An essential ‘basic’ is knowing how to greet someone and introduce yourself and others as well as how to be polite. This depends to an extent on how formal the situation is, and you will generally find that the more senior (in age or authority) someone is, the more formal the introduction or greeting. The degree of formality will also influence the form of ‘you’ to use.
Both Spanish and French, as you’ll see elsewhere, have an informal form of you used with friends, family and generally children, along with a ‘polite’ or formal form for elders and people of status as well as people you meet in formal situations for the first time whether senior to you or not. It is best to err on the side of formality first and then see what form they use – a signal that you should be able to use the same form back.
In Spanish, the formal form of ‘you’ is usted (or ustedes for more than one person). This uses the same form of the verb as el/ella (or ellos/as) so is fairly straightforward to learn. This is the ‘third person’ singular or plural form. Often in conversation and in literature you’ll notice the usted/es is dropped, using only the verb form, so you do need to use the context to be sure you’re getting (and making) the meaning clear.
Hello, how are you…?
‘Good morning/Good day’ Buenos dias , generally used from morning up to midday;
‘Good afternoon/Good evening’ Buenas tardes generally used from noon to about 8pm or sunset.
After sunset you might use buenas noches which also serves as ‘good night’.
You might ask how are you? ¿como estas? (informal) or ¿como está usted? (formal) to which the formal response would be (muy) bien gracias ¿y usted? ‘(very) well thank you, and how are you?’ It’s always polite to reciprocate! If you know the person well, your response would most likely be bien gracias, ¿ y tu?
You may even wish to be extra polite and say ‘Pleased to meet you’ for which mucho gusto is sufficient most of the time, or the more formal mucho gusto en conocerle.
Welcome is Bienvenido.
Introducing yourself and others
Courtesy is important in Spain, so it’s generally expected you’ll introduce yourself and show an interest in the person(s) you’re speaking to.
Don’t necessarily launch into your autobiography, but do be ready for a few questions and have your own questions and answers in return.
Introducing yourself by name, perhaps in response to ¿Como te llamas? Or ¿Como se llama usted ? you might say : ‘I’m called…’ followed by your name, e.g. Me llamo John – literally ‘I call myself John’. Don’t translate your name, even if your host has problems pronouncing it. John, James, etc have direct equivalents in Spanish (Juan, Iago…) and the ‘J’ presents problems. I’ve found its closest equivalent is the ‘y’ in yo.
Alternatively, you could say simply Soy John which translates as ‘I’m John’, but this is also the way you would describe what you do (e.g. student, lecturer, researcher…), your nationality (inglés, escocés, galés,… for English, Scottish or Welsh) and any other relatively permanent characteristics you have (see the explanations of the verbs ‘to be’ – ser and estar elsewhere on these pages).
‘I’m from…’ uses the widely used preposition de , for example, in response to the question ‘where are you from?’: ‘¿De donde eres? You might respond: Soy de Cheltenham / Gloucester / Cardiff … . Alternatively ‘I live in…’ is vivo en … . When referring to where you’re from, generally use the English name if you’re referring to somewhere in England, but occasionally (generally for large cities) there is a translation of the name (e.g London is Londres, Edinburgh is Edimburgo in Spanish).
Introducing others is fairly straightforward, although using in Spanish a more complex form of ‘you’ which we’ll return to at another time: Os presento … is ‘I present to you … ‘. An alternative would be éste es … (‘this is …’). ‘He/she is a student from …’ would be es estudiante de …. . Note here that being a student, like having a profession, is seen as relatively permanent, so uses the verb ser.