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Traveling is obviously a great way to learn about other cultures, see historical sites, and enjoy different cuisines. There are plenty of guides to help you find tourist destinations and restaurants, and you can get by pretty well these days using your phone to navigate, even in a country you’ve never visited. But the old wisdom of your high school Spanish teacher still remains true: You’ll have a better (and safer) trip if you can communicate at least a little with the locals, even if they don’t speak any English. Here are the phrases you should learn in the language spoken in your destination country before you fly out.

The basic phrases you need to know

Before heading to a country where English is not the primary language spoken, brush up on the basics. Learn to say these phrases in the most commonly spoken language in the region you’re visiting:

  • “Do you speak English?” This one will probably be the most helpful phrase in your arsenal, as it’ll help you find people with whom you can actually converse. (You should also learn, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak…” to make it clear upfront that you don’t know their native language. Bonus points if you learn, “I only know a little…”)
  • “Hello” and “goodbye.”
  • “Please” and “thank you.”
  • “Pardon me.”
  • “My name is…” and “I’m a visitor from the United States.”
  • “How much does this cost?”
  • “Where is…?”
  • Plus “…bathroom,” “…hotel,” and any other destinations you’ll likely need.
  • “Help.”

Agnieszka Pilat, an artist who travels often for work, also suggested learning a few uniquely modern ones: “What is the wifi password?” will come in handy if you don’t have cell service and, “Can I use your electric outlet?” will help you keep your phone charged at all times.

More specific phrases you should master

There is definite value in learning the basics, whether that includes asking where the bathroom is or, “May I please have an iced coffee?” Still, each trip is unique. If you’re heading to Germany for a conference, for instance, you should learn how to ask directions to the venue or, “Are there discounted rates available for attendees of…?”

Then, there are more serious specifics. Nivine Jay, a Los Angeles-based model who travels frequently for work and fun, told Lifehacker that during a recent trip to Europe with her best friend, the duo had to be extra careful because the other woman has a severe nut allergy. They had to learn how to say, “I am/she is allergic to nuts. Are there nuts in this?” If you have any unique medical needs or similar concerns, learn as many phrases as you can to preclude a surprise hospital visit. (Pilat also mentioned you should learn, “I don’t feel well. Please take me to a doctor.” Even if you have some translation issues, a doctor is better than no doctor in an emergency.)

While you’re at it, brush up on, “I need to go to the American embassy” and “I need to speak to someone who speaks English.” It’s not likely you’ll actually need to be taken to an embassy or find yourself in any kind of trouble, but you’ll feel better knowing you could ask for help anyway.


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