So you’re going to a new country soon, and you don’t have the time or motivation to master the language before you travel. Fair enough – we can’t learn every language in the world after all. But I firmly believe that everyone should learn at least some of the local lingo before they go. In my opinion, learning a language for travel should be a part of everyone’s essential travel preparation, as important as planning where to stay, how to get around or budgeting your trip.

It can be easy to dismiss this task or say ‘it’s too hard’, but the reality is it might take you an hour to learn some basics, and it will make a world of difference to you while you’re travelling.

I have talked about why you should learn the language of the places you travel to, but not so much the how to go about learning a language for travel. I know that with the vastness of language, it’s hard to know where to start or what to learn first, so this post should serve as a quick guide for the essentials to learn before you go.

Of course, it depends how long you will be travelling for, what you intend to do there and the purpose of your travel. For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming you’re learning a language for travel that is short term and you’ll mainly be in busy our touristic hubs. Of course, if you’re going for longer or delving deeper into a country not known for its English proficiency, you should probably check out how to learn a language fluently.

Here’s what you should teach yourself if you’re learning a language for travel. Look for the translations of these words and phrases online or in a dictionary. Try and test yourself and memorise them.



  • How are you?
  • What is your name? / My name is…
  • How much does __ cost?
  • How do I get to ___?
  • Where is the toilet?
  • Do you speak English?
  • I don’t speak (language)
  • I am from ______.


If you are going to talk to people, you will need to know how to pronounce the words and phrases as well (and hopefully be able to understand the response!). I recommend using the voice function that Google Translate and other online dictionaries have. Listen to the pronunciation and repeat it a few times until you get used to the sound. Even better if you know a native person that can teach you how to make the sounds and make sure your pronunciation is understandable.


You should know some basics about the culture anyway before you arrive in a new country, but this becomes especially important when you are speaking the local tongue. Make sure you know of any nuances that may affect the way you speak (or which word for ‘sorry’ to use in which context, for example). The best way to do this is to search online or ask a native speaker. My languages around the world series might help with that, too.


To make things easier, I’ve put together some PDF travel phrase sheets for Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese with all of the above words and phrases translated, plus some tips on pronunciation and nuances. They are laid out in such a way that you can easily fold the page down the middle to test your knowledge of your travel phrases before you go (or even on the plane on your way there!)

Want one? Just subscribe below, indicate which language(s) you need, and you’ll receive them in your email within 24 hours.

  • If you want to create a travel phrase sheet for me in another language, just contact me here.

Do you agree that this is the need-to-know language stuff before travel? Is there anything you’d add or wouldn’t bother learning? Let me know in the comments!


what to learn before you travel
What should you teach yourself of a language before you travel?

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  1. Currently trying to learn Italian for my upcoming trip in Paris. It a really colorful language – really beautiful! Sometimes it makes may head hurt a little, it’s so incredibly different form English!

  2. I took a year of french and got certified so I could study in Paris. It’s been great!

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