When you are as lucky as we are to travel to so many countries, sometimes you forget the little inconveniences of a life constantly on the move. One of those things is the language barrier; not because we’ve suddenly become fluent in every language in the world, but because we are so used to getting our point across in other ways. On our travels, we’ve picked up enough to know which words are essentials to get you by, and the ones that can even make your adventures even better! Here are some basic words and phrases we have gathered from different resources like Memrise, Language Trainers, or FluentU that you should learn for wherever you’re travelling.
So here are the basics of the basics. Hello and goodbye are good to start with, as well as good morning, afternoon, and evening depending on the time of day. Though remember this might vary where you are travelling; in France, for example, you might say bonjour (hello) no matter the time of day, whereas in Spain you might still be saying buenos días (technically good morning, but also ‘good days’) mid-afternoon! For hello and goodbye in French you would say bonjour and au revoir, and in Spanish buenos días and adiós.
Please and thank you are essentials, and it’s always good to know yes, no, and maybe (French — oui and non, Spanish, si and no). Excuse me is good, both for getting someone’s attention or for if you bump into someone — remember, this might vary depending on the language (French — excusez-moi, Spanish — perdóneme). Many languages will understand the work okay while you are thinking what to say next, but it can’t hurt to learn it in your target language too (d’accord in French and bueno in Spanish).
One of the most essential words you can learn is where. It is probably best to learn this as a phrase like where is the… so that even if you don’t know the word for supermarket, zoo, or station, at least you can find an image on your phone to point at so someone can help! So for example you could say où est… in Paris followed by showing a picture of a park, and dónde está… with a photo of your hotel in Barcelona. If you can also find the words for simple directions like left, right, and straight ahead you’ll do great (French — gauche, droite, tout droit, and Spanish — izquierda, derecha, derecha recta)!
Learning to say how much? is a great start for your shopping experiences, as is this one so you can point out what you want (c’est combien? and celui-là in French, ¿cuánto cuesta? and éste in Spanish). Perhaps one of the most important things you can learn is how to say anything cheaper? — especially if you think you’re a tourist about to be ripped off! In French you might say c’est trop cher — it’s too expensive, while in Spanish you could ask mas barato? meaning anything cheaper.
Lastly, tailor your language needs to your travels! If you’re spending a weekend soaking up the culture of a city, like our recent trip to Quebec City for Winter Carnival, look up the words that would help; they will be quite different to the vocabulary you might want to know for a spa break!