Phrases you should learn before travelling to South America

Unlike many other countries I have travelled, tourism has not ‘exploded’ in South America so many of the people there will speak no or very little English. Before heading off to South America I recommend learning some basic words and phrases to help you get around.

Many of the tour operators, hotel owners, taxi drivers and some restaurant staff can speak basic English but if you find yourself lost or wondering what the cost of an item is, these phrases will certainly come in handy. It is important to note that South American Spanish is like Australian English – they shorten words almost to the point of being unrecognisable (particularly in Argentina), these you will pick up as your go 🙂

Remember if you are patient and smile majority of situations you will be forgiven or the locals will be more obliging, put yourself in their shoes – it’s always nicer when someone attempts to speak your language in your country and if they can’t a smile goes a LONG way!!

Things you should learn

Polite words:

Hello – Hola

Thank you – Gracias

Please – Por favor

Sorry – Lo siento

Goodbye – Adios

You are welcome – Da nada

Good, thank you – bien, gracias (if someone asks you how you are)


1 – uno

2 – dos

3 – tres

4 – cuatro

5 – cinco

6 – seis

7 -siete

8 – ocho

9 – nueve

10 – diez

100- cien


Many of the restaurants that we went to in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia did not have an English equivalent so it really helped knowing a few key words.

Chicken – pollo (sometimes gallina – hen)

Beef – Carne

Pork – Cerdo

Fish – pescado

Rice – arroz

Egg – huevo

Potato – papa

Juice – Jugo

Milk – la leche

Water – agua

Food – la comida

Drink – beber

Beer- ceveza

Check, please – La cuenta, por favor

Table for two, please – mesa para dos, por favour

I would like – Me gustaría


I don’t understand, sorry – No comprender, lo siento

I don’t speak Spanish – No habla espanol

Other terms I suggest learning:

Where is? Donde esta

Do you speak English – Habla ingles?

Breakfast – desayuno

Lunch – almuerzo

Dinner – la cena

How much – como esta?

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