First Impressions Matter: Simple Questions and Spanish Small Talk
We’ve already equipped you with quite a lot of Spanish greetings and welcoming phrases for every time of day and situation. But what would you talk about beyond this point? Get a few great ideas from our new article.
First Name Terms
Of course, you proceed with names. Here’s what you can ask and tell about yourself:
If you already know whom you are going to meet, the perfect way of specifying the person’s name would be “¿Es usted Juan?”
If this is not the case, ask politely ¿Cómo te llamas? or ¿Cómo se llama usted? (pronounced KOH-moh teh YAHM-mahss, KOH-moh seh YAHM-mah oo-STETH; Eng.: “What do you call yourself?” or, in plain English, “What is your name?”), depending on the age and/or status of the person you are meeting with – the “te” version is only suitable for people of your age and status, or younger, in informal situations. If you can’t decide which form to use, choose the safer usted one.
If the same phrase is addressed to you, respond with Me llamo (pronounced meh YAHM-moh; Eng.: I am called) and complete it with your name. Or use the word-for-word translation of “My name is …” – Mi nombre es … (Mih NOHM-breh ESS).
The standard response to a person introducing him/herself to you is Mucho gusto (pronounced MOO-choh GOO-stoh; Eng.: I’m pleased to meet you) or Encantado (pronounced en-kahn-TAH-thoh; Eng.: I’m delighted). The only adjustment you have to make is the final vowel of encantado – it only works for male speakers. If you are a chica, say encantada (en-kahn-TAH-thah).
Now that you are on speaking terms, it’s time to actually speak about something. Here are a few Spanish conversation starters you can pick up:
¿Cómo está usted? (pronounced KOH-moh es-TAH oo-STETH) or ¿Cómo estás? (KOH-moh es-TAHSS; infml) is a foolproof conversation starter. You’re asking your interlocutor how he or she is, which shows you care. The response will depend on the one’s actual feelings: muy bien (very good), bien (good), así-así (so-so), mal (bad), or muy mal (very bad). No need to spill out what you are really feeling during your first meeting – you don’t want to start your friendship by burdening a person with your problems, so the safest option will probably be bien. You can also combine the adjective with a verb denoting state and say Estoy bien. (I’m fine.)
It’s polite to throw back a reciprocal question, because it shows you are interested in the person. Proceed “¿Y usted?“ (And you?)
You can avoid the further awkward silence by asking the other person about his/her background and the thing s/he is passionate about to develop on the topic. In other words, make the best of the getting-to-know-you phase.
¿Qué? (pronounced KEH; Eng.: What?)
What is your job - ¿A qué se dedica? - ¿A qué té dedica? (Literally: What do you dedicate yourself to?) If you are asked the same question, be honest. Don’t try to show off or to appear interesting - you never know what can spark people’s interest.
What kind of music do you like? - ¿Qué tipo de música le gusta? - ¿Qué tipo de música te gusta?
¿Dónde? (pronounced DOHN-deh; Eng.: Where?) There are a few donde-questions you can ask (use the left-hand column for formal situations and the right-hand column for informal ones):
Where do you live? - ¿Dónde vive? - ¿Dónde vives?
Where are you from? - ¿De dónde es? - ¿De dónde eres?
Where is the bathroom? - ¿Dónde está el baño? - this one will not keep the ball rolling, but it sure will help you avoid lots of awkward situations.
¿Cuántos? (pronounced KWAHN-toss; Eng.: How many?). This is a good interrogative to ask a person about the composition of his/her family and age. Left – formal, right – in formal, remember?
How many siblings do you have? - ¿Cuántos hermanos tiene? - ¿Cuántos hermanos tiene?
How old are you? - ¿Cuántos años tiene usted? - ¿Cuántos años tienes?
¿Cuál? (pronounced KWAHL; Eng.: Which?) This is the interrogative word you should use instead of que in questions where a selection or a choice is implied: “Among all options, which is your…?”
What are your hobbies? - ¿Cuáles son sus pasatiempos? - ¿Cuáles son tus pasatiempos? (pasatiempo=pastime – similar, right?)
What is your favorite movie? - ¿Cuál es su película favorita? - ¿Cuál es tu película favorita?
What is your favorite food? - ¿Cuál es su comida favorita?- ¿Cuál es tu comida favorita?
Remember about the Spanish genders: comida is feminine, this is why you should say favorita, but if you choose a word of masculine gender (e.g.: book – el libro), then use favorito.
What is your favorite book? - ¿Cuál es su libro favorito?- ¿Cuál es tu libro favorito?
Here are the other interrogatives:
¿Cuándo? (pronounced KWAHN-doh; Eng.: When?)
¿Quién? (pronounced KYEHN; Eng.: Who?)
¿Cómo? (pronounced KOH-mo; Eng.: How?)
And of course, any question should be answered. No matter if you are the one who is asking or answering, the following expressions will still be of great use (mind the omission of the first person pronoun – the verb’s conjugation shows the person on its own):
Yes - Sí.
No. – No. (easy-peasy, right?)
I’m X years old. - (Yo) tengo X años.
I live in the US. – Vivo en Estados Unidos.
I am from Las Vegas. - Soy de Las Vegas.
I’m a teacher – Soy maestro.
I like to sing. – Me gusta cantar.
I like to eat vegetables. – Me gusta comer verduras.
My favorite song is “Suerte” by Shakira. - Mi canción favorita es “Suerte” de Shakira.
There are a million other things you can learn about each other and talk about, but one meeting will certainly not be enough. If you are interested in hanging out with the person some more, make the transition into goodbye smooth and promising a new meeting.
Start mentioning the things you have to do later about 15 minutes before you have to go. And do wish the person well and promise you’ll see him/her in future.
You can do both with the help of the following phrases:
What time is it? - ¿Qué hora es?
I have to go. - Me tengo que ir.
See you later. - Hasta luego.
See you soon. - Hasta pronto.
See you tomorrow. - Hasta mañana.
Take care. - Cuídese.
Goodbye. - Adiós.
And be careful with Hasta la vista. Even if it is the one and only thing that comes to your mind, when you are leaving, don’t say it unless you are leaving a Terminator convention.
Finally, remember: the Spanish are very polite and sympathetic people; they will only laugh at your mistakes in a kind way, so don’t be afraid of making lots – you are sure to be corrected and helped out.
Check your email every day to stay tuned for more small talk tips – they are coming muy pronto!