As anyone who has visited a country whose language they don’t speak can attest, getting around can be very difficult, even with a guide nearby. As a person who lives in a popular tourist destination, I see the struggles of foreign visitors every day. When a person clearly cannot speak English but still tries their best to communicate with me, I always wish I could help them better by speaking their native language.

I feel even more strongly when I travel. We Americans tend to expect others to speak at least a bit of English, yet many people do not bother to learn any of the language that is native to their destination.

I personally feel that we should learn at least a few handy phrases in different languages, whether traveling abroad or remaining domestic. Things like:

  • Hello.
  • Goodbye.
  • Please.
  • Thank you.
  • I’m sorry.
  • I like it/this.
  • I do not like it/this.

If you’re traveling abroad and planning to stay awhile, you should definitely learn more complex phrases:

  • Where is the [bathroom/bus station/hospital]?
  • How much does this cost?
  • Do you speak [English/etc.]?
  • I do not speak [French/Mandarin/Arabic].
  • Can you write that down?

It will also help to learn basic numbers, and you should either generally understand the exchange rate or have a way of calculating it (like an app).

Carrying a phrase book and/or guide book will also help in foreign countries, as you can point to sentences and words that you cannot pronounce. In my experience, people are very helpful and understanding, and they are willing to work with you rather than get frustrated as long as you are trying.

Bonus: A tip my mother gave me before I went to Europe was this: Always carry a business card for your hotel. If you get into a cab or other type of transport but cannot speak the language, you can simply give the business card to the driver and they will take you there.

So at the very least, learn some basic phrases when travelling to countries whose native languages are not your own.

And when you encounter people that do not speak your native language, be patient, be kind, and be polite because they are trying their best.


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