I’m a 38-year-old bilingual Mexican-American, and I recently came to a very interesting realization about non-Spanish speakers.
I meet a lot of people at work, on the street, and in my community who want to make an effort by speaking my native language. It’s great. But often, they default to the same handful of phrases: “Hola,” “Buenos das,” maybe a “Como est” once in a while.
I was chatting with a co-worker recently about my work as a writer. I could tell he was very proud of me. When our chat ended, he said, “Si se puede!” I thought, “Dammit!”
Let me explain: “Si se puede” means “yes we can,” and it’s a renowned cry of Latino pride made famous by American labor leader and social activist Cesar Chvez way before President Barack Obama made it a slogan. A lot of Latinos love that phrase.
But the phrase is so generic now that it has almost taken away the true meaning of his pride.
That wasn’t his fault, of course. I just would’ve preferred an “I’m really proud of you” instead. Then I immediately felt terrible for thinking that because how could he know that?
Please don’t get me wrong: I appreciate it oh-so-much when non-Spanish-speaking people take the time and effort to say something to me in Spanish. But it would be awesome if there were more common phrases floating around society (besides curse words).
So I wanted to offer up some other options for those friendly Spanish-speaking chats you might want to have. Allow me to be your friendly bilingual guide.
Here are 15 inclusive phrases in Spanish that I would love to see become part of our shared vernacular:
1. Great job. / Buen trabajo.
Pronounced: boo-en tra-bah-hoe.
This phrase goes a long way, and it’s always nice to feel like what you’re doing is making a difference.
2. You have a beautiful smile. / Que bella sonrisa.
Pronounced: ke beh-ya sone-ree-sa.
Go ahead, try it; and I guarantee they’ll flash those pearly whites even wider.
3. Would you like to be friends? / Quisieras ser mi amigo(a)?
Pronounced: key-see-air-aws sare me amigo (for a male) amiga (for a female)?
This question could spark the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Promise!
4. I appreciate your work. / Aprecio tu trabajo.
Pronounced: aw-pre-see-oh too trah-bah-hoe.
Recognizing someone’s hard work particularly if they’re on the job is a wonderful thing.
5. You make the world a better place. / Tu mejoras el mundo.
Pronounced: too meh-ho-raws el moon-doe.
This phrase has the power to stop anyone in their tracks and instantly make their day.
6. Your kindness is appreciated. / Aprecio tu amabilidad.
Pronounced: ah-pre-see-oh too aw-ma-bee-lee-dod.
There is no such thing as too much kindness in this world, so there’s no way you can overuse this phrase if you truly feel it about someone.
7. How is your day going? / Como va tu dia?
Pronounced: como va too dee-ah?
A simple conversation-starter or perfect for friendly chitchat.
8. Are you enjoying the weather? / Ests disfrutando del clima?
Pronounced: es-tas dees-froo-tan-doh del clee-maw?
You know how they say talking about the weather is the perfect small talk? It’s like that in Spanish, too!
9. You have a lot to offer. / Tienes mucho que ofrecer.
Pronounced: tee-en-es moo-choe ke oh-freh-ser
It’s the perfect morale booster, especially when someone you care about is feeling down and out.
10. I’m proud of you. / Estoy orgullosa(o) de ti.
Pronounced: es-toy or-goo-yo-so (from a male) or or-goo-yo-sa (for a female) de tee.
This is another powerful phrase that you shouldn’t use sparingly with anyone you feel deserves to hear it.
11. I believe in you. / Creo en ti.
Pronounced: kre-oh en tee.
This is beautiful compliment can be used in so many everyday situations at home, in school, and at the workplace.
12. Never give up. / Nunca te des por vencida(o).
Pronounced: noon-ka te des pore ven-see-da (to a female) or ven-see-do (to a male).
Another morale-boosting statement of positive reinforcement for anyone you believe in.
13. I know you can do it. / Yo s que t puedes.
Pronounced: yo se ke too poo-eh-des.
This phrase is especially nice to say to someone struggling with a task or facing a complicated situation.
14. You are very pleasant to be around. / Tu presencia es agradable.
Pronounced: too preh-sen-see-aw es aw-grah-dob-le.
Best. Compliment. Ever.
15. How do you say ___ in Spanish? / Como se dice ___ en Espaol?
Pronounced: ko-mo se dee-se [enter any word here] en ess-pan-yol?
For yours truly, this is the best request ever, which is why I humbly requested the friendly gal in the red shirt in the illustrations be drawn in my likeness.
Can you say, “I love it!” in Spanish? It’s “Me encanta!” And that’s how I feel about this brief but mighty guide to helpful phrases in Spanish.
I’m not the type to get offended when someone says something to me in Spanish while in public, assuming I’m Latina.
Because I am a Latina, and I look it, and I’m OK with that. But it is important to remember there are Latinos who prefer to blend, to not be approached by someone trying to speak Spanish simply because they look Latino.
Either way, there is absolutely no shame in saying “Hola” or “Buenos das,” or anything else you know how to say. It shows your good intentions and lets Latinos like me know you’re making an effort to speak our language.
But my hope is that you might also be able to add some other phrases to your arsenal, too should the need to express yourself in Spanish arise.
After all, learning how to better communicate with one another is one of the best ways to make the world a better place. Ya vern!