5 mins

36 key phrases you must learn before travelling

John Hatt lists the words and phrases that will not only get you out of trouble, but enhance your journey as well

Language Cartoon (Bill Stott)

When I first started travelling, I never bothered to learn any of the local language, and usually relied on muddling through in English. But, during my visits to more than 80 countries, I gradually discovered that it really is worthwhile to memorise a tiny vocabulary. Even 30 words, or so, can reap dividends way beyond the meagre effort involved.

Here are my suggested key words which will help you muddle through remarkably well, and see you through minor emergen­cies. You should learn to count as well.

1. Hello/Greetings

2. Goodbye

3. Sorry, I don't speak ...

4. Excuse me, do you speak English?

5. Sir/Madam (It is often practical and polite to know the equivalent of these words. Consider the use of 'Monsieur' and 'Madame' in French.)

6. Your nationality (You will always be asked what nationality you are.)

7. I am a [teacher] (You will always be asked what you do.)

8. Wife/Husband/Married (You will often be asked if you are married.)

9. Girls/Boys (You will often be asked how many children you have, and whether they are boys or girls.)

10. Name (This is very important not only for understanding the question "what is your name?", but also for being able to ask "what is the name of this?", thus extending your vocabulary)

11. Yes/No

12. Please/Thank you

13. Possible? (Especially as in "Is this pos­sible? Words such as ‘se puede' in Spanish or "mumkin' in Arabic, are use­ful for many situations, such as, "Can I leave the car here?" or "May I enter this temple?")

14. How much/Too much

15. Good/Bad

16. Large/Small

17. Very

18. And (Doubles up for 'with', as in "cof­fee with milk')

19. Where is?/Near/ Here

20. When

21. Lavatory (In most countries the word "toilet' is understood).

22. Police (In most countries the word 'police' is understood)

23. Doctor

24. Hotel

25. Do you have a room? ('Do you have?' is useful in many other situations. Think of ‘Tiene' in Spanish)

26. More/Less

27. Tea/Coffee

28. Hot/Cold

29. Food

30. Water (Or 'mineral water')

31. Today/Tomorrow

32. Slow (Useful for saying "please speak more slow") / Fast

33. I want (easily converted to "I don't want")

34. I like (Easily converted to "I no like ")

35. Enough

36. Safe

Do you agree with John? Are there any other phrases or words that you have found more useful in your travels? Join the debate over on the Forum.

Related Articles