rollo.
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