Young woman in Tokyo asking for direction a local woman
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There are more than 6,000 languages in the world, but the vast majority of people won't learn more than two or three.

Language barriers can cause frustration and inconvenience if you're traveling to a country where English isn't commonly spoken. I experienced the difficulties firsthand throughout my travels, which have taken me to 25 countries across Southeast Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Although most of us would love to have fluent conversations in every local language we come across, it simply isn't a realistic option. Still, I managed to get by in places like Thailand, Sri Lanka, and France by studying up on just a few key phrases in the local languages.

Here are the 11 words and phrases I recommend anyone learns in a new language before they travel to a foreign country.

"Thank you"

If I could only pick one phrase for foreign travelers to learn in a new language, it would be "thank you."

Travelers often find themselves relying on the kindness of strangers to navigate unfamiliar cities, plan their trips, and get home safely. Learning how to say "thank you" goes a long way to showing your appreciation, and most people will respect the effort you took to acknowledge in their own language.

"Hello" and "goodbye"

Learning how to open and close a conversation is another polite thing you can do to show your appreciation for the people you're speaking with. Even if you have to revert to English for the rest of the conversation, a simple "hello" and "goodbye" in your speaking partner's local language can show you care.

"Excuse me"

"Excuse me" comes in handy on countless occasions, from asking someone for directions to squeezing your way through a crowded subway car.

"May I have …"

You don't need to know how to describe every item at a restaurant or store in another language, but it certainly helps to be able to order one. Learn how to ask for things in another language and you'll have a better chance of getting what you're looking for.

"How much does it cost?"

Shopping in another country can be intimidating, especially in cultures where price tags are optional and bargaining is expected.

Learning how to ask about prices is a great starting point, although you may have to learn a little more vocab if you really want to ensure a good deal.


Asking for the nearest bathroom is another crucial thing to know in a foreign language. Commit the word for "bathroom" or "toilet" to memory and you'll save yourself some discomfort in the future.

"Yes" and "no"

Learning how to say "yes" and "no" in another language is crucial to getting around in the country you're visiting.

It's not enough to simply nod or shake your head — while those gestures are common in many cultures, they are far from universal, and in some places, they mean the opposite of what they mean in the United States.

"Where is …"

Sometimes, a map just isn't enough. If it's your first time in an unfamiliar country, you'll probably need some help getting around from people who actually know the area.

Learning how to ask for directions will help make your travels run smoothly.


In the event of an emergency, you'll want to know how to ask for help in another language.

Hopefully you'll never have to use it, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

"I'm allergic to …" and "I don't eat …"

If you have dietary restrictions, you'll need to learn how to convey that information to the people preparing your food.

Sometimes, even saying "I'm a vegetarian" isn't enough, as vegetarianism is far from a universal concept and its standards may vary by country.

Learn how to express what you can and can't eat, and if there's any doubt, have someone write down your dietary restrictions in the local language so you won't risk getting misunderstood.

"Sorry, I don't speak …"

One of the most important phrases to learn in a foreign language is the one that explains you don't know any more phrases. Learn how to politely say "I don't understand" or "I don't speak" the local language and you could save yourself some embarrassment down the road.