One of the worst things you can do while traveling is assume everyone speaks your language. While English has become the world’s universal language and you can find English speakers in every country, it’s still important to learn a few key phrases in the local language. It not only shows a respect for the culture, you’ll also find that locals appreciate that you made the effort.
Here are some of the most important phrases to learn before you travel with translations in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese. Downloading the Google Translate app (Android or iPhone) is also a great tool for additional help while you’re abroad, displaying the words/phrases directly on your screen and providing audio if you need it.
These will most likely be the first and last things you’ll say to a stranger. They’re usually easy to remember because you’ll constantly be hearing other people use them.
- Spanish: Hola
- French: Bonjour
- Italian: Ciao
- German: Hallo
- Japanese: Kon’nichiwa
- Spanish: Adiós
- French: Au revoir
- Italian: Arrivederci
- German: Auf Wiedersehen
- Japanese: Sayōnara
Nice to meet you
- Spanish: Encantada de conocerte
- French: Enchanté
- Italian: Piacere di conoscerti
- German: Angenehm
- Japanese: Hajimemashite
Politeness goes a long way when you don’t understand the language. People will be much more willing to help you if you’re friendly and gracious.
- Spanish: Por favor
- French: S’il vous plaît
- Italian: Per favore
- German: Bitte
- Japanese: Onegaishimasu
- Spanish: Gracias
- French: Merci
- Italian: Grazie
- German: Danke
- Japanese: Arigatō
- Spanish: Discúlpeme
- French: Excusez-moi
- Italian: Scusa
- German: Entschuldigen sie
- Japanese: Sumimasen
- Spanish: Lo siento
- French: Je suis désolé
- Italian: Mi dispiace
- German: Es tut mir leid
- Japanese: Gomen’nasai
Asking for Help and Getting Around
These are essential if you’re trying to figure out where to go or want to ask specific questions. While there are obviously more words and phrases that would be helpful in this respect, the basics can help if you literally don’t know anything else. Add some hand gestures or act things out and chances are they’ll decipher what you’re trying to say.
Do you speak English?
- Spanish: Habla usted Inglés?
- French: Parlez-vous anglais?
- Italian: Parla inglese?
- German: Sprechen Sie Englisch?
- Japanese: Eigo o hanasemasu ka?
I don’t understand
- Spanish: No lo entiendo
- French: Je ne comprends pas
- Italian: Non capisco
- German: Ich verstehe nicht
- Japanese: Rikai dekimasen
- Spanish: Dónde está
- French: Où est
- Italian: Dov’è
- German: Wo ist
- Japanese: Doko ni ari
How much does this cost?
- Spanish: Cuánto cuesta este?
- French: Combien cela coûte?
- Italian: Quanto costa questo?
- German: Wie viel kostet es?
- Japanese: Kono kosuto wa dono kurai imasu ka?
Bus / taxi / hotel / airport / train
- Spanish: Autobús / taxi / hotel / aeropuerto / tren
- French: Bus / taxi / hôtel / aéroport / train
- Italian: Autobus / taxi / albergo / aeroporto / treno
- German: Bus / taxi / hotel / Flughafen / Zug
- Japanese: Basu / takushī / hoteru / kūkō / ressha
Numbers 1 – 10
- Spanish: uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez
- French: un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix
- Italian: uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto, nove, dieci
- German: eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, acht, neun, zehn
- Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyuu, juu
Some helpful phrases to make ordering meals at restaurants easier. Be sure to research the country’s dining etiquette as well!
I would like
- Spanish: Me gustaría
- French: J’aimerais
- Italian: Vorrei
- German: Ich möchte
- Japanese: O onegaishimasu
Do you take credit cards?
- Spanish: Aceptan tarjetas de crédito?
- French: Prenez-vous des cartes de crédit?
- Italian: Accettate carte di credito?
- German: Haben Sie Kreditkarten?
- Japanese: Anata wa kurejittokādo o torimasu ka?
- Spanish: La cuenta, por favor
- French: l’addition, s’il vous plaît
- Italian: Il conto, per favore
- German: Die Rechnung, bitte
- Japanese: O-kanjo onegaishimasu
In rare cases, you may run into an emergency and need help. Play it safe and learn how to ask for medical help, the police, or just letting someone know you’re in trouble. It’s not worth risking your safety by being unable to communicate.
Please call a doctor / the police
- Spanish: Por favor llame al médico / la policía
- French: S’il vous plaît appelez un médecin / la police
- Italian: Si prega di chiamare un medico / la polizia
- German: Rufen Sie bitte einen Arzt / die Polizei
- Japanese: Ishi ni denwa shite kudasai / Keisatsu ni denwa shite kudasai
I need help
- Spanish: Necesito ayuda
- French: J’ai besoin d’aide
- Italian: Ho bisogno di aiuto
- German: Ich brauche Hilfe
- Japanese: Watashi wa tasuke ga hitsuyōdesu
- Spanish: Estoy perdido
- French: Je suis perdu
- Italian: Mi sono perso
- German: Ich bin verloren
- Japanese: Watashi wa ushinawa rete imasu
You don’t need to be an expert or even mediocre at the local language when you travel, but making an effort to learn a few basic phrases can definitely help make things easier. Sometimes people feel intimidated to learn a foreign language or hesitant to speak what they’ve learned when they travel. Don’t be nervous – everyone makes mistakes and you’ll be surprised how often locals will help you if you get stuck.
Lastly, learning a foreign language should be fun! Language and travel go hand in hand, so learning the local tongue can only enhance your experience and connections you make with people abroad. Your travels will be quite the story to tell.