46 | Build Your Own Phrasebook

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of The 64 Arts.

While it’d be great to be fluent in as many languages as possible, the reality is we either don’t make the time to do so or might not even have the luxury of learning much at all if an impromptu trip comes up. Whether you’re still learning or in a hurry, compiling your own phrasebook will be more beneficial than trying to flip through a larger one you can pick up in the bookstore or download to your smartphone.

Not only will it be a customized cheat-sheet, writing or typing it out will help it stick in your memory better.

Greetings and Politeness:

  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Excuse Me
  • Please
  • Thank You
  • Ma’am
  • Sir

It’s worth looking up if there are formal and informal versions of any of the above–you don’t want to go acting too chummy with the wrong person and cause an international incident! Same goes for the male/female versions in some languages.

Food and Shelter:

  • Hotel
  • House
  • Restaurant
  • Bathroom
  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Sandwich
  • Soup
  • Eggs
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Soda
  • Dessert

Obviously specific names of places and dishes will be part of your itinerary and you’ll have those close at hand, but if you find yourself stuck those words should at least get you through a rough patch.

Good to Know:

  • Police
  • Hospital
  • Fire
  • Help
  • Doctor/Nurse
  • Pharmacy
  • Medicine
  • Currency

While not strictly a language issue, it also wouldn’t hurt to take note of the current exchange rate between your home currency and your destination. Keeping that in mind (or maybe having an app handy) could prevent you making a costly mistake at the market. Tipping practices and other customs–while, again, not specifically language-related–are good things to scout out before you go.

We live in a global world. Travel can’t just be about our own wants and desires, we have to take our destination in mind. In scouting and other outdoorsy groups it’s often said to leave the space how you found it, if not better. By being able to communicate well and observe local customs with grace, you may just leave those you encounter with a better impression of your country than they had before. At the very least, let’s not make it worse, shall we?!

Anything else you can think of that my short lists above don’t cover but need to? And even though this is meant for foreign languages, remember that not all English-speaking countries use the language the same way. Good thing we’ll be moving onto slang shortly!

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