When traveling to Europe, making an effort to learn a few key phrases of the local language can make a big impact on your trip. Not only will it save you a lot of frustration when you inevitably run into someone who doesn’t speak English, but it’s also generally seen as polite to the local culture — when you try to speak the local language, you demonstrate that you don’t expect the world to revolve around English. And yes, this is a particularly good courtesy to adopt even when you’re going to visit a place for only a few days. It’s also a great way to start immersing yourself into a culture! Who knows? You might end up falling in love with the local traditions and culture.
Without further ado, here are the 13 most useful phrases to learn before you travel to Europe, presented in the six most common European languages:
As a rule of thumb, you should at least be able to greet people in the local language — that’s just polite.
- German: Hallo
- French: Bonjour
- Russian: Здравстуйте (Zdrastvuite)
- Italian: Buongiorno
- Spanish: Hola
- Turkish: Merhaba
In many European countries, it’s actually considered rude not to address a shopkeeper when leaving. Make a good impression by getting these down, too.
- German: Tschüss
- French: Au revoir
- Russian: До свидания (Do svidaniya)
- Italian: Arrivederci
- Spanish: Adiós
- Turkish: Hoşçakal
3. I would like…
Is there anything more undignified than pointing sheepishly to a menu item when the waiter asks you what you’ll have? Order at a restaurant with your self-respect intact.
- German: Ich hätte gern …
- French: J’aimerais …
- Russian: Будьте добры (Bud’te dobry)… (literally: “Be so kind as…”)
- Italian: Vorrei …
- Spanish: Me gustaría …
- Turkish: … istiyorum.
4. Where is the restroom?
Yes, you could ask “Toilet?” and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for, but for similar reasons as above, these are good to know.
- German: Wo ist die Toilette?
- French: Où sont les toilettes?
- Russian: Где туалет (Gde tualet)?
- Italian: Dov’è il bagno?
- Spanish: ¿Dónde está el baño?
- Turkish: Tuvalet nerede?
5. How much does this cost?
This is especially useful when going to a flea market or other shopping venue where haggling is the norm.
- German: Wie viel kostet das?
- French: Combien ça coûte?
- Russian: Сколько это стоит (Skol’ko eto stoyit)?
- Italian: Quanto costa?
- Spanish: ¿Cuánto cuesta?
- Turkish: Bu ne kadar?
6. Do you sell…?
One of the possibly aggravating aspects of traveling is realizing that other cultures group their goods together differently. Be prepared to ask where an item is or if the shopkeeper sells it at all.
- German: Verkaufen Sie …?
- French: Vendez-vous …?
- Russian: У Вас есть (U Vas yest’)…? (literally: “Do you have…?”)
- Italian: Vendete …?
- Spanish: ¿Vendes …? (informal) / ¿Vende …? (formal)
- Turkish: … satıyor musunuz?
7. Can I pay with card?
If you’re accustomed to paying for everything with a credit or debit card in your home country, it might surprise you that there are establishments in Europe that still only accept cash (notably, many shops in Germany). Ask first so you won’t be embarrassed later.
- German: Kann ich mit Karte bezahlen?
- French: Je peux payer par carte?
- Russian: Можно заплатить карточкой (Mozhno zaplatit kartochkoi)?
- Italian: È possibile pagare con la carta?
- Spanish: ¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta?
- Turkish: Kart ile ödeyebilir miyim?
Yes, technically this isn’t a phrase, but it’ll be plastered all over the walls. It’s also one of the most useful (and safe) things to learn before traveling to another country.
- German: Ausgang
- French: Sortie
- Russian: выход (vykhod)
- Italian: Uscita
- Spanish: Salida
- Turkish: Çıkış
9. I need help. (Help!)
Everyone hopes that they’ll never need this on their trip, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to know it anyway, just in case.
- German: Ich brauche Hilfe. / Hilfe!
- French: J’ai besoin d’aide. / À l’aide!
- Russian: Помогите (Pomoguite)!
- Italian: Mi serve aiuto. / Aiuto!
- Spanish: Necesito ayuda. / ¡Ayuda!
- Turkish: Yardıma ihtiyacım var. / İmdat!
10. Excuse me
Again, this phrase just shows good manners. Learn it!
- German: Entschuldigung
- French: Excusez-moi
- Russian: Извините (Izvinite)
- Italian: Mi scusi
- Spanish: Disculpa (informal) / Disculpe (formal)
- Turkish: Affedersiniz
11. I’m sorry
Inevitably, there will be a time on your trip that you’ll need to apologize. Maybe you’ll want to ask the hotel clerk if there’s a way to bend the rules, or perhaps you made a big language faux pas and want to rectify it. Either way, this is an essential.
- German: Entschuldigung
- French: Pardon
- Russian: Простите (Prostite)
- Italian: Mi dispiace
- Spanish: Lo siento / Perdón
- Turkish: Özür dilerim
12. I don’t understand.
Sometimes, in addition to making a confused face, it’s easiest just to tell the other person that they’ve lost you. It’s usually better for both sides if you’re clear about your confusion, rather than pretending to understand.
- German: Ich verstehe Sie nicht.
- French: Je ne comprends pas.
- Russian: Я не понимаю (Ya ne ponimayu).
- Italian: Non capisco.
- Spanish: No entiendo.
- Turkish: Anlamıyorum.
13. I only speak a little [local language].
Along with the previous phrase, this comes in handy when your accent outperforms your knowledge level. A native speaker might assume you understand more than you do, so it’s always safe to have this phrase on standby (or increase your knowledge base!).
- German: Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch.
- French: Je parle seulement un peu français.
- Russian: Я ещё плохо говорю по-русски (Ya yeshchyo plokho govoryu po-russki). (literally: I still speak Russian badly)
- Italian: Parlo solo un po’ di Italiano.
- Spanish: Solo hablo un poco de español.
- Turkish: Sadece biraz Türkçe konuşabiliyorum.
If you continue your learning, you will also see the benefits of having real conversations with native speakers — like finding the locals’ favorite spots and even saving money. If you plan on spending more than a few days in a country, why not commit to really speaking the language? It can only enhance your trip!
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