5 Spanish Phrases and How to Use Them

You’ve moved to Spain and you’ve learned Spanish. So you think. My biggest complaint with what I call “textbook” Spanish is that it doesn’t prepare you for an actual conversation. When I graduated high school I could write you an essay on the effects of climate change, but my friend-making ability didn’t extend far beyond “what do you like to do in your free time?” and “what do you parents do?” (My parents were always doctors, by the way, because for some reason “telecommunications project manager” never appeared in my book.)

Besides the fact that there are millions of ways to say things, every Spanish-speaking country has its own words, slang, and expressions. There’s a great song about “how difficult it is to speak Spanish,” because in any given place, you could think you’re innocently asking for directions and end up accidentally propositioning yourself. But that’s the great thing about language, isn’t it? No matter how much we may think we know it, there’s always something else to discover.

Here I offer a small sample of some common Spanish expressions that shall be given to you in exciting installments of five. By “Spanish,” I refer to the language spoken in Spain, España, la piel de toro. I’ve chosen just five because there are literally thousands (if not more) options.

  1. Ostra

At first, I had no idea why people kept yelling “oysters,” particularly when they were surprised or angry. I soon realized that “ostra” is a euphemism for a common swear “hostia,” which when used benignly—and properly—refers to the holy host consumed during a Catholic communion. When used improperly, it is a pretty rude curse (not to mention blasphemous). So those who are more shellfish about preserving their eternal souls opt for the substitute.


  1. ¡Hombre!

This word—yes, that means “man”—is used like we use it in English; as an interjection of indignation or to add extra emphasis to your point. Feel free to throw it at the beginning of a sentence for extra flair.

For example:

¿Manolo, te vas a la Feria este sábado? (Manolo, are you going to the Fair this Saturday?)

¡Hombre, claro! (Duh!)


  1. Vamos a ver

Also known as ’amo-ve (a-mo-vey) if you are in Andalusia. This literally translates to “let’s see,” and can be used in just about any context. You use it to talk about the future, though not necessarily a distant future. For example, when my students are about to ask a question they often begin the sentence with “’amo-ve… what does ‘broke’ mean?” You can also just sort of say it out into the ether, as many of my fellow teachers do, as a way of surrendering to the powers that be. I’m often sitting in the teachers’ lounge and someone will just walk in and abruptly exclaim “’Amo-ve!” with no preamble and then resume with what they were going to do. I assume this is either a way of warding off bad spirits or acting as your own cheerleader. Needless to say, I’ve picked it up and now say it all the time, like when I’m chopping onions, doing laundry, or psyching myself up for dealing with the Oficina de Extranjería.


  1. Tío/Tía

This one is simple… basically just use this as you would use “dude” in English.


  1. Pillar

For some bizarre reason, the first thing I would think of when people said this was “pupa” which is a stage of a metamorphosing insect. So while people are trying to have a normal conversation with me, all I can imagine are slimy larva…this probably had some effect on my friend-making abilities at first. Anyway, “pillar” actually means “to catch,” and is so common that I think I hear it at least ten times every day. You can pillar a bus, a joke, a television show… the possibilities are endless.



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