We’ve all heard the saying, “Better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it.” This couldn’t be more applicable to language learning, especially when you plan on venturing into non-English speaking countries. You won’t always need help urgently, but when you do, it’s better to not roll the dice as to whether or not a local will speak English. Here are 7 words and phrases that you need to learn in the local language of your travel destination.
1. Excuse me, I need help
I’m well aware that this seems so blatantly obvious, but when you actually begin to start learning a language, it’s clear that this kind of sentence is more technically complex than many things you might learn first. The ability to say this clearly and understandably can come in real handy, especially if you find yourself in a situation where you urgently need help no matter who it is that might give it. After getting someone’s attention and explaining you need help, hand gestures or props can help clarify the issue without you necessarily needing language ability, but getting their attention in the first place can prove to be a bit harder.
2. Hello, Sorry, Thank you, & Good bye
There is a very practical reason to learn these phrases. In almost every culture in the world, politeness is not just something nice added on top of a conversation, but it actually serves as a detriment to your charisma when it isn’t present. Learning the basics of polite conversation in a foreign language not only conveys that you’re trying to be friendly, but can actually increase your chances of receiving help from locals. Everyone is more willing to help someone who’s making an effort to be nice, and that can be extremely important when you really desperately need that help.
3. Direction words
Of course, it’s important to be able to ask, “Where is ______,” but something most people don’t think about is that it’s more important to be able to understand whatever directions are being said back to you. These direction words include, but are not limited to:
- North, South, East, West
- Left, Right, Forwards, Backwards
- Walk, Drive, Go
- Road, Street, River, Building
Memorize these basic words, and combined with other hand gestures or drawings that a local might be able to give you, you can understand instructions much better, and hopefully not end up at the end of an alley without any idea of where you are or how you got there.
4. The verbs, “to be,” and, “to have”
These verbs come in most handy in most western languages, and the syntax changes somewhat depending on where you are, but these two verbs can help you in almost every situation you are in, urgent or not. Assuming you can learn some basic adjectives and nouns, you can explain everything from the fact that you have a migraine, to the extra food you have in your hands. Keep in mind the five different pronouns to learn the conjugations for:
(Some languages have more than these five, but if you learn these five you’re usually good)
5. Can you repeat a little more slowly?
It’s pretty damn hard to have a conversation with someone who only understands what you’re saying without being able to say anything that is being understood by you. In fact, that’s just a monologue. In my experience, people are rarely annoyed at you trying to understand them better, even if that means asking them to slow down a little bit. Make an effort to understand at least the basic idea of what someone is talking about, and it will pay off.
6. I’m in a group
While I truly hope you never have to use this one, it’s important to learn even if traveling alone. Every country has people who want to take advantage of you, whether it’s as a tourist, or for other reasons, and it’s best to have this phrase in your pocket if you notice that beginning to happen. Letting someone know you’re in a group (even if you aren’t) tells them that you have people watching out for you, and will deter them from any sort of shady business.
7. Do you speak English?
While I discourage using this in most cases because you should make a real effort to learn a new language at every chance you get, when a situation is extremely urgent it is worth ditching the noble cause of learning a new language to solve whatever problem you’re facing immediately. In truly dire situations (which there always seem to be an abundance when traveling), you might just need to cut to the chase and communicate most effectively. Worst case, they don’t speak English, and you’re in the same boat you were without this phrase. Best case, you can communicate much more effectively.
Tips on learning these phrases
Try to listen to YouTube videos and match the people speaking exactly, so that you increase your chances of being understood. When using a different language, be open to correction; it will only ever make you better. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there continually, and you will always be pleasantly rewarded by how much progress you make in this new language!