Spanish - You Had Me At Hello

Updated: Jul 2

HOLA TODOS!

It’s another Spanish lesson time! Are we all ready? If you’ve been reading my last three posts, then you should already know the difference between accented words and those with no accents. You should also know how to pronounce each letter of the alphabet and words that begin with G, H and J. You should also know what letters also silent ones are too.


If you don’t, then what are you doing here? Go and check them out first, before coming here. Here, let me help you:


Spanish - The Basics: Accents

Spanish – The Basics: Silent Killers

Spanish – The Basics: From Beginning To End


Ok, are we all ready now? Good. So, today we’ll be starting with the basics, and what I mean by that is the standard greetings!


How Do You Say Hello?

You can already probably guess by now, that “Hola” means hello, but do you remember how to say it? Remember, “H” is a silent killer, so don’t say it. I’m sure you’ve heard different versions of the word like “ho-lah” or “Oh-la”, but neither are correct. Remember how “O” sounds in Spanish? It’s a short burst “Oh”, like “pot” (the British version). So, “Hola” sounds like “o-la”.

Now, the next thing to come is how to say, “how are you?”. In speech, it’s easy enough, but if you want to write it down, it’s a different ballpark. First off, the sentence is, “como estas” or “que tal”. The first one is a more formal version, the second is for those friends and family you haven’t seen in a while. Now, there’s a very formal version, but this is mostly reserved for if you work in a hotel, or if you’re conducting business with someone who speaks Spanish. This version is “como esta usted”.


Hold Up! How Are You Saying This?

Let’s rewind a bit, because pronunciation is important. Let me ask you this, how are you saying these phrases? Is your “t” soft, like “tale” or are you using your tongue too? What I mean by this is that the Spanish “t” is actually a little harder than what we’re used to.

When you say “tale” does your tongue stay at the back of your mouth? That’s actually the wrong way to say “t” in Spanish. Let’ me show you. Trap your tongue between your teeth, now pull it back a little, so the tip is trapped, a bit like when you say the word “the”. Now instead of slowly pulling your tongue back, like in “the”, do it quickly. It makes the “th” sound more like a “t” or a “d”. Do you see what I’m saying? So, say “como estas” again. Doesn’t it sound more like how a Spanish speaker says it?


There you go! You can now say “how are you” like a proper Spaniard!


But How Do You Write It?

Now this is where accents come it, and the weird punctuation marks come in. It’s actually pretty cool.


In Spanish, when you use punctuation marks, like an exclamation point or a question mark, they actually have an upside-down version, at the beginning of the sentence, at least the sentence that requires the punctuation mark. So, when you’re writing out “como estas” it looks like this:


¿Como estas?


Weird right? But that is how Spanish readers define their exclamations and questions. I don’t know why, since I’m not a linguist or someone who studies the history of languages, but that’s the way it is. Like I said, it’s the same with exclamation points, so when you say “Hello!” it should look more like:


¡Hola!


Ok, try the other two. “Que tal” and “Como esta usted”. Have you done it? Do they look like this?


¿Que tal?

¿Como esta usted?


If they do, well done! You’re almost there! The next thing to remember is their accents. Don’t worry, I sometimes get confused and forget where they’re meant to go, but we can remember them together.

Alright, let’s go back to the first version “como estas”. There are two accents, the first is above the first “o” in “como” and the second, is above the “a” in “estas”. So, the full version of the phrase should look like this:


¿Cómo estás?


Yay! We’re nearly there! Let’s look at the informal version of the phrase “que tal”. Now I’d like to say it’s actually the way it is, but it’s not. In “que tal”, the accent is on the “e” in “que”. The reason why is because “que” and “qué” mean two very different things. “que” actually means “then” or “than” while “qué” means “what”. So, when you’re saying “qué tal” you’re literally saying, “what such”, but for whatever reason, the Spanish understand it as “how are you”.


Again, let’s look at the phrase in its fullest:


¿Qué tal?


Ok peeps! We’re in the home stretch. The final version we’re looking at is the most formal version of the phrase “como esta usted”. Remember, it’s the phrase you use when speaking to businessmen, or if you’re working in a hotel or a reception and you’re meant to be formal.

Why is this the formal version? Well, consider this, when you say “como esta usted” you’re literally saying, “How is it you”, that’s because “usted” is the most polite and most formal version of saying “you”. Think about it this way, when you’re speaking to your boss, you wouldn’t say “you” when addressing them, at least not when you’re greeting them, you’d say “Mr/Mrs/Ms/etc. …” or you’d say “ma’am” or “sir”. “Usted” is just a similar version to that, so you don’t have to say “Señor/Señora/Señorita/etc. …” all the time. Does that make sense?


Alright, so, how do you write the phrase? Well, it’s like this:


¿Cómo está usted?


That’s it! We did it guys! Phew! That was a lot to take in. So, let’s leave it there for now.


Homework Time!

As always, here’s a little bit of homework for you guys. If you know someone who speaks Spanish, the next time you greet them, greet them with these phrases. Of course, they might guess you’re learning, but hey, it’s a good place to start, right?


Or if you can’t meet them in person, why not type it out? You know how to do that now. So, greet those Spanish friends with their native language, they might just appreciate you more for it.


Anyway, I’ll see you next time, where I’ll tell you how to respond to their question. There are many different ways to respond, just like there are in English, so gear up, it’s going to be another long lesson!


With love,


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