The main language spoken in Bolivia is Spanish. Whilst there are some variations between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish, a good understanding of either will be of immense help on either side of the Atlantic. There are other languages spoken amongst indigenous groups, but most also speak Spanish.
Some phrases and words that will help you when travelling include:
1. Where Is …… ?
Knowing how to get from A to B, or how to find a particular place, is important when travelling. It is even useful when looking for the nearest bathroom. Donde esta …. Means where is ….. You would insert whatever or wherever you are looking for at the end. So donde esta les banos means where is the bathroom.
2. Altitude Sickness
Given the altitude of Bolivia, and the fact that altitude sickness can affect a variety of people and can have quite serious consequences, it pays to be able to explain what you are suffering from. Sorochi is the word in Bolivia for altitude sickness, and you will see the word on medication that will help to relieve the affects of being at altitude.
3. Weigh Something Correctly
With a variety of colourful and interesting markets around Bolivia, it is likely that visitors will spend a fair amount of time shopping and eating at them. To ensure that vendors properly weight something you can ask them to bien pesadito.
4. Thank You
A cheerful thank you is greatly appreciated after any form of service. It also makes you look polite and shows that you are at least making a small effort to learn the local lingo. Gracias is understood universally across the Spanish speaking world as being said in gratitude.
5. I’m Not Carrying Any Money
If you are asked to buy something or dine somewhere an easy way to say no without feeling impolite is to say that you do not have any money with you. This will spare feelings and prevent the occasional over-zealous vendor from hassling you. You can tell them estoy yesca and they will leave you alone.
A typical Bolivian custom is for a group of people who are drinking together and socializing to drink from the same glass. It is passed around the table, with each person taking a sip before passing it on to the next person. If you find yourself in such a situation, which is a wonderful experience and way to make new friends, you should say te invito before passing the glass. This means I invite you to drink, and is both polite and friendly whilst following local customs.
7. How Much Is It?
Being able to ask the price of something can be really useful, especially in the bustling markets. It is also useful in restaurants, when taking a taxi, and when booking other tickets and tours. Cuento es can be used to ask how much something is.
8. Do You Speak English?
Even with some basic language skills, a phrase book, a dictionary, and a translator, there are times when it is still really nice to have somebody to communicate with in your own language. To find out whether a person speaks English or not you can ask them habla usted Ingles. The word for no is the same in English and Spanish, so if the answer is no you will need to look elsewhere. Often, if there is a person nearby who ca help they will step forward, or the person you originally asked may call to another person to assist. If the answer is yes, they may say si … though usually if they can speak English they will just reply in English!
9. I Don’t Understand
Being able to tell someone you do not understand can help a lot – they may speak slower, get assistance, or paraphrase what they were trying to tell you. They may also resort to miming, gestures, and drawing pictures or diagrams. Whatever happens, it will save a futile conversation! To tell somebody in Spanish that you do not understand you can say no entiendo.
10. Do You Have a Room?
After a long day of travelling or sightseeing, it can be really handy to be able to ask whether somewhere has a room for the night. This is especially useful in times when you have not already pre-booked accommodation. You can ask tiene una habitacion.
Hopefully these phrases will come in useful for your adventure and fun in Bolivia.