There’s no getting around it – language barriers are tough. Luckily, there’s no need to restrict your travels or to spend loads of time, energy, and money becoming fluent in a second (or third or fourth) language for a simple vacation. In most well-touristed parts of the world, you’ll find warm and friendly locals who can meet you halfway on the road to mutual intelligibility. Just commit these five key phrases to memory before you arrive and you can make friends anywhere in the world.
Hello and goodbye.
Knowing how to greet people comes first and foremost. For extra credit, memorize the word for goodbye as well. In some places, you’ll really luck out and get to use the same word for both – a la aloha in Hawaii or ciao with friends in Italy. For the most popular destinations out there, you probably already know these basic words, whether the combination is bonjour and au revoir or konichiwa and sayonara.
It’s one of the first things you’re taught in your native language, so if you plan on minding your p’s and q’s overseas, make sure you know how to say “thank you” in your chosen foreign language. From danke to gracias, expressing gratitude in the native language is one of the simplest things you can do to reach out to locals.
Do you speak English?
Of course, there’s only so far a basic phrasebook can take you. At some point during your trip, you will need to rely on your own mother tongue. While many people in popular tourist destinations, especially those in the hospitality industry, do speak English, don’t be that ignorant buffoon who launches into his own language from the outset. Remember you’re the outsider in the situation and offer your host the courtesy of asking whether they speak English first. They’ll be more inclined to help you and you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of spewing gibberish at a non-English speaker.
Hello and thank you are already the first entries in most phrasebooks, but here’s one that should be higher on your list: help. While no one likes to think their vacation might be interrupted by an emergency, and while exercising common sense will probably keep you safe wherever your travels take you, there is always the possibility you will need to contact the police or get to a hospital. If your purse is stolen or if you need medical attention, knowing how to say “help” in the native language of your destination will alert bystanders of your need more quickly than speaking only English.
You might not think to pay much attention to the word “delicious” in your dictionary. But this simple expression of happiness with a meal will do wonders for you on the road. Long-term travelers like Mike and Anne Howard of HoneyTrek swear by it. Being able to compliment a restaurant’s staff or a host at home in their own language is incredibly ingratiating and will set you apart from the pack.