Phrases to Know When Traveling Anywhere

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story by amira beasley

The idea of visiting a foreign country with a strange, new language is a scary concept for a lot of people. Don’t let it hold you back! No matter how intimidating it may seem, you can still have an amazing experience abroad without knowing much of the local language of the your destination. Here are 8 essential phrases to learn how to say before you embark on your adventure abroad.


1. “Hello!” and “Goodbye!”
While it may seem very simple and almost trivial, a greeting can set the tone for the interactions you will have with locals. What better way is there to greet a local than saying “hello” in their native language? Greeting a local in their native tongue shows an openness and appreciation for their culture, and gives you a boost of confidence to start practicing your language skills.

After you master these two phrases, you can learn other ways to greet people! Try learning informal ways to greet the native friends that you might make or how to greet people during different parts of the day.

2. “Please.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome”. “No, thanks.” “Excuse.” “I’m sorry.”
Manners. They’re universal and will take you further than you think. These phrases should definitely be on your list.  

3. Numbers: 1-10
There will be many, many opportunities to use your newfound knowledge of saying the numbers 1-10 in a new language. You’ll utilize this new skill when buying groceries from a store, giving an address to a taxi driver, and even bartering with street vendors.

What about numbers above 10? If learning numbers beyond 10 proves challenging, get creative -- separate larger numbers into single digits! For example, if you need to say “55”, saying 5-5 will also get the job done.

4. “Where is _____?”, “Left”, “Right”, and “Straight”.
When visiting or living in a foreign country, it’s helpful to know vocabulary that can help you navigate unfamiliar areas. Learning the basics to give or receive directions can help you make your way to the nearest bathroom, a train stop, or the neighborhood that you’re staying in. If all else fails, having a map and listening as locals give you directions will not only help you learn the language, but you’ll feel more oriented in this new environment.

5. “I would like _____.”

This phrase is especially useful in a restaurant setting. Learn this phrase and you’ll be able to communicate with a server in any foreign country! Additionally, this phrase will also come in handy in a situation where you’re buying something that is physically beyond your reach. Bonus points if you tack on “please” and “thank you” at the end!

6. “Do you speak English?”

If you meet someone in a foreign country and you’re unsure if they speak English, this phrase is great to have on hand to make communicating a little easier. A simple short cut might just be to learn how to say the word ‘English’ in their native tongue -- you’ll be surprised by how many people will say yes, no matter where you are in the world.

7. “My name is _____. I am from_____.”/ “What is your name? Where are you from?”
Knowing how to introduce yourself and say what country you’re from is definitely a good way to meet new people and begin building relationships with either locals or other participants in your program! From there, you can learn how to share more details about your life back home such as hobbies and interests. On the flip side, you’ll also meet really interesting, cool locals and travelers that you’ll want to learn more about, so learning how to ask those questions yourself would also be beneficial.

8. “How much is _____?”

You can’t leave a new country without a souvenir for your family, friends, and yourself! This phrase is great to use when you want to inquire about the price of an item of something that is for sale.


Last but not least….

This list of basic phrases to learn before you visit a foreign country is a good start, but by no means is it exhaustive. If you have an allergy, dietary restriction, or medical condition, it is important to learn how to express that in the local language as well. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The point of this list is not teach you how to fool native speakers into thinking you know more of the language than you do. It’s to make communicating abroad as easy as possible for you and to help you show appreciation for the culture, which will be sure to put a smile on the faces of many locals.

amira beasley


Amira is a Summer 2016 Fellow at Diversity Abroad. She studies International Studies and Latin American Studies at Miami University of Ohio. While studying in Madrid, Spain in the spring of 2015, she caught the "travel bug" and now spends every spare moment planning her next adventure.

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