Thanks to faster and more comfortable travel, better connectivity and more affluent times we live in, the open door to world travel has never been wider. That being said, there are still lingering concerns in the mind of many a traveler. One such concern is how you’ll communicate with the locals.

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It’s a daunting prospect! At home, we take for granted that every bit of oral communication we do is based on our vast knowledge of our own language. In another country, even the most basic things suddenly become extremely difficult, or even impossible. To help you, we’ve prepared a list of phrases organized into five categories that we recommend you learn in the language of your destination.

Category 1: Greetings

Any conversation you have starts with a greeting, so they are a good set of phrases to start with when you’re learning a language. Learn these phrases to show politeness and create a friendly first impression with everyone you meet.

Good morning/afternoon/evening
Good night

They’re simple words, but can go along way to demonstrate courtesy in your host country. Be prepared for some countries whose people may take your greeting as a sign you are a fluent speaker! Stay calm in that event, and try the next category of phrases about language.

Category 2: Language

When you run into a difficult patch, you might need the following phrases as a kind of get-out clause. Etch the following firmly into your memory since these are the possibly the most crucial in any survival language guide.

I don’t speak <language>
Do you speak <language>?
Could you repeat that?

The first two in the list are essential and useful in many situations. The first assures overzealous shopkeepers and others that you need them to either speak in your language or at least stop hurling incomprehensible phrases at you. The second will help you find those who can help you when you need it. The final one is for travelers who may be armed with a bit more language ability, but can’t always catch quick-spoken native speakers and their lightning phrasing.

Category 3: Courtesy

Specific rules on etiquette do differ from place to place, but most languages have words for showing a basic level of polite gratitude and common courtesy. Aim for the following:

(Yes,) Please
Thank you
Excuse me (both for getting attention and for getting past)

The final two are quite universal around the world, but the first two about Ps and Qs needs closer attention in some countries. Take China, for example, where there is a clear word for thank you (谢谢,XieXie), but not much of a culture for using it. It’s not common to thank every shop assistant, driver and doorman who you cross paths with. Then we come to the word “please” which doesn’t exist as we use it in English, for example. A dictionary might give you “Qing” (请), but the usage is totally different, and once again the culture of “please” as it exists in the US or Europe does not exist in China.

Besides these courtesy phrases, it may be a good idea to learn about how they pair with local etiquette rules.

Category 4: Safety

None of us goes traveling to seek trouble, but sometimes it finds us. In the event of running into a difficult situation, a few handy phrases might help out:

Help me
I’m lost
Call the police
Where is the police station?

We don’t learn phrases like these because we want to use them, but just in case we have no choice.

Category 5: Retail

All of us will do some shopping while we’re on vacation. The following phrases will help you along with any local vendor:

How much?
(Numbers 1-20)
Any discount?
Do you take credit cards?

Remember not to carry too much cash on your person, and try to stick to vendors that will accept non-cash payment. You may need some bigger numbers if you go to a country where the currency runs to higher numbers, like South Korea.

The hard truth is that unless you have some degree of fluency, you can always run into linguistic difficulties when you’re traveling. Learning the above phrases will help you get the most out of a short visit. It’s unlikely you’ll be wanting to get into the deeper philosophical conversations with the locals anyway, right? Safe travels!

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