16 Common Phrases to Know in Any Language Before Traveling

By Kailey Walters on February 2, 2020

So, you’re going to take an international trip soon. Congratulations, that’s wonderful! You’ve already planned out your flights, the major attractions you’re going to visit, what food you want to eat, your travel budget … everything you could possibly think of.

But if you’re visiting a country you’ve never been to before where you don’t speak the language, it may be a good idea to learn a little bit before you jet off. That doesn’t mean you have to try to memorize the Spanish-English dictionary or learn how to say a number of long, weird sentences that nobody ever even says in real life. Instead, you might want to brush up on just a few simple, common phrases that will be useful in your everyday interactions with people in that country. In fact, these are common phrases that will be useful in many different languages. That way, you can have these on hand no matter where in the world you travel.

Why learn these phrases? Well, for one thing, if you are in a non-English speaking country, you’ll definitely need to know at least a few words and phrases in that country’s language just to get by. For another thing, it’s only polite when interacting with a native of that country to try to speak their language. Even if your accent is not perfect or you don’t pronounce a word correctly, your effort will go a long way and make that person feel respected.

via Pexels

1. Thank you

“Thank you” is definitely a key phrase that you should learn how to say no matter where you’re visiting. While you’re traveling, you will most likely be relying on others for assistance pretty often, from getting directions to finding restaurant recommendations — which means you should definitely know how to say “thank you” to these kind souls. After all, how rude would it be if you got the help you needed and then walked away without a single word of thanks or appreciation? Even if the person you’re speaking with actually knows enough English to help you out, it’s still always a good idea to thank them in their own language. While it might seem like a tiny gesture, it’s a way to show your appreciation and your respect for that person. And perhaps the more often you say it, the more natural it will feel.

2. Please

Along with “thank you,” “please” is another essential word you should know how to say when traveling. After all, it’s only polite to say “please” in any conversation or interaction in which you might need to ask someone for help or get someone’s attention.

3. Greetings and salutations such as “hello” and “goodbye”

Another important thing to know when interacting with people in a foreign country is how to greet them. A simple “hello” or even “good morning” or “good afternoon” to acknowledge someone can certainly go a long way. Likewise, a simple “goodbye,” “see you later,” or something along those lines is very useful as well.

Even if you’re having a conversation with someone mostly in English, it’s still a good idea to begin and end the conversation with “hello” and “goodbye” in their language. Doing so will show that you’re at least making an effort to speak their language.

4. “Yes” and “no”

In many cases, whether you’re at a restaurant, a store, or anywhere else during your travels, it’s fairly easy to get by without saying “yes” or “no” — nodding or shaking your head, or even using hand gestures, is often enough to get the message across. Ideally, however, you should be able to say a simple “yes” or “no” to convey your meaning. Even if you have to elaborate further in English, beginning with “yes” or “no” in their language is a better alternative to not saying anything at all.

5. Excuse me

“Excuse me” is also a very helpful phrase when it comes to making your way through a foreign country. Whether you’re trying to get someone’s attention politely or winding your way through a crowded area, “excuse me” can go a long way. After all, if you say “excuse me” in English, you might not be effective at getting someone’s attention because they might not understand what you’re saying or even realize that you’re talking to them. But if you say “excuse me” in the appropriate language, you have a better chance of getting that person’s attention and will also come across as polite and respectful.

6. Sorry

If you accidentally step on someone’s toes in a crowded train station or spill a drink on a stranger in a restaurant during your time abroad, you’ll want to know how to say “sorry” in that country’s language. “Sorry” will definitely come in handy in many situations. Just like any other word or phrase such as “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” for displaying good manners, “sorry” is essential as well. Saying “sorry” will show that you have respect for the people you’re interacting with, which will hopefully deter others from thinking of you as just another rude American.

7. I am allergic to …

If you’re dining at a restaurant and you have food allergies, it’s extremely important to let the servers know what your allergies are — no matter where you are in the world. As a result, you should know how to say, “My allergies are …” or “I am allergic to …” in any language, no matter which country you visit. Sure, you may not feel totally confident saying it out loud, especially if the server happens to not understand you the first time, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Make the effort to learn this simple phrase to save yourself a trip to the emergency room.

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8. Where is the bathroom?

No matter where you are, you should know how to ask where the bathroom is. (You don’t want to be stuck in a situation in which you really have to go but don’t have a way of getting to the restroom.) It may also be useful to know how to read the word for “bathroom” in that country’s language so that, if you see signs posted around the establishment you’re at (a restaurant, a museum, etc.), you might be able to pick out the word “bathroom” and find the restroom on your own.

If you don’t know how to ask where the bathroom is, and the person you’re speaking with doesn’t understand what you’re saying, that can quickly turn into a rough time. As a result, make sure to steer clear of any potential problems by brushing up on your language skills for the phrase, “Where is the bathroom?”

9. Check, please!

When you’re at a restaurant, another important phrase you need to know is, “Check, please!” or “May I have the check, please?” Of course, while it’s understood that the waiter will bring you your check at the end of the meal, sometimes you might want to get their attention sooner. If it comes to that, you should know how to ask for the check politely so as not to offend them and to show that you know what you’re doing.

10. May I have …?

If you’re in a store or a restaurant, chances are that you don’t know the name of a certain item or food that you want in that country’s language. One option to get what you want is to resort to pointing, which can certainly be effective in many cases. However, an even better way to go about it is to know how to ask, “May I have …?” Even if you don’t know how to say the name of the specific thing you’re pointing at, at least you’ll be able to open your mouth and ask the question. While knowing this phrase may not seem like much, it may help you to stand out as a tourist who is respectful, polite, and willing to make an effort to interact with the natives. And it certainly can be useful when ordering food or drinks at a restaurant, bar, or cafe.

11. Could you repeat that please?

Sometimes, when interacting with someone from the country you’re visiting, the other person might say something in their language that you don’t understand. Maybe it’s because they’re talking too quickly, or you just don’t know what they’re saying in general. In these cases, you might want to learn how to ask, “Could you repeat that, please?” Knowing how to say this phrase could help diffuse any awkwardness and buy you some time to try to figure out what the other person is saying. If the entire phrase “Could you repeat that, please?” is too long or tricky for you to memorize, you can even just go with, “Again, please,” and the person you’re speaking with will get the hint.

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12. How much does this cost?

Again, while you’re traveling, you’ll probably end up spending a decent amount of time in stores and restaurants. When you want to buy things (e.g., souvenirs), it’s important to know the cost of items before you make a purchase so that you don’t get scammed. As a result, you should know how to ask, “How much does this cost?” It’s a simple phrase that should only help you in the long run during your travels.

13. Sorry, I don’t understand.

If you really can’t figure out what the other person is saying, sometimes it’s best to just admit it with a simple, “Sorry, I don’t understand” or “I don’t speak [insert language].” The other person will probably figure out fairly quickly that you don’t know the language and move on — maybe even before you need to say anything.

14. “Airport,” “bus,” and “train station”

When you travel, chances are that you’ll need to rely quite a bit on public transportation to get around. That’s why it’s important to know a few key transit words and phrases, such as “airport,” “bus/bus stop” and “train station.” Even if you don’t know how to ask the full question, “Where is the train station?” at least you’ll know the words for “train station” — which will be effective in getting your message across.

15. What is …?

If you see something on a menu and aren’t sure what it is, it might be helpful to know how to ask, “What is …?” This also goes for many other things that you may need help identifying or want further explanation for, such as an event that’s happening nearby.

16. Help!

Most likely, you won’t have to use this one, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. In case you find yourself caught in an emergency situation, it may be useful to call for help. And even if you don’t have the words to fully explain what the emergency is, you’ll at least be effective in getting everyone’s attention in the nearby vicinity.

Learning a few key phrases here and there doesn’t have to be difficult — in fact, it can be fun. DuoLingo is one app that can help you learn a new language in a fun way. Whether or not you’re great at learning languages, you may want to give this app — among other fun language apps out there — a try. And, of course, there are many other effective resources you can take advantage of to learn a new language, from Rosetta Stone to language classes to even friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and other people in your life who might know another language and are willing to practice with you.

Use the opportunities available to you to learn some useful, common phrases in other languages before you head off to another country. You will thank yourself in the long run and come away from your international trip with a much richer experience than you could have imagined.

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