Phrases To Know Before Heading Overseas

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Thinking of traveling to a non-English speaking country soon? While you’re sorting through what to pack in your luggage, consider taking a little bit of extra knowledge along with you – like some basic phrases in the local language.

Around one in four people across the world speaks English on a serviceable level, but that means there’s a whole lot of people who will have no idea what you’re talking about. And while no one expects you to be fluent in every language in every country you visit, knowing the basics of how to get around and make yourself understood can make your trip not just easier, but better.

For one thing, it’s about showing politeness and respect to the locals: You’re visiting their home; you should know a few basics. But for another, being able to share just a smattering of local words can open up all kinds of advantages – some people will suddenly be more willing to speak in English if you at least attempt to communicate in their language, and some businesses may become far more helpful if you do the same.

Here’s a short list of phrases worth learning before you go abroad:

  1. Hello, please, thank you, good-bye

These tiny words and phrases will serve to grease a lot of wheels. Think about it: Do you want to stand out as a tourist or see the inside of a foreign land like a local? Being able to say just these words means you’ll get more out of your visit because you won’t be seen as an outsider, or potential target.

  1. Do you speak English?

After the necessary greetings, know this phrase. If they don’t speak your language, they may be able to point you to someone who can.

  1. I’m sorry, excuse me

It never hurts to be able to excuse yourself, whether you bump into someone on the street or need help.

  1. Please call a doctor (or the police)

If you or your companion has been hurt or is a victim of crime, being able to share this information quickly is important. Bonus: Learn the words for “emergency” and “help.”

  1. Where is the bathroom?

Trust us, not every country is going to have a sign you can interpret without asking around, and you’ll want this handy when you’re in dire need.

  1. How much does this cost?

You’ll buy something while you’re there, right? So get in good with the merchant (and maybe land a discount) by asking properly. Bonus: If you know a country reveres haggling, be prepared to do just that – and the prices may tumble.

  1. I’m allergic to …

Whether it’s nuts or gluten or lactose, you’ll want to know how to tell anyone giving you food that you simply cannot have it.

  1. Numbers 1-10 (at least)

Think about it: How are you going to tell the taxi where you’re going, or know how much money to pay, if you don’t have this basic information?

  1. I don’t understand

Because quite a lot of the time you won’t! And this way you don’t have to nod along with someone who thinks he or she is communicating with you.

  1. I’m lost (or) I need help

Even if you don’t know how to share how to get someplace, this way you can at least relay the information that you don’t know where you are.

  1. Can you speak more slowly?

When you’re unfamiliar with a language, there’s a good chance it’ll all go by too quickly. Politely requesting that the speaker slow down will make your life easier.

So how do you find these words and phrases without signing up for a Rosetta Stone or Berlitz class? Easy: Pocket translators are now available as apps and in small electronic devices; you can have a phrasebook marked up ahead of time (use sticky notes to demarcate key pages) or if you have a little more time, look it up on Google Translate. There’s nothing wrong with writing down the phrases ahead of time and having a piece of paper handy. Locals understand you’re not from their world, and showing you’re willing to at least make the effort really goes a long way.

Bon voyage! God tur! Semoga selamat perjalanan!

Randee Dawn is a contributor for InsureMyTrip and can be found at and @RandeeDawn on Twitter.

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