I’ve traveled a little bit with Americans, some of whom took the trouble to learn a few words of their hosts’ language, and some of whom, well, didn’t. Now my personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that it’s only fair to learn the basics. What are the basics? For me, they’re the following, divided into the essentials (things you should have memorized before you get on the plane) and desirables (the more of these you learn, the happier you’ll be). First, the essentials; no surprises here.
- Please & thank you
- Sorry & excuse me
- Do you speak English?
- I don’t speak [whatever]
- I don’t understand
- Yes & no
- Hello & goodbye
I think politeness never hurts. Blame my Mum. And to interact a bit, memorizing the following desirables would be a good idea, lavishly adding please/thank you/excuse me of course.
- How much?
- The bill please
- [Enough numbers to count to 20, and use common sums of money]
- Where’s the toilet?
- I’d like [whatever]
- A [whatever] stamp, please
- A ticket to [wherever], please
- Left, right, straight ahead
- A glass of [plain old faucet] water with/without ice, please
- [Days of the week], today, & tomorrow
Anything more, and one graduates to actually having to learn the language: namely, understanding what people say back to you. Yeah, that’s the killer. Anyway, to help keep all this straight I threw together a little downloadable PDF cheat sheet that you can print, fold up, fill in, and carry around as an aide-mémoire. Happy traveling!