7 Basic Phrases you Should Learn Before Traveling

With Jarvisen in hand, understanding what the locals are saying (and vice versa) isn't a problem no matter where you go. 

That said, there are certain common, basic phrases that you should have at the ready with no assistance. After all, what if your Jarvisen runs out of battery, or you forget it at the hotel? 

If you have these seven phrases down pat, you should be able to make it through your day no problem.


No matter where you are or who you're talking to, you should know how to greet people and wish them farewell. Locals will wonder what's up with you if you just silently smile and wave all the time.

"Hello" is usually among the first things people learn in a language. How many of us learned "hola" as kids thanks to Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer? "Adios" is rarely too far behind, and as a result most people can say goodbye and hello regardless of location. Make sure you're one of them.

Please/Thank You

Politeness is key no matter where you go, so learn to say "please" and "thank you" in the local tongue. The last thing you want is to seem like someone who demands and takes without appreciation, especially if that's not you at all.

It’s very possible the locals know how to say these universal words in English, but that doesn’t mean you should assume they do. Saying "onegaishimasu" and "arigato" to a Japanese native is more polite than throwing "please" and "thank you" their way and expecting them to be okay with you leading the conversation.

Where Is The [Insert Location Here]?

Inevitably, you will need to go somewhere and have no clue where it is. If your GPS can’t help, then it’s time to ask for directions. Knowing how to ask is key to being pointed in the right direction, and not being sent off to some random place so the local can be rid of you.

You will need to learn the words for several different locations, which may add a slight layer of difficulty. Prepare for your travels, then, by boning up on the local words for places you know you’ll need to visit. Be prepared to ask where restaurants, banks, and auto rental places are. Most importantly, learn how to say "bathroom." No one is happier than someone who can comfortably seek out a restroom anywhere they roam.

Do You Speak [Insert Your Language Here]?

Sometimes, your language skills aren’t strong enough to carry a conversation, and if the other party can at least somewhat communicate in your native tongue, then they’ve just saved the day.

Carrying around your Jarvisen can oftentimes solve this issue. Simply speak into your device, select the language you wish to translate it to, and out comes words that the locals will understand. But if you don’t have it on you, or if it’s a quick conversation that might be hindered by stopping to power up and use a device, asking your new friend if they speak your language is the way to go.

I Speak a Little [Insert Their Language Here]

On a related note, if a local uses their native tongue, and the conversation begins to go over your head, do not shy from informing them your knowledge of their language is rudimentary. If your best foreign language phrase is, "I only speak a little Spanish/French/Italian," use it. Admitting weakness is preferable to faking strength, just as the truth is better than a lie.

Chances are, you won’t offend your new buddy with this request. Rather, they’ll be happy you told them, as they no longer must assume your knowledge of anything. They’ll know to adjust their language to a level you understand so the conversation can continue. That’s infinitely preferable to awkwardly walking away.

Can I Pay With a Credit/Debit Card?

Even in 2019, you should never assume you can pay with plastic. Many places still don’t accept credit or debit, due to high fees or simply a preference for cash on hand. 

Let’s say you’re wandering the Italian backstreets and find a tiny pizzeria with the most delicious-looking pie you’ve ever seen. You’re going to be sorely disappointed if you whip out your Visa and the cook shakes their head and insists, "no, no, money please."

You can avoid this by carrying both cash and plastic whenever possible. It may not be what you do at home, but since you’re not there, adjust accordingly. However, if you don’t (or can’t) get cash, the ability to ask if a business takes credit or debit will help you beyond measure.

I Need Help

Inevitably, you will run into a challenge or two while traveling. It might be language-based, but what if it's not? What if you’re having a health crisis? When this happens, there’s no phrase more valuable than "I need help."

Most people in every nation are happy to help. However, they must know you require help, and if you can’t express it in their language, they’re less likely to aid you.

Yes, some people are empathetic enough to recognize when somebody's in trouble, and those people may jump to your rescue. But even then, it’s good to know the word "help," because chances are the local will use it. If they ask "do you need help," and you don’t recognize what they’re saying, you may wave them off in a fit of confusion. Now they think you’re okay, though you require as much help as ever.

Get this phrase down cold before traveling anywhere. Depending on the situation, asking for help in a way the locals understand could literally save your life.

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