Having a good understanding of the language in a foreign country can really help you to integrate better and get a more in depth look at how the locals live.


Unfortunately, this is hindered by the fact that there are 6,500 languages spoken in the world today. It is incredible that the human race has come up with so many ways to converse. But it means that if you want to feel at home everywhere you go you need a hell of a lot of languages under your belt.


So here I give you some suggestions as to what I think are the most useful phrases to learn to avoid appearing as an ignorant tourist.


  • Hello
  • Thank you
  • Please
  • Where is the toilet? – Something that everyone will need to ask- especially with the conventional W.C sign isn’t in place.
  • Can I have/ I would like this/that? – This phrase has been incredibly useful to me. Obviously (unless you have a photographic memory) you can’t remember all of the words for foods (or other items) on the plane ride over, so by saying this or that you can point in some way to what you want.
  • Help– although I have luckily never got in to so much trouble as to need to use this, it is important to be able to get somebodies attention if you do find yourself in a sticky situation.
  • I only speak a little…/Can you speak English? – Yes by saying this you are letting your ignorance show. BUT, to actually have a real conversation with a person you either need to both be in the same language. OR you need to be gret at conveying your message in hand gestures/ pictures/ facial expressions etc. sounds difficult but I have seen it happen from time to time
  • Counting to 12- and higher if you have the memory/ time for it. Comes in super handy for a number of things- especially telling the time
  • How much is this?– again you can point without having a huge vocabulary and is crucial in not getting ripped off.
  • Where is this?- And some basic directions. Again you can point at pictures of things. Try not to rely too much on google maps- asking people is social and they may even let you in on some lesser known places on the way.


Other useful tips for getting by:

  • Carry a pen and paper- this is great for anything involving number as they are the same in many countries. But also you can “play” some Pictionary with your foreign counterpart to try and convey your message.
  • Have names of places written down in a guidebook or notebook. Then you can say where is this and point conveniently at the word that you would likely mispronounce. Carrying a map is useful if you are trying to find your way to specific places.
  • Take your time and don’t get stressed when you aren’t understanding each other.
  • Use your hands to aid your speaking.


Of course, these are very basic phrases, and ones I always get to know before going to a different country. But if you have time or are doing something specific try and learn a bit more. And if you have a dietary requirement I would 100% suggest that you learn to say it and wrote it down somewhere that you won’t lose it!!!