This is something a lot of people come across when travelling, studying abroad or each being an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher. How many phrases do you need to learn at a bare minimum? Many people will tell you that it’s “Hello”, “Thank You” and “Goodbye” but are those really enough to get by or survive in a country that may or may not speak English at all? Think about it.
Are “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Goodbye” Enough?
The answer is no. Why? If you were faced with an emergency and could not communicate what the situation is, you would be a major disadvantage. It’s even more detrimental when you’re in rural part of the city and don’t have access to resources you need. This can also hinder your shopping experience if you’re looking for specific types of foods, beverages or medications. If you don’t know the language, you might not be able to find them as easily.
If you were a vegan or vegetarian for example, you going want to know whether or not the dish you’re eating contains traces of meat or not. How are you going to get this point across if all you know are how to greet and thank people?
How Many Words and Phrases Do I Need To Know?
It depends on what exactly you’re planning on doing in the country (or countries) you plan on visiting and how long you’re going to stay. If you only plan on staying a few days to a week learn the following:
Where’s the toilet(restroom)? (When nature calls you need to be locate a place to do your “business” and you don’t know this phrase it’s going to be torture for you to find one. Granted there are visual hints but not always. I feel like this one of the most important phrases to learn because it can really be a life-saver when you need to go. )
Where can I get to __________________? – This fill in the blank with any of the following:
(A) Hotel/Youth Hostel. (This is especially useful if you get lost and cannot find your hotel/hostel. It might be a good idea if you had a map with you too so they (the locals) can show you how to get there.)
(B) Tourist Attractions and Historical Landmarks. (This will help you locate it easier but also keep in mind that if you don’t plan ahead, you’re going to be waiting in line for long hours. (Depending on the season and number of people there. ) If it’s an extremely popular attraction then you’re going to want to plan ahead for that.
(D) Internet Café or Place with WiFi (Just in case. ;))
If there’s somewhere particular you want to go to then learn that word and add it to the phrase above.
How much is it? (Just in case you can’t figure a price for something or it’s not obvious.)
These phrases should be the bare minimum you learn if you’re just going to stay for a short amount of time in whichever country you plan on visiting. (Even if they speak English really well like the Netherlands or Scandinavia).
Are you planning on staying longer than 3 months (what most tourist visas limit people. Unless you’re able to get an extension or a visa change. Although many countries don’t allow you to change your visa status while in the country.)? If you’re a student or someone who plans on working in the country for a while then why not, learn the language to fluency? The determining factor is how many time you’ll actually be spending in the country. 3 months? 6 months? 1 years? 5 years? Indefinitely? (meaning that you’ve been naturalised into the country as a new citizen or a permanent resident).
If you’re in the 3-6 month range then you probably won’t be able to get fluent but at least get yourself to at least a low intermediate level. Those with a year or more could get to at least a basic fluency in the language(s). I would get the basics down completely. This is where a thematic phrasebook like the German: Lonely Planet Phrasebook would come in handy. Where it breaks it down into categories so you can find what you need more effectively. These are especially great for beginners looking to master the basics. Obviously they don’t have everything but they do have the absolute basics covered. Also keep in mind that some have a lot more phrases than others.
Just learn those phrases and then adjust to fit your needs but in general, these phrases are an absolute must.