5 reasons to learn the basics of a language before you travel

Imagine the scene: the holiday you’ve been waiting for a year has finally come, you land at your destination airport, the customs officers stops you and tells you something… and you panic! What does he want? They want to arrest me? I haven’t done anything!”

Before it even started, your holiday has turned into a diplomatic incident…

Here come the secret services interpreters, and you discover that the officer actually just told you “Welcome to our country and enjoy your holiday” …

It doesn’t have to be like that, and you know…

It’s almost time for holidays, and many decide to travel abroad, to discover new places and new cultures. But discovering a new culture also means discovering a new language! So why not spend a few minutes a day to learn the basics of the language spoken in the place where you’re going? You don’t have to learn the language in a week… But I assure you that making a little effort and learning even just 20 phrases can make all the difference in the world and improve your holiday!  

How? Let’s have a look!

1) Locals treat you better

Talk to a waiter in your language, and you put him in an uncomfortable situation in which he is to one that has to make an effort to understand what you want to drink or eat. But talk to him in his language, and he will be more relaxed, and often honored by the fact that you made an effort to speak his language. And the same goes for shop owners: enter a shop, and try to speak in their own language, and they will reply with a smile, or maybe even with a discount! It also works with people in the streets: ask for directions in your language and you often put people in an uncomfortable situation. Ask in their language, and they will be eager to help you.

2) You can have short but intense conversations

No matter how much English is spoken in the world, you will always find someone who doesn’t speak it. Sitting in the streets of old Havana and chatting, in Spanish, with an old woman smoking a cigar, is an experience that would not have been possible knowing just English… A few phrases and a friendly local can be the ingredients of a memorable conversation!

3) You look around and you understand the shop and street signs

I remember my first time in Greece: every sign of every shop was unreadable… Basically, all shops were the same shop to me. After learning to read the alphabet and the first words, it was like magically cracking a secret code! And it was easier to follow the signs for the beach, to the city center, or read the menu …

4) You get closer to the local culture, and you appreciate it better.

Traveling, and especially languages, food and the local way of life, are the best way to learn about different cultures. Learning key phrases of a language doesn’t only bring you closer to the local culture, but maybe when you get back home, you decide you want to keep on studying the language, and every time you do, you will remember the wonderful time you had on that holiday…

5) You can make yourself understood in emergency situations

I’m not just talking about thefts, accidents or lost documents, all situations in which you will have to deal with police. But even just being able to tell someone that you’re allergic to something can literally save your life! Sometimes you can even tell if the driver is saying something bad about you or if someone wants to scam you!


So my advice is: make  a little effort and learn the basics of the language spoken in the country you are about to visit. Maybe you will order the wrong dish at the restaurant … but what about the feeling of satisfaction of doing so in another language?

Below you can find 20 phrases that you absolutely have to learn before you travel abroad! I advise you learn even 50 or 100, or even better you can study the basics of the language and then the phrasebooks that you can find in bookshops, and online. For more information, subscribe to my newsletter and receive a free guide on how to start learning a language for free: it includes a list of free courses and online phrasebooks.

  • Good morning / Good evening / Goodnight
  • Goodbye / See you later
  • Excuse me
  • Sorry
  • Thank
  • Please
  • You’re welcome
  • How much?
  • Good
  • Bad
  • Beautiful
  • Ugly
  • This
  • That
  • I like
  • I do not like
  • May I?
  • Do you speak English?
  • My name is …
  • What’s your name?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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About Raffaele Terracciano

Serial Language Learner, Blogger, Language Coach and Tour Leader. Travelling the world through books, languages, food and, you know, actual trips. Currently on a quest to gather the pieces of the Tower of Babel.