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Spanish driving licence: the essential language to pass your practical test

Understanding what your driving instructor is saying to you in Spanish will be crucial if you want to pass your practical test. 

Spanish driving licence: the essential language to pass your practical test
Photos: Jorge Guererro/AFP

Getting a driving licence in Spain (sacarse el carné de conducir en España) can be a fairly challenging task for foreigners. 

There’s having to memorise Spain’s specific road laws, the big difference in prices between driving schools depending on where you are and, last but not least, understanding Spain’s driving lingo.

Although Spain’s Directorate General for Traffic (DGT) does offer the possibility of taking your theory exam in English, French and German, the practical driving exam has to be carried out in Spanish. 

There are some specialised driving schools (autoescuelas in Spanish) that have instructors who can offer practical lessons in English, but when it comes to actually sitting at the wheel with the DGT examiner in the back seat, it’s almost certainly all going to be in Spanish. 

With this in mind, we’re going to revise the most common instructions that you’re likely to receive from your driving instructor while you’re practising driving, and during your final examen práctico with the examiner.

To keep it as real as possible, all the Spanish verbs we’ll use will be in the imperative form, as that’s what you’re most likely to hear from your instructor. 

We’ve mixed up these with the useful vocab you’re likely to hear to put it all in context, so pay special attention to each part of the sentence.

The basics

Acelera : Speed up

Frena : Brake 

Reduce la velocidad : Reduce your speed

Detente/Para : Stop

Pisa el embrague : Step on the clutch 

Important extras

Ponte el cinturón (de seguridad) : Put on your seatbelt

Asegúrate que tienes bien colocados los retrovisores : Make sure your rearview mirrors are correctly positioned

Getting going

Arranca el coche : turn on the car

Pon las luces cortas/largas : Put on your headlights/brights

Pon el intermitente : Put on your indicator

Gira el volante a la izquierda/derecha : Turn the steering wheel to the left/right

El semáforo está en verde/en rojo/en ámbar : The traffic light is green, red, yellow


Mete primera, segunda, tercera, cuarta, quinta marcha : Go into first, second, third, fourth, fifth gear

Mete la palanca de cambio en punto muerto : Put the gearbox in neutral


Da marcha atrás : Reverse 

Pon las luces de emergencia : Put on your emergency lights

Aparca en batería, en línea o en paralelo : Park at an angle, in line, parallel park

Pon/Quita el freno de mano : Pull up/down the handbrake 

Turning and moving around

Circula por esta carretera de sentido único : Drive along this one-way road 

Cede el paso : Give way

Adelanta a la furgoneta : Overtake the van

Incorpórate a la autopista/la rotonda : Merge onto the motorway/roundabout 

Acuérdate que es una carretera de sentido único/dos sentidos : Remember it’s a one-way/two-way road 

Toma la primera/segunda/tercera salida : Take the first/second/third exit

Échale un vistazo al punto ciego : Check your blind spot 

Mira por el retrovisor : Look through the rearview mirror

Cambia de carril : Change lane

Métete por el carril de dentro/fuera : Take the inside/outside lane

Toma la siguiente salida : Take the next exit


No superes el límite de velocidad : Don’t go over the speed limit

Ten cuidado con la curva : Be careful with the turn

Deja pasar al peatón en el paso de cebra : Let the pedestrian cross at the zebra crossing

Asegúrate que no vienen coches en el cruce : Make sure there’s no oncoming traffic at the crossing  

And a couple of extra ones

Toca el claxon/la bocina : Honk your horn

Pon el limpiaparabrisas : Put on the windshield wipers


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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.