Language barriers are very much still a thing, even with all the knowledge we have available through our phones. Tools like Duolingo, iTranslate, or even good old-fashioned Google are amazing and have definitely saved more than one vacation. However, we don’t always have a strong Internet connection to look up how to properly ask what we have in mind. So, to be prepared for those occasions, these are a few essential phrases for travelers you should master before your trip.
The first thing you need to know is how to get on the locals’ good side. Say hello, wish them a good day, ask things with “please,” and be sure to throw on a “thank you” when you get an answer.
A great thing to know is how to properly get someone’s attention when asking a question. Remember that not all countries do it the same way. Some use nonchalant verbal greetings, others urge you to speak to strangers in a certain respectful way, and some may even frown upon physical contact, like tapping on the shoulder or shaking hands. Do some research and make sure you know their basic costumes.
Tip: if you travel to Mexico, you can say “disculpe señor” when talking to a man and “disculpe señora” if you are addressing a woman. You can also just say “disculpe” if you struggle with the “ñ” sound.
Do you speak English/Spanish/French?
This one is a given. If you don’t feel confident enough using the country’s language, it’s better to make sure the person you approached can help you in a way both of you are comfortable with.
Tip: in Spanish, the proper way of asking would be “¿Hablas inglés (English)?”. Other languages you may ask about are alemán (German), francés (French), and chino (Chinese).
Before and after asking your question, remember to throw in these powerful words, just as you would use them on a day-to-day basis.
Tip: if you want to sound really grateful in Spanish, you can add a quantity modifier and say “muchas gracias” or even “muchísimas gracias”, which would be like saying “thank you very much”.
Have a nice day/afternoon/night.
It never hurts to know how to be extra polite and give good wishes to the kind stranger that helped you. You may even make their day!
Tip: in Spanish, you could say “tenga buen día (day) / tarde (afternoon) / noche (night)”. If it’s a Friday afternoon, you can even say “buen fin de semana”, which would translate as “have a good weekend”.
Another important issue you need to be able to tackle is your location, where the things you want to see are, and how to get there. Some basic phrases for travelers who love the independence of moving on their own and not with a tour or guide are:
Where am I?
You should always try to find a reference point and keep its location in mind when walking around a city. Still, if you ever find yourself in an unknown place, knowing how to ask for said reference could really come in handy.
Tip: in Spanish, you can ask “¿Dónde estoy?” or “¿Dónde me encuentro?”. In both cases, you should get a reference point as an answer.
How do I get to…? / Can you help me get to…?
For this one, it is important to highlight that some attractions could have a different name in English or your own language than the way locals know it. For example, Munich’s modern art museum may be easier to identify as Pinakothek der Moderne.
Tip: if you are in Mexico, aside from asking (“¿Cómo llego a…?”), you should give a reference point whenever possible. For example: “¿Cómo llego a la iglesia en el centro del pueblo?”, since there are many churches, museums, and attractions within the same city – and we have huge cities!
This may sound obvious, but when in the heat of the moment, with the stress of not knowing where you are, just being able to communicate this simple idea could be huge.
Tip: if you are visiting a Spanish-speaking country, it’s as simple as saying “estoy perdido”.
Where’s a restaurant/bathroom?
Sometimes your basic human needs call, and you just need to sit down and refuel. Be sure to know what to do when that happens.
Tip: you can also ask specifically about what you want to eat. For example, if you have a sweet tooth, you can ask “¿Dónde hay una panadería?”, which would translate as “where can I find a bakery?”.
Study these phrases, and after mastering them, you are all set! Enjoy your upcoming vacation feeling readier than ever.