When traveling abroad, I often feel ignorant. Ignorant in that we expect tourists visiting English speaking countries to speak English, however 90% of the time don’t reciprocate by making an attempt to speak the local language when traveling through foreign countries ourselves.
Not expecting people to speak to you in English, and making at least an attempt to communicate in the language of the land wherever you go, is a sign of respect for both the locals and their culture. But language learning isn’t for everyone, and surely no-one in the world has mastered over 200 local dialects! So what is a traveler to do?
With some practice, anyone can learn a second language, but it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Even if you are just briefly passing through, learning a few words and phrases in the local language goes a long way for both respect and ease of travel.
Smartphone translation apps make travel easier than in the past, but when I travel I will also carry a small notebook in which I use to list phrases and notes about the places I am visiting.
You may only be passing through a country in transit, but that’s the day you will find yourself stuck in a foreign airport wondering what to do next!
When compiling your list of phrases, remember to write them out phonetically. For instance writing ‘спасибо’ in Russian is absolutely no help if you cannot read Cryillic. Instead write ‘spa-see-ba’ (Thankyou). Those feeling particularly adventurous should consider writing out sentences in full.
Don’t be scared to try, or to ask a local for help with pronunciation. Locals are much more impressed by those who make the attempt to speak their language than by those who don’t try at all.
Want to learn a second language? Berlitz.us is currently hosting a video contest, accepting video submissions from people saying why they want to learn a new language. The competition closes March 8 2014, and one person will be chosen to win a package worth $6,600.
Greetings & Small Talk
- Hello/ Good Morning/ Good Evening / Good Night
- How are you?
- Fine, thanks. And you?
- Please / Yes please.
- Thank you / Thank you very much.
- You’re Welcome
- Goodbye / Bye / See you soon.
- Excuse me.
- I’m sorry / Sorry / Pardon Me
- What is your name?
- I’m… / My name is… / I am called…
- Nice to meet you.
- Where are you from?
- I’m from…
- How old are you?
- I am… years old.
- I (don’t) like…
Do you speak…?
- I (don’t) understand.
- I speak a little…
- I (don’t) speak…
- Could you please speak a little slower?
- Could you write that down?
- Could you repeat that?
- How do you say…?
- What does… mean?
- What time is it?
It’s (six) o’clock.
Shopping & Money
- How much is this?
- I’m looking for…
- I would like…
- Can I pay by credit card?
- Could I see this/that one?
- Do you have this in small/large/medium?
- Do you have anything cheaper?
- It’s too expensive.
- I’ll give you… for it.
- Where can I exchange money?
- A one-way/return ticket to… please.
- Here’s my passport.
- What time does the bus/train/plane/ferry from… arrive/depart?
- Which platform/gate/terminal?
- Is the bus/train/plane direct?
- Do I have to change buses/trains?
- Do I need a seat reservation?
- Is this seat taken?
- When is the next train/bus/minibus/ferry to…?
- Could you call me a taxi?
- I’d like to go to…
- Can you let me know when to get off?
- How do I get to…?
- It’s on the left/on the right/straight ahead/at the corner.
- How far is…?
- Where is the closest bank/post office/exchange office?
- Where can I find tourist information?
- Do you have a map?
- Can you show me that on the map?
- Where is the (Australian) embassy/consulate?
Eating & Drinking
- Can you recommend a good restaurant?
- Can we have a non smoking table?
- There are two/three/four of us.
- What would you recommend?
- What are some local specialties?
- Could I see the menu, please?
- A beer/coffee/tea, please.
- Could I get the bill, please. / The check, please.
- I’m allergic to…
- That was delicious!
- This isn’t what I ordered.
- Can I buy you a drink?
- Let’s have another!
- Are there guided tours?
- What is the entrance fee?
- What is that building?
- Is it open on Sundays?
- What’s on at the cinema/theatre/opera tonight?
- That’s a beautiful church/cathedral/building.
- What is there to see around here?
- What is an inexpensive hotel you can recommend?
- I have a reservation.
- Do you have any rooms?
- Could I see the room?
- I’d like to stay for… nights.
- Does that include breakfast?
- Is there anywhere I can leave luggage?
- When do I have to check out?
- The … in my room doesn’t work.
- Could I get a different room?
- Is there a restaurant here?
Difficult Situations & Emergencies
- Help! / Can you help me?
- Please come with me – it is an emergency/very urgent.
- I’ve lost (my keys).
- I need a doctor/dentist/police officer.
- Is there pharmacy nearby?
- Can I use your phone?
- Call the police/ambulance!
- Leave me alone!
Much of this list of phrases was compiled from 101 Survival Phrases to Master in Any Language by Ryan O’Rourke of Treksplorer.