Most of us don’t speak a single word of the host language when we explore a new country. One of the biggest excuses I hear for why people can’t travel is, “I don’t speak any of the language where I want to go!” To this I respond:
1)Is there anyone that speaks every single language? No.
2) Do you plan on having an in depth conversation about politics and science? Probably not.
3) Are there basic words you should learn as a form of respect? Absolutely.
You will never be able to learn every language to every place you’d like to travel to, and that’s okay! You really don’t need more than a few words of the host language. The locals will understand and want to help you. Since they put in this extra effort to help you communicate and get what you need and/or want, you should put in a little extra effort, too.
There’s this myth that anywhere you go someone will speak English; however, once you leave the big cities and explore a little further, you’ll find that although English is the universal language, it’s really not spoken everywhere! In the cities, you’ll have no problem with communication if you speak English, but if you want to expand your cultural understanding and go beyond the cities, chances are they’ll be a language barrier.
During my second semester as a study abroad student, I went to Krakow, Poland. I assumed that I wouldn’t have any trouble as it is considered a decently sized city with about 800,000 inhabitants, but I was wrong! We stayed in a hostel about 20 minutes from the town center and it was like a different world than that of the town center.
There was no one who spoke English, and having not learned any Polish, it was embarrassing to say the least! I found this really amazing pastry shop right around the corner form our hostel (if only I could remember the name!), and it was the first time in my life where I felt completely debilitated from a lack of communicative ability. I couldn’t say, “that”, “please”, “thank you”, or even “hello”.
Although I finally got the pastry that I so desperately wanted, it was a task! I had to point to a shelf of pastries and the lady who worked at the shop just pointed to each one until she got to the right one. After smiling as a way of saying thanks, I left the shop.
That is the moment I learned that it is essential to learn just a few basic words to get you by and show respect to the host country and its citizens. As a freebie below, I’ve compiled a list of the words and phrases I’ve needed most in my travels as to avoid the same situation that I experienced above:
2) Thank you
5) Pardon me
6) How much?
8) Do you speak English?
12) Here (Really helps when you need to point on a map!)
14) Okay (Hint: a lot of the time it’s usually pronounced “okay” just like in English!)
18) Ticket (Need to buy a ticket but don’t know where to buy it? I got you!)
19) I don’t speak (host language)
Just take this list with you, translate it into the host language, and you’re good to go! Your future self will thank you.
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