Spanish Survival Phrases for the First Day of School

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Educators OrigYou may have started school already, or are about to start soon! If you have Spanish-speaking students and parents in your school, read on to learn a few “survival phrases” to make the first few days a bit easier. To practice these handy words, make sure you bookmark this Quizlet Flashcard Set of School Survival Phraseswhere you can study, practice with games, hear audio, and quiz yourself. (The following is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my online Spanish in the Classroom course.) 

¡Bienvenidos! Come with me as we welcome Diego, Beatriz, Jesús, and Pepe to our virtual school. All four of them are eagerly waiting to see how their first day goes.

One of the first things you’ll want to do is to find out which languages a student (or parent!) knows and how well he or she knows them. You may already know two questions you can use to find this out:

  • ¿Habla español? = Do you speak Spanish?
  • ¿Habla inglés? = Do you speak English?

Ahora (now), let’s add two more questions you can use to assess a new student’s ability to communicate in English. They are:

  • ¿Lee inglés? = Do you read English?
  • ¿Escribe inglés? = Do you write English?

With those new questions in hand, let’s head off to the front office of our school and see how simple the registration process can be with the help of a new Spanish word.

Words for Enrolling New Students

If there’s one thing common to every culture, it’s paperwork! To get a Spanish-speaking student off on the right foot, you’ll want to make that paperwork as stress-free as possible. But if you don’t know the right words, this can be a difficult task. Well, help is here. We’re going to add another question word to your vocabulary that will take your basic communication skills to a new level.

¿Cuál . . . ?

Yes, it’s that simple! The word cuál means which, but you’ll often use it in the context of what. Here’s a helpful list of ¿Cuál…? questions that can make registration day go much more smoothly:

¿Cuál es su ___? = What is your/his/her___?

  • nombre = name
  • dirección = address
  • ciudad = city
  • estado = state
  • código postal = zip code
  • número de teléfono = telephone number
  • número de celular = cell phone number
  • correo electrónico = email address
  • fecha de nacimiento = date of birth
  • edad = age
  • sexo = sex
  • *lugar de nacimiento = place of birth
  • *nacionalidad = nationality

(*Be careful and sensitive with these last two questions, which may or may not be appropriate in your context.)

See how easy it is to start with the word “¿Cuál?” and simply add whatever phrase you need? You can almost do an entire new student registration just by learning the expression “¿Cuál es su . . . ?” You’ll find this magic expression indispensable in every other area of school life as well.

You would answer with:

  • Mi (nombre, edad, fecha de nacimiento, etc.) es… = My (name, age, birthday, etc.) is…
  • Su (nombre, edad, fecha de nacimiento, etc.) es… = His/her (name, age, birthday, etc.) is…

You may be thinking, “I already know the expression for asking someone’s name—why is it different here?” Indeed, “¿Cómo se llama?” and “¿Cuál es su nombre?” both ask what a person’s name is. The first phrase is more common and literally asks, “How do you call yourself?” The second one, “What is your name?,” is very useful when you’re asking lots of questions at one time.

Now, let’s join Diego and his Mamá in the school office as they go over registration forms with Mrs. Jones, the office receptionista. Like all young children, Diego is still learning about manners—and he’s about to get in trouble with Mamá as a result!

See if you can follow this dialogue, and check the answer key to find out how you did. And notice that to tell your age in Spanish, you say “Yo tengo ___ años,” or literally, “I have ___ years.”

Mrs. Jones: ¿Cuál es su nombre?
Mamá: Su nombre es Diego Garcia Rodriguez.
Mrs. Jones: Gracias. ¿Y cuál es su número de celular?
Mamá: Es 55-54-44-22-22.
Mrs. Jones: ¿Cuál es su correo electrónico?
Mamá: No tenemos correo electrónico.
Mrs. Jones: No problema. Diego ¿Cuál es su edad?
Diego: Tengo ocho años. ¿Cuál es su edad?
Mamá, horrified: ¡Diego! ¡Eso es descortés (that is rude)!
Mrs. Jones, laughing: Está bien. Yo tengo treinta y seis años.

How did you do? Here is an English translation of the dialogue.
Mrs. Jones: What is your name?
Mamá: His name is Diego Garcia Rodriguez.
Mrs. Jones: Thanks. And what is your cell phone number?
Mamá: It’s 555-444-2222.
Mrs. Jones: What is your email address?
Mamá: We don’t have an email address.
Mrs. Jones: No problem. How old are you, Diego?
Diego: I’m eight years old. And how old are you?
Mamá, horrified: Diego!! That is rude!
Mrs. Jones, laughing: It’s fine. I’m 36 years old.

Your new ¿Cuál? questions will come in handy just about every day, especially if you work in administration. If you’d like more practice using them, try answering these questions—and see how many Spanish words you can include in each answer.

  • ¿Cuál es su número de seguro social?
  • ¿Cuál es su dirección y su ciudad?
  • ¿Cuál es su código postal?
  • ¿Cuál es su nombre?
  • ¿Cuál es su lugar de nacimiento?

Welcoming Students and Family Members to Your Classroom

A few simple phrases can go a long way when it comes to helping your Spanish-speaking students and their families feel comfortable in your classroom. The two most important, of course, are those universal words please (por favor) and thank you (gracias).

Another important phrase is de nada, which means “you’re welcome” (or, literally, “for nothing”—as if to imply that the favor you did was no problem). And perdón, which means “excuse me,” is a key word to add to your everyday vocabulary as well.

And let’s not forget about our basic greetings.

  • Hola = Hello
  • Bienvenido (or bienvenida if female) = Welcome
  • Mucho gusto = Nice to meet you
  • Mi nombre es… = My name is…
  • ¿Y usted? = And you?

When dealing with family members, be sure to introduce yourself to each person individually. It’s also polite, if you need to leave a room while others are staying, to say, “Con permiso” (as if you’re asking permission).

Now, let’s add to your list of survival phrases. Again, the great thing about these phrases is that you can say them phonetically without worrying about the individual words.

  • ¿Puedo ayudarle? = Can I help you?
  • ¿Qué necesita? = What do you need?
  • Tiene que . . . = You have to . . .
  • Venga conmigo. = Come with me.
  • Por favor, tome asiento. = Please, have a seat.
  • ¿Sabe dónde está? = Do you know where it is?
  • Sígame, por favor. = Follow me, please.
  • Un momento. = Just a moment.
  • Gracias por su paciencia. = Thank you for your patience.

Now, so far we’ve talked about helping your students understand you. But what happens when a student says something you don’t understand? Here are four helpful phrases that can get you both back on track:

  • Repita, por favor. = Repeat, please.
  • No comprendo./No entiendo. = I don’t understand.
  • No sé. = I don’t know.

In case you’re wondering, there’s really no difference between no comprendo and no entiendoNo entiendo is probably more common among native Spanish speakers, which is why it’s a good idea to learn it. But no comprendo sounds a bit like our English phrase I don’t comprehend, so many people find it easier to remember.

You’ll also find yourself in situations where you’re thinking, “What does that word mean?” or wondering something like, “How do I say ‘solar system’ in Spanish?” In these situations, two simple phrases can quickly bail you out:

  • ¿Cómo se dice . . . ? = How do you say . . . ?
  • ¿Qué significa . . . ? = What does ___ mean?

To practice your new survival phrases, let’s check in with Beatriz, Jesús, and their dad. Papá is taking both children to their classrooms, but he’s completely lost his way in the big school. The children are worried that they’ll be late to class on their first day. They wonder—will they be in big trouble if they’re not in their seats when the bell rings?  Mr. Delgado, the bibliotecario (librarian), spots the family wandering the halls and stops to see if they need help. Here’s how their conversation goes—see if you can follow it, and check the English translation to find out how you did.

Mr. Delgado: ¿Puedo ayudarle?
Papá: Sí. No sé donde está la clase de la Señora Lawrence. ¿Sabe dónde está?
Mr. Delgado: ¡Si! Venga conmigo.
Papá: Gracias. Y tenemos que encontrar (find) la clase del Señor Green también (too).
Mr. Delgado, not hearing the question because of the hallway noise: Repita, por favor.
Papá: Tenemos que encontrar la clase del Señor Green también.
Mr. Delgado, stopping to drop off some papers at the office: Sin problema. Un momento. Gracias por su paciencia. Sígame a las clases de la Señora Lawrence y del Señor Green.
Papá: ¡Gracias!
Mr. Delgado: De nada.

Were you able to understand some of it? Here is the English translation.
Mr. Delgado: Can I help you?
Papá: Yes. I don’t know where the classroom of Mrs. Lawrence is. Do you know where it is?
Mr. Delgado: Yes! Come with me.
Papá: Thank you. And we need to find the classroom of Mr. Green, too.
Mr. Delgado, not hearing the question because of the hallway noise: Could you repeat that, please?
Papá: And we need to find the classroom of Mr. Green, too.
Mr. Delgado, stopping to drop off some papers at the office: No problem. One moment. Thanks for your patience. Follow me to the classrooms of Mrs. Lawrence and Mr. Green.
Papá: Thank you!
Mr. Delgado: You’re welcome.

Beatriz and Jesús make it to their new classrooms just in time to say “presente” (present) when their teacher takes the attendance (la asistencia). They’re certainly glad they met Mr. Delgado!

By the way, it’s nice to introduce your new Spanish-speaking students to any bilingual staff members (like Mr. Delgado in our virtual school) who can lend a hand if the students need help. The more adults your new students can call on for assistance, the less frightened they’ll be. Some schools also welcome new Spanish-speaking students by having bilingual students give them an orientation tour. This can include everything from where the bathrooms (baños) are to how to use a locker. Bilingual students can also explain the ins and outs of things like field trips, parent-teacher conferences, and sick days.

Many students from Latin American countries—particularly those from rural areas—may feel intimidated by the size of a typical U.S. school campus. Lots of them will be coming from small schools without cafeterias, big playgrounds, or gyms, and a large campus may seem overwhelming at first. It’s a big help if you can provide Spanish-speaking students with a map of the campus, including directions in Spanish.

I hope some of these words help to ease your and your student’s anxiety on the first few days. Don’t forget about the Quizlet flashcards to help you practice!

For more Spanish words and phrases related to teaching and the classroom, check out ed2go’s Spanish in the Classroom facilitated by yours truly!

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