Ten Magic Phrases when Travelling

When visiting another country, I love to enhance the experience of being there by speaking a few phrases in the local language.  It makes my experiences in Germany seem more authentically  German.  Greeting someone with “Dobrý den” in Prague makes my den that much more Dobrý.    And successfully  speaking to a someone in their native tongue enriches the experience for both people.  Using a foreign language stimulates your own brain in a new way, but it also alters the way you are perceived by your new comrade.   People genuinely appreciate even a feeble attempt at speaking their language.  They suddenly smile and open up, anxious to help you learn their language and their culture.

When visiting a new country, here are ten phrases that will enhance your travel experience.


1) Hello

If you only learn one phrase, this is it.


Now you know how to greet people in Russian!

The photo site Flikr greets you with hello in a different language every time you log in, a cute tribute to the way the internet has made our world smaller.   After spending hours learning Vietnamese on some great language sites like book2.de, watching dozens of  Vietnamese greeting videos, plowing through Vietnamese chapters of Rossetta Stone and continually referencing Google Translate , the only phrase the stewardess on Vietnam Airlines understood me say was “Xin chào!” or Hello. Unless you count the word bia or beer which fortunately is the almost the same in many languages.

2) Please

You’ll never feel so polite as when you say “s’il vous plaît” in France.  When you’re travelling, you’re going to be asking for help quite a bit. And people are generally happy to be of assistance.  Saying please in their own tongue is almost irresistible.  And if you picked up the word for “Beer” from the link above, you can now say “Beer please!”

Mon Ami en Lyon

3) Thank You

Just a bit of travelling and you’ll be amazed at how much people around the world love to help their fellow human being.   The least you can do is say “Merci”.

4) What’s you’re name?

The first step in getting to know  new person is finding out their name.  You’re also learning how question’s are structured in the new language.  In Vietnamese the question word, in this case What, appears at the end of the sentence.  “Tên bạn là gì?”  translates literally to “Name yours  is what?”  In some languages The preferred phrase is  “How are you called”.  In Spanish  ¿Cómo te llamas? and in German “Wie heißt du?”  Either way you’re being introduced to your first “Question word” What or How, Words that you’ll hear often in conversation.  Still, the hardest part of all this is actually remembering the persons name you just met.

5) My name is …

Hand in hand with the question is the answer.  Notice the similarity to the question, and how the pronoun ‘you’ is replaced with ‘my’.  You can practice these phrases as a call and response.

“Tên bạn là gì?”  ….  “Tên tôi là Mike.”

¿Cómo te llamas?  … “Me llamo Mike”

“Wie heißt du?”  …  “Mein Name ist Mike.”

6) How are you?

Now that you’ve made a new friend you can find out how they’re doing.  A common variant is “How’s it going?”  or even “You good?” In Chinese via Google Translate , that’s 您好?, pronounced “ni hao”.  Translate makes a rough attempt at pronunciation.   To hone your dialect in your language of choice try some of the many helpful “How are you” videos.

7) Nice to meet you.

This is another phrase with various local flavors, such as “good to see you”.  In Finnish “I am glad to see you” translates to the succinct Hauska tavata.    With the last four phrases , you’re ready to have a simple conversation.   “Hello, How are you, What’s your name?,  My name is …, Nice to meet you!”.  Make it a goal to try this full conversation on your trip.  Locals usually realize what you’re doing, and have a lot of fun with it.  Here’s a clip of me trying conversations at  Oktoberfest in Munich:


8) Excuse me

Excuse me is another polite phrase that smooths interactions.  “Entschuldigen Sie” is my opener with the couple sitting down in the video above.

9) I’m sorry/ No Problem

Sometimes an  apology is in order.  “Klein Problem” got me out of trouble in a dive bar in Esslingen when I was having a little fun with waterpistolcamera.

10) Goodbye

Goodbye  is a warm blessing that translates to every language.  In Spanish adiós  is literally “with God”.  In Italian it’s addio. In Arabic الله معك. means “Allah be with you”.  So without further “adieu” , Safe travels , and God by ye!.

2 thoughts on “Ten Magic Phrases when Travelling

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s