Spanish Grammar for Expats

Our first lesson in Spanish Grammar for Expats. This is a basic guide for newbies in Colombia, or Latin America. It is not intended to replace the value of paying a local to teach you, but it should give you a few perspectives and a base to work from that will facilitate your ability to learn Spanish.

My Experience

I studied Spanish in high school for three years. It has been one the most valuable educational experiences of my life. College was pretty much useless. When I moved to Colombia in 2013, my writing career began take flight. I was immersed in the language, a bit confused after spending 6 months in Brazil, but eventually I got the hang of Colombian Spanish and my learning accelerated.

I now have 11 years of Spanish under my belt. Eight of those years are immersion – a.k.a. living in the culture which is huge! No, it is not always easy. I still have moments where too much background noise, or regional dialect leaves me a bit befuddled and acting like I understand, when in reality, there is smoke coming out of my ears.

Keep in mind that basic phrases can change with region and dialect. My Spanish is textbook Castellano in high school, then Colombian Paisa Spanish, in the dialect I have learned to use for my daily interactions. All phrases are based on what I see or hear,  and are not guaranteed to be 100% correct. Please leave a comment or email us if you see any glaring mistakes that need correction at coffeeaxistravel@gmail.com.

Your experience depends on your ability to learn, to internalize, to listen, and then repeat.

Spanish Grammar for Expats

Especially now, it is really important that people who come to Colombia to live, learn Spanish. The world is a more dangerous place than it was eight years ago, and with the “pandemic” thing, you can’t afford to live in ignorance – no matter how much money you have.

Learn some Spanish if you are going to live here! Or go home. Asi es sencillo.

Learning Techniques

The hardest thing as adults, is the learning of new habits or skills. Things we learn young often stick with us even into posterity. To learn a language, you need to think deeper, internalize concepts, and open your mind – as well as your heart.

You cannot learn a language unless you also embrace the accompanying culture.

Here are the same tips I tell my English students during our first class together for memorization:

  • Use conscious internalization techniques! Repeat it to yourself, several times.
  • Visualize it. Create an association that you can call to mind to remember the structure.
  • Write-it-down. If you are serious about Spanish, buy a little notebook, keep it with you and write down new words. I have been known to write Spanish phrases and words in the margins of my regular work notebooks.
  • Relax and smile. You cannot learn under stress or duress. Even if you have to pretend until you feel it, try to find someone you enjoy to learn with, or a situation that makes you feel good whenever you study.

First Spanish grammar for expats structure…

To Be

This is reflected in two ways, “ser” which is a permanent state. Yo soy Erin, or I am Erin, uses “ser” conjugated as “soy.” The second way, is “estar,” which is a temporary state like when we answer the question “como estas?” (how are you), to say “yo estoy bien,” where “estar” is conjugated into “estoy.”

Spanish Grammar for Expats

Now that you understand the difference between “ser,” and “estar,” let’s work on a few practical phrases so you can go out and use them.

Permanent States

I am – Yo soy       He/she is – él/ella es        We are – nosotros somos

They are – Ellos son        You are – usted eres (Formal)         Tú eres – you are

Temporary States

Yo estoy – I am      He/she is – El/ella está        We are – nosotros estamos

They are – Ellos están      You are – Usted está

Practical Phrases

Quién es ella? – who is she?

Ella es mi hermana – she is my sister

Ella está aliviada – she is well

Como estás? – how are you?

Estoy bien, gracias. Y usted? – I’m good, thanks. And you (formal)?

Estoy super. Dónde estás? – I’m super. Where are you?

Estoy haciendo compras. Que necesitas? – I’m shopping. What do you need?

More about To Be: https://www.thespanishexperiment.com/learn-spanish/to-be

To Go

This is another irregular verb, meaning that when it is conjugated, it can change quite a lot. There are many conjugations in Spanish up to 14, but in a practical sense you will only be using half of them. Also keep in mind that the overall structure is different in Spanish, so don’t try to think of it in terms of translating it to English, instead try to accept it for what it is.

Here are some basic conjugations:

Yo voy – I go     Usted va – you go    Tu vas     El/Ella va – he/she goes

Ellos van – They go      Nosotros vamos – we go

Basic Phrases

Vamos! – Let’s go

Me tengo que ir! – I have to go!

Dónde vas? Where are you going?

Vete! – Go! (Command)

Voy a trabajar como profesora de Inglés. – I am going to work as an English Teacher.

Further Reference: https://www.dummies.com/languages/spanish/conjugating-the-irregular-spanish-verb-ir-to-go/

To Eat

Colombia is an incredible gastronomic destination, and definitely the third most important verb to know and understand prior to arrival, and while traveling or living here.

Being able to order food is an important skill which takes a lot of time and patience to learn. And you still might get servers who choose to “not understand” your Spanish due to the fact that you have a foreign accent. So always try to be very clear and speak slowly, then ask her to confirm it. 

Here are some basic conjugations

Yo como – I eat      Tu comes – you informal     El/Ella come – He/She eats       Usted come – you eat (formal)

Ellos comen – they eat       Nosotros comemos- We eat      Ustedes comen – they eat (formal)

Basic Expressions

Vamos a comer! – Let’s eat!

Quiero comer algo. I want to eat something. 

Usted come arroz? Do you eat rice?

Una buena cuchara – Paisa expression – A good appetite

Buen Provecho – Enjoy your food

Salud! – Cheers!

A mí me gustaría comer… – I would like to eat… (For ordering)

A mí me gusta comer… – I like to eat… (Preference)

Additional reference: https://www.dummies.com/languages/spanish/conjugating-the-spanish-verb-comer-to-eat/

Conclusion

They say that the best way to eat an elephant is bite-by-bite, and Spanish is the same way. This is our first installment of Spanish Grammar for Expats, where we are helping to raise your awareness and understanding of some very simple, but important, verbs, and phrases. 

Essential Phrases in Spanish for Expats