When you travel outside of your home country, is it essential to speak the local language? In short, no. However, learning a few key phrases native to your destination could be the best trip planning you’ll ever do!
Here’s why: Trying to communicate on some level with locals (anywhere you travel) can be endearing. You’re visiting their country – their home – and you’re showing that you’re interested enough in their culture to at least try to learn.
It’s also all about the basics! While many trips are to predominantly English-speaking countries, or have guided tours with English-speaking guides, you can’t go wrong with memorizing some standard words and phrases. What if you venture off to mingle with the locals? Being able to ask and answer questions would be helpful.
While we can’t cover every country and language, we’ve put together a list of commonly visited countries on our radar, long with key words and phrases in the local language you should get familiar with.
¡Vamonos! (That’s Spanish for “Let’s go!”)
LOCAL LANGUAGE: HELPFUL TIPS
Before we dive into a list of words and phrases (with translations – don’t worry!), let’s look at some good-to-know insights from several countries.
- Spanish is the official language in a number of countries. The local language might differ slightly due to various dialects. Learning basic phrases in Spanish will usually get you through in a pinch – even with different dialects.
- Most tourist-y areas and larger cities do speak at least a basic amount of English. But before you ask everyone you meet “Do you speak English?”, be respectful of the fact that you’re in their home country/town. It should not be assumed that they speak your language. Try instead: “I do not speak _______. Can you help me?”
- In places where you have cell/internet service, you can utilize translation apps on the spot to help out.
- When in doubt, act it out! You may feel silly, but even if you don’t have the right words, you do have universal actions. Motion like you’re eating to signal questions about food/restaurants. Put your hands up near your head like a pillow as if you’re sleeping if you’re trying to find accommodations. Get creative!
COSTA RICA, CUBA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, GALÁPAGOS, GUATEMALA, AND PERU LOCAL LANGUAGE: SPANISH
- Buenos días = Good morning
- Buenas tardes = Good afternoon
- Buenas noches = Good evening
- Gracias = Thank you
- Perdone = Pardon me
- No entiendo = I don’t understand
- ¿Dónde? = Where?
- ¿Dónde está…? = Where is…?
- ¿Cuanto cuesta? = How much does it cost?
- ¿Habla Inglés? = Do you speak English?
- No hablo español = I don’t speak Spanish
- Hable despacio por favor = Speak slowly please
- ¿Dónde está el metro? = Where is the subway?
- ¿Puedo conectarme con el internet? = Can I get on the internet?
Good to know: “Pura Vida” is a very popular saying amongst Costa Ricans . A literal translation to English is “Pure Life.” It can be used as a response to “how are you?” or as a response to “thank you.”
In Cuba, The way people are addressed is different; “Compañero/a” is used instead of the usual “Señor/a.”
In the Dominican Republic, don’t say “hola” for “hi.” Instead, say “saludo” to sound more local.
THAILAND’S LOCAL LANGUAGE: THAI
Thailand has an incredible number of languages (62 are recognized by the Royal Thai Government). Of these 62, Thai is recognized as the official language. Here are some basics to help communications be a bit more smooth:
- Hello = Sawatdii
- Thank you = Khop kun
- Sorry = Khot hort
- Goodbye = Bai
- Can you speak English? = Kun pood paasaa anggrit dai mai
- Where? = Tiinai?
- Go to the airport = Bpai sanam bin
- Bus = Rot mee
- How much? = Taorai
- Bathroom = Hongnaam
- Water = Naam
Good to know: If you are male, your sentences will end with khrup/krap. If you are female, your sentences will end with ka/kap. This is used to make your statement or question polite and respectful.
BALI, BELIZE, INDIA, AND TANZANIA LOCAL LANGUAGE: ENGLISH AND…
Quite a few countries have multiple official languages, no official language at all, or equal percentages of people who speak a local language and/or English. In these countries, particularly in tourist heavy areas, you’ll likely be able to get by on English alone. But learning some local language ins and outs can’t hurt!
Most of the locals here are bilingual (some, trilingual), speaking Indonesian, Balinese, and English. Indonesian is the most common language.
- Excuse Me = Sugra nggih!
- Thank You = Suksma
- You’re welcome = suksma mewali
- What time is it? = Jam kuda niki?
- How much? = Aji kuda niki?
- I am from ____ = Tiang uling _____
English is the official language of Belize, with Spanish coming in second. Interestingly, Belizean Kriol (similar to Creole) is the third most common language, spoken by nearly half of the population. Here are a few Kriol translations:
- Weh di gaan an? = What’s up?
- Weh yuh naym? = What’s your name?
- Da weh time? = What time is it?
- Weh/weh-paat… = Where is…?
While there is no official language of India, Hindi is the most commonly spoken local language in the country (and it is the official language used by the government). English has the status of a “subsidiary official language,” making it fairly easy to get around here with only English. If you’d like to try your hand at Hindi, here are some translations:
- Hello Amit = Namaste Amit ji (“ji” at the end of the name is used to show respect)
- I need a bottle of water = Mujhe ek bottle paani chahiye
- Do you speak English? = Kya apa English bolte hai?
- Please = Kripya
- Thank you = Dhanevaad
- Where is the bus stand? = Bus stand kaha hai?
- Where is the toilet? = Toilet kaha hai?
- Can you help me? – Kya aap meri madaad karenge?
Home of over 100(!!) languages, Tanzania has adopted a policy naming both Swahili and English co-official languages of the country. Here’s a little Swahili to get you started:
- How much? = Ngapi?
- May I take your picture? = Nikupige picha?
- No = Hapana
- Please = Tafadhali
- What does it cost? = Shilingi Ngapi?
- Where is…? = Iko wapi …?
- I am lost = Nimepotea
- Drinking water = Maji ya kunywa
Fun fact: It is believed that most universally understood word in the world is “toilet.” So even if you can’t speak much of the language, chances are good you’ll at least be able to find a bathroom!
What foreign language phrases have helped you the most when traveling? Share them in the comments below!