My SPI Story: 10 Useful Spanish Words to Know

April Hopcroft attended SPI’s Santander, Spain Summer 2 session in 2015. Here is an excerpt from her blog, Seattle to Santander, in which she describes the top 10 most useful Spanish words and phrases that she learned during her time abroad with SPI:

1. Aseos = bathroom
This was probably the most useful word, and the first word I noticed when I stepped off the plane at the Madrid airport. (Note: I don’t recall seeing aseos in Barcelona…I believe it was WC there?) This is a nice reminder of how the Spanish language differs throughout Spain and Latin America.

2. Hasta luego = see you later
This was one of the first Spanish expressions that I learned in 6th grade, and probably the most common phrase that I used in Santander. “Hasta luego!” worked for saying goodbye to Isabel [my homestay mother] in the morning, leaving a store, saying goodnight to Isabel, etc.

3. Vale = okay, good, sure
This is very common throughout Spain, and is used to express agreement or show that you understand what was just said. A pretty easy one to pepper into conversations!

4. Todo el mundo = everyone
In a literal sense, this phrase means “the whole world”. However, it is an idiomatic expression that refers to the entire group of people in a room or certain area. For instance, our teachers at school would say things like “Ha recibido todo el mundo el papel?” or “Todo el mundo entiende la tarea?”

5. Espantoso = awful
Isabel would often use this word to describe the weather. For example, “Que calor/frío hace! Espantoso!” She placed strong emphasis on espantoso, and usually accompanied these expressions with a disapproving shaking of the head.

“El tiempo es espantoso hoy!”

6. Marisco = seafood
This is an important word to know when ordering at a restaurant in Spain. For instance, you might see paella de marisco on a menu. This was a very useful word in Santander, where seafood is popular due to the city’s location on El Mar Cantábrico.

7. Coger = to pick up, grab, take
Probably the most common verb that I heard Isabel use, since it is so versatile. For example, you can coger la ropa or coger un taxi.

“Debes coger la ropa de afuera!”

8. Pesado = heavy, boring, annoying
In Spanish class in the U.S., I learned that pesado meant “heavy” in terms of weight, and that it could also be used to describe rich food. In Spain, I heard it used to describe the long, boring bus ride from Madrid to Santander. Isabel also scolded her cats and told them that they were “pesado(s)“, or annoying.

9. Aprovechar = to take advantage of, to make the most of
Isabel used this word almost every day to remind me to enjoy my short stay in Santander and take advantage of all of the new opportunities. For instance, she would say, “Hay que probar de todo….aprovecha de la comida española” and recommend that I try new foods in Spain.

“Aprovechamos del sol y fuimos a la playa!”

10. Meter = to put/place into
This was another common word that Isabel used in a variety of situations. For instance, you can meter el termos (reusable water bottle) en la nevera, meter el paraguas en el bolso, or meter la ropa en la lavadora.

11. Calabobos = mist, drizzle
I love how this word sounds! Isabel was very excited to introduce it to me, explaining that it describes a light mist/drizzle that doesn’t quite constitute lluvia. This is a very specific word, and it perfectly sums up the wet weather in Santander. I was so proud of myself for picking out calabobos from a conversation I overheard while walking down the street on a misty day.


A Life-changing Experience!

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.