My entire life my dad has joked that he can say “Everybody loves Saturday night” in five languages. I don’t know how helpful that has been to him, but I do know that no matter where in the world you travel, people love it when you try to speak their language.
It’s not simply polite; it shows that that you are aware that you are the stranger in their land and that you’ve taken the time to learn a few important phrases. It’s even more effective if you say the words from memory and not simply try to read from a phrase book or phone app (though at least that’s something).
Every time I travel to a non-English-speaking country I try to learn a series of words and phrases: “please,” “thank you,” “how much is this?”, “do you speak English?” and the all-important “where is the bathroom?” When I got married in Romania I made a laminated phrase guide for all my out-of-town guests. It was a hit. The Romanians at my wedding loved it when folks from the United States and England said thank you in their own language.
Believe me when I say just attempting one or two words in someone’s native language goes a long way in fostering good will — especially in an age when so many Anglophones just assume the rest of the world speaks English.
Since “thank you” and “please” are probably the most common words travelers make an effort to learn, I’ve decided to list “how much is this?” and “do you speak English?” in several languages. Audio clips are included where available so you can listen to the pronunciation.
How Much Is This?
Chinese (Mandarin) – Zhe ge duoshao qian?
Dutch – Hoveel kost dit?
French – C’est combien?
German – Wievel kostet das?
Italian – Quanto costa?
Japanese – Ikura desu ka?
Portuguese – Quanto custa?
Romanian – Cat costa?
Russian – Skol’ko eto stoit?
Spanish – Cuanto cuesta?
Swahili – Hii ni bei gani?
Do You Speak English?
Chinese (Mandarin) – Ni shuo Yingwen ma?
Dutch – Spreek ge engels?
French – Parlez vous anglais?
German – Sprechen Sie English?
Italian – Parla inglese?
Japanese – Eigo ga dekimasu ka?
Portuguese – Fala ingles?
Romanian – Vorbitz Engleza?
Russian – Vy gavarite pa angllyski?
Spanish – Habla ingles?
Swahili – Unasema kiingereza?
Know these phrases in other languages? Add them in the comments!
— written by Dori Saltzman
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