When it comes to foreign travel one of the biggest hurdles for most people is the language. Navigating a new location is exciting, using the maps, apps, or books you brought from home. But what do you do when you need to speak to someone? Even the most introverted travelers will need to speak to someone at some point during a trip.
Adding another layer (and another etiquette lesson) to my advice, let me state firsthand that it is ALWAYS a good idea to make a point to learn at least a few phrases in the local language. This can make life a lot easier and even endear you to the local population. Sadly, people around the world are used to travelers not bothering with the local language so when you try it (and even if you fail miserably) you will make a good impression and that can go a long way to making the trip smoother and more enjoyable.
Here are the top three times speaking a foreign language has helped me while traveling.
- I actually got a waiter in France to smile and help me after I tried my poor French while ordering a non-meat dish.
- While in Costa Rica, I was able to get help from the police quite quickly after being mugged by asking for help in Spanish.
- Using the handful of phrases I know in Arabic got me upgraded to a room with a view of the Nile when I arrived in Cairo.
Now, all those things may have happened had I stuck to English, but I doubt it.
The following are the 11 magical phrases/words you should know to make your next foreign excursion all the better. My list has been developed over many years and includes many more words. Your list may be different given your preferred style of travel, but this 11 should get you started. In no particular order:
- Can you help me?
- I am sorry
- My name is…
- I don’t speak (insert local language)
- Please/Thank you
- Where is….?
- How much does (point to or pick up object) cost?
- Excuse me/Pardon me
- May I have the check, please?
- I need/I want
If you learn these with passable pronunciation, you can string them together and almost have a conversation. Even without proper grammar and syntax, your intent should be understood so give it a whirl and let me know how it goes.
What do you think? Did I miss any of your must-know phrases? Let me know in the comments!