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Survival Spanish for Costa Rica Expats and Visitors

One of the most daunting tasks that newbie expats are faced with is learning everyday Spanish survival skills .

Most expats do not even know where or how to begin. I hear again and again from my clients, “I need to learn Spanish.” But most do not know how to do it.

One of the first things that has to be mastered is how to pronounce the words. Basically, once one learns the five vowel sounds, the consonants basically the same as in English.

If you cannot say the words correctly then nobody will be able to understand what you are saying.

Here are the five basic vowel sounds that must be mastered. Spanish vowels are always pronounced the exact same way. Always! There is not a single example in the whole Spanish language of a vowel having two different sounds.

There are many places on YouTube where beginning students can to pronounce Spanish words correctly. All one has to do is put the words “Spanish dictionary with pronunciation in the search and a lot of places will come up where you can hear a word pronounced correctly. Easy!

Here are basic vowel sounds:

Spanish Vowel Pronunciation Example Words

  • e eh esperanza , bebé
  • i ee sí , chica
  • o oh loco , bonito
  • u oo grupo , futuro

Once the student masters the 5 vowel sounds then he or she can start to work on building a vocabular. Why? By learning 10 new words per day, you end up with about 3000 new words in a year. When you can pick up a few words here and there when a native speaker is speaking quickly you just might get the gist of the conversation.

On the other hand, knowing some key words will help native Spanish speaker understand you. You will not need to even speak in complete sentences.

Example, let’s you are a native English speaker living in Southern California and you become friends with an Hispanic who does not really know how to form complete sentences in English but knows a lot of verbs in and nouns in English.

Your friend then says the following: “Tomorrow 9 am your house; my car, Malibu Beach, sun, swim in the morning, lunch fish tacos, rest, walk beach, go home, 7:30 then dinner at the Red Lobster, after a movie.” Easy to understand, right? Well just imagine being able to do the same thing with Spanish words.

Language is communication and not necessarily speaking in complete and grammatically correct sentences.

Get the point?

By learning how to pronounce Spanish words and being able to communicate by just using nouns and verbs one can develop some basic survival skills while they study Spanish formally.

Cervantes said, “To know another language, is to know another world.” Expats who relocate here will have a much richer life by being able to communicate with Costa Ricans. Otherwise, they always be “strangers in a strange land.”

Costa Rican expression of the week: Choza literally means a shack. But here it is often used to refer to someone’s home in slang. If you are interested in more expressions, here are some others.

About Chris Howard

Christopher Howard has been conducting monthly relocation/retirement tours to Costa Rica for over 30 years. See He is also the author of the one- of-a-kind bestselling, Golden Door to retirement and Living in Costa Rica — the official guide to relocation and  “Guide to Costa Rican Spanish,” that may be purchased through or

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