How much of a foreign language should you know for your vacation?

18 Feb 2016 in General

You’ve packed your bags, told your credit card companies, and renewed your passport, but realized there’s one big thing you might want to do—learn a bit of the language of the country you’re visiting. But how much should you learn? Well, that depends on a lot of different factors. But whether you’re a young backpacker or a golden-aged traveler looking for best places to retire, you should always know a little bit, both for politeness and safety reasons.

How long are you staying?

If you’re settling down for a long span of time, a better command of the language is a good idea. Conversely, a short trip in which you’re trying to maximize your time would also benefit from some language abilities, so you can ask for directions, get suggestions, and more without wandering around wasting time.

Is there public Wi-Fi? Does your phone have data?

Some cities have Wi-Fi networks that come out of street lights, or have free Wi-Fi in popular public spaces, which means you can use a website or an app like Google Translate to have full-blown conversations with people. Likewise, if you plan on getting an international data plan and have enough to use on such an app or website, you can chat away.

How popular is the area for tourists who speak your language?

Loads of English-speakers visit Paris, and lots of Parisians know or are learning English. There is a better chance, then, of encountering someone who can help direct you to the Louvre. Of course, even then, it’s often considered rude to just assume someone knows English—so be sure to start off with a, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” in their language.

What is the point of the trip?

Are you going somewhere for fun? Is it a business trip? Or are you there to immerse yourself in the language? That all changes how much you should know. Fun trips should have the basics. A good basis in the language will probably make your business trip much more successful. And if you’re there for immersion, it’s insanely hard to build up a language if you don’t have a solid foundation to build it on.

Which words should you know?

When it comes down to it, you should always know (or have a piece of paper with) these words. Note: You don’t even know how to speak in complete sentences to get an idea across. If you say the word for hospital in a questioning tone, they’ll pick up what you’re looking for. Which makes these words much easier to remember. Of course, hand motions and having a notepad and a pen to draw with also help, especially if getting directions (they can draw it out).





-Thank you


-Excuse me



-English? (as in, “Do you speak English?”)



-Numbers 1-10 (for taxis and directions)

-How much?

-Where is…?

-I don’t understand