While you don’t need to be fluent or have perfect pronunciation, learning a few key phrases in your destination’s language makes a great impression and could also make your travels much smoother. Below is a list of universal phrases worth learning before you leave—be sure to make adjustments to adapt to your own unique travel experiences.
First things first…you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to learn these phrases. One option is to use an online tool like Google Translate (they have a mobile app too) for instant translations in 64 different languages. You’ll not only be able to hear the audio pronunciation of the word or phrase, but you’ll also see the phonetic pronunciation if you’re trying to translate something into a language with a non-Roman alphabet (like Greek or Chinese, for example). To earn even more bonus points with the locals, consider mastering these phrases before you get off the plane—saying the words from memory instead of reading from a phrase book or phone app is an instant way to show respect in a foreign land.
- Do you speak English? Start with this one and you’ll be amazed at how much time you’ll save. In many countries, many people learn English as a second language during their school-age years.
- Hello, Goodbye: While there are many variations of hello and goodbye (good morning, good night, etc.) that are worth knowing, learning these two words will help you simply greet and bid farewell any time of day.
- Please, Thank You, I’m Sorry: The art of humbleness, politeness and modesty never get old.
- Excuse Me: For moments when “please” in a more apologetic tone won’t quite do the job, this phrase will help make your presence known in a non-intrusive fashion.
- Numbers 1-10: Imagine shopping or giving a taxi driver an address without knowing numbers? Enough said.
- How much is this? While we’re on the subject of numbers, even when you’re in a foreign country, there is really no way to avoid spending money at some point, so make sure you know what’s what to avoid paying more than you bargained for.
- My name is…/I’m from… If you happen to chat it up with a local, knowing how to say your name and where you’re from will help you appear friendly without having a lengthy interchange.
- Where is the restroom? To avoid performing charades every time you need relief, this phrase comes in handy. Also, knowing how to say “where is” arms you with the ability to ask for directions if you’re lost. And when hand signals can’t quite get you to where you need to go, it might be helpful to learn a few directional terms like ‘right,’ ‘left,’ ‘east,’ ‘west’…you get the idea.
- Water: If you don’t want to drink beer or soda for the entirety of your vacation, consider learning this word. If you’re traveling to a developing country where local water supplies are not safe to drink, consider learning the phrase “Bottled Water.”
- I would like… This works great in a restaurant. Simply say this phrase and then point to the menu! Makes ordering a snap.
- I do not understand: Instead of nodding in agreement when you’re lost in a conversation, learning to articulate your confusion will save you some time (and your sanity!).
While the above phrases will help you navigate most situations, the following words and phrases are crucial in the event you find yourself in an emergency situation:
- Please call a doctor.
- Please call the police.
- I’m at…(helpful if you are experiencing language barriers with the local emergency responders)
While learning a few key phrases is extremely helpful, there is always a chance that you’ll need to have a more complex conversation—understanding a charge on your hotel bill, explaining what you need at the local police department, having a conversation with your doctor at the local hospital…you get the idea. On Call members can rest assured they have access to 24/7 translation and interpreting assistance services whenever they’re traveling more than 50 miles away from home.