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Learn a Foreign Language - 10 Essential Holiday Phrases

Updated on September 4, 2009

Starting to Learn

Learning a foreign language when you go on holidays abroad offers you an excellent opportunity to broaden your mind, pallett and experiences. They give you the chance to sample another culture, taste their foods and get to know our fellow human beings a little bit better.

One of the best ways you can do this is by knowing even a little of their language. Most people, especially English speakers shy away from speaking a foreign language. "Why should I, they should all bloody learn English shouldn't they" is the commonest heard excuse. "Well if you speaks louder, they understands you eventually" is another. What this really hides is that people are scared of making complete fools of themselves but believe you me there is nothing more embarrassing than someone not making any effort at all. Trust me, I make an ass of myself every day of the week, in supermarkets, on the bus, down the post office and in the bank.

It makes your holiday that much more rewarding, local people will respect you more for trying and you will get better service and advice if they think you are at least having a go.

Overcoming Fear

The biggest distraction to learning a foreign language is fear and the older you get the more that fear plays on your mind. Forget fear, remember every day you probably mispronounce things, say one thing when you mean another, so why worry if you happen to do it in another tongue.

Below are the ten phrases you are most likely to use, the ones that are the most adaptable to getting you understood and the ones commonly encountered during every day conversations.

1) Hello/ Goodbye, don't bother with good mornings, nice evening etc. Different countries change over phrases at different times, English changes from morning to afternoon at 1200, in Italy the change is more like 3pm. So if you use an all day phrase you do not have to worry about getting the timing right.

2) Yes/ No, you need to confirm or reject things, make sure you've understood something or agree to buy a particular object.

3) Please, remember "manners maketh man" as they say. you're an ambassador for your country, do you want them to think you are really an uncoothe lout.

4) Thank you, again its just plain politeness, if they think you are being nice you will be looked after better and given patience if you're not understood.

5) Can I have...... at some point you will want something. A dance, a coffee, a bus timetable. This is let your hosts know you are after a particular thing. They might not know what but they will know you need something.

6) Where is...... again this time they will realise you want to go somewhere. The toilet, the castle, the beautiful lady I was speaking to.

7) The weather is.... , find the phrase for whether it is, hot, cold or wet. These are all you will need. People the world over love talking about the weather. You do not need a whole weather forecast of phrases just these three. You don't even need to understand the reply. You are just passing comment.

8) How much is..... you are going to want to know prices. Pizza, shoes, parking, bus fares. Locals will know that you expect to find out a price. You don't need to know numbers they can write it down or count on your fingers.

9) Do you have.... a room, a husband, a table. Once more you are letting people know you are after a specific piece of information. If you don't know the particular word you can point, act it out or write it down. This should get your point across.

10) Help!!... There is no point being in trouble and not knowing how to indicate it.........I'm lost, I've been attacked, I've broken down. I need you to give me assistance.

Remember that 70% of communication is non verbal, so rolling your eyes as if to say "Heaven knows" is the same in any language. Pointing to your wrist anywhere means "Do you have the time", and touching your lips means "give us a kiss" to anyone, while a slap means "No!". Remember DON'T PANIC, mime, draw, act or point. These sentences will not make you fluent or even get you into conversations, they just show you care enough to try. Feel free to add to these. In fact I implore you to add to these but this ten will save you a lot of confused glances.

They won't make you head of the Spanish debating team but they will make your trip to Barcellona more fun. You are not going to land a plumb job in the Gernam government but you will find the toilet more easily. By not giving even the most basic form of language a shot you are missing a whole lot of enjoyment and above all being rude to your hosts.

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    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Hi CityChick, You'll love Italy, its marvellous and the people are so friendly. If you speak Spanish, Italian should be quite easy to pick up. I speak passable Italian and find I understand the gist of what Spanish speakers are saying. Hope you enjoy your trips over here.

    • citychick profile image


      7 years ago from Ulster County, New York

      Great hub! I'm dying to learn Italian before I visit Italy for the first time. I've got Rosetta Stone, and have begun speaking to a co-worker who speaks Italian, in exchange for Spanish lessons from me...I love learning languages. I studied French in school, but hardly use it.

    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks Charia, I think its important to try and speak even a little of the language of a country you visit. These phrases at the very least will help. Its interesting how different cultures see time. I wonder what they do in the Artic circle as they can have 20 hours of daylight, when does it become afternoon and evening there.

    • Charia Samher profile image

      Charia Samher 

      9 years ago

      Nice list..these are some of the basic words/phrases that are really very important to know. Hmmm I never knew that time indicator for afternoon would be different in other parts of the globe, interesting. =)

    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Cheers all, it really does make a difference, even just a few phrases. Makes your holiday a lot less stressed and its great fun talking to local people. But its true us Brits especially abroad are hopeless when it comes to trying foreign languages and we miss out a lot.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      The English abroad! We're infamous for our lack of linguistic talent, aren't we? Luckily for me, my Dad was a French speaker and he brought us up to have a good smattering of the language, so I can at least get by in France, and even in Italy, which is different yet similar, but I despair of my friends and relatives who refuse to learn the basics, and then complain when they get ignored or ripped off in a foreign country. As your hub points out, even the smallest amount of effort can be a help.

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Great tips!

      I like learning the language of the place I plan to visit. Most people are always just too happy to help you along especially if they see that you are trying to learn their language.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Cool, I liked this hub. Good job!


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