20 Essential Words and Phrases in Different Languages (With Audio)

So you’ve planned a trip abroad and you want to be able to blend with the locals, so you try to master a new language before take-off.

But there are… so many words.

Before you get nominated for Linguist of the Year, you’re going to have to start with the easy stuff.

If you want to get familiar with a new language then first you need to get comfortable with common words and phrases.

Read on to find 20 essential words and phrases in five different languages


1. Hello

It’s always nice to greet people when meeting for the first time. An easy “hello” is the simplest way to get it done.

Spanish Hola
French Salut
Portuguese Olá
German Hallo
Mandarin 你好  (nǐ hǎo)

2. How are you?

You don’t have to save this for friends and acquaintances. Even strangers appreciate when someone asks them about their well-being. You may not want to just approach someone in the street with this question, but maybe use it when you’re at a restaurant, grocery store or even the bank.

Spanish ¿Cómo está?  (formal) / ¿Cómo estás? (informal)
French Comment allez-vous ? (formal) / Comment ça va ? (informal)
Portuguese Como você está?
German Wie geht es dir?
Mandarin 你好嗎? (nǐ hǎo ma)

3. I’m doing well

This is a common response in almost every language. It’s polite and brief, especially when speaking to a stranger. You can elaborate if you’re more familiar with a person.

Spanish Estoy bien
French Ça va bien
Portuguese Tudo bem
German Mir geht es gut!
Mandarin 我很好 (wǒ hěn hǎo)

4. My name is…

This is another common introductory phrase. Basic phrases like these are short and simple and can help you get used to how words and letters are supposed to sound without stumbling over your speech too much.

Spanish Me llamo...  / Mi nombre es...
French Je m'appelle...
Portuguese O meu nome é...
German Mein Name ist...
Mandarin 我的名字是... (wǒ de míng zì shì)

5. What’s your name?

If you’re sharing your name then, of course, the cordial thing to do would be to ask a person theirs. Again, it’s a great way to start small conversations and let people know that you’re making an effort.

Spanish ¿Cómo se llama usted?  (formal) / ¿Cómo te llamas? (informal)
French Comment vous appelez-vous ?  (formal) / Comment t'appelles-tu ? (informal)
Portuguese Qual é o seu nome?
German Wie heißen Sie?  (formal) / Wie heißt du? (informal)
Mandarin 貴姓呢? (guì xìng ne)

6. It’s nice to meet you

Many cultures are similar in how they meet and greet. You want to put your best foot forward, so telling someone that it’s nice to meet them will at least show that you’ve got some manners.

Spanish Un placer conocerle  (formal) / Un placer conocerte (informal)
French Enchanté / Enchantée  (masculine/feminine)
Portuguese Prazer em conhecê-lo
German Nett, Sie kennenzulernen  (formal) / Nett, dich kennenzulernen (informal)
Mandarin 很高興見到你 (hěn gāo xìng jiàn dào nǐ)

7. I’m from…

This is a great conversation starter! People are always curious to know about where you’re from.

Spanish Yo soy de...
French Je viens de...
Portuguese Eu sou de...
German Ich komme aus...
Mandarin 我來自 (wǒ lái zì…)

8. Where are you from?

In the same vein, it’s always interesting to hear where others are from. Maybe you’re from the same place, maybe you’ve traveled to their home country, maybe you have friends or family from their town or country. The “where are you from” question almost always sparks a fun and interesting conversation.

Spanish ¿De dónde es usted?  (formal) / ¿De dónde eres tú? (informal)
French D'où êtes-vous ?  (formal) / D'où es-tu ? (informal)
Portuguese De onde você é?
German Wo kommen Sie her? (formal) / Woher kommst du? (informal)
Mandarin 你從哪裡來? (nǐ cóng nǎ lǐ lái)

9. What time is it?

Practicalities always come into play during travel, and depending on your itinerary, you may be on a schedule. If you find yourself without a watch or phone, this question is handy when you’re racing against the clock.

Spanish ¿Qué hora es?
French Quelle heure est-t-il ?
Portuguese Que horas são?
German Wie spät ist es?
Mandarin 幾點了? (jǐ diǎn le)

10. Where is…?

This phrase is good to know because it’s versatile. You could be talking about a person, place or thing. Where is Mindy? Where is my phone charger? Where is the Taj Mahal?

Spanish ¿Dónde está…?
French Où se trouve... ?
Portuguese Onde é...?
German Wo ist…?
Mandarin ...在哪裡? (… zài nǎ lǐ?)

11. How do I get to…?

This question is very place specific. If you’re trying to get around and you don’t have access to Wi-Fi or GPS, most locals will be able to tell you how to get where you’re going if you just ask.

Spanish ¿Cómo llego a...?
French Comment puis-je arriver à... ?
Portuguese Como faço para chegar até...?
German Wie komme ich nach...?
Mandarin 我怎麼去...? (wǒ zěn me qù…)

12. Left, Right, Straight

If you’re going to ask how to get somewhere then it might help if you understand directions. At least learning the most basic ones will get you where you need to go.

Spanish Izquierda , Derecha , Derecho
French Gauche , Droite , Tout droit
Portuguese Esquerda , Direita , Reta
German Links , Rechts , Geradeaus
Mandarin , , (zuǒ, yòu, zhí)

13. I’m lost

This one is definitely important to know, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar area. Seek out a safe place and let someone know that you’re lost so they can help you get back on track.

Spanish Yo estoy perdido / Yo estoy perdida (masculine/feminine)
French Je suis perdu / Je suis perdue (masculine/feminine)
Portuguese Estou perdido / Estou perdida (masculine/feminine)
German Ich habe mich verlaufen
Mandarin 我迷路了 (wǒ mí lù le)

14. Pardon me

Again, it’s always good to have manners. Whether you’ve had a tiny collision or you’re trying to get through a crowd, it’s good to be able to throw out an “excuse me” or a “pardon me” so that you can avoid a confrontation.

Spanish Perdóneme  (formal) / Perdóname (informal)
French Excusez-moi  (formal) / Excuse-moi (informal)
Portuguese Desculpe
German Verzeihung  (more formal) / Entschuldigung (informal)
Mandarin 對不起 (duì bù qǐ)

15. Sorry, I don’t understand

You can master your basic phrases so well that you sound fluent. When that happens, locals will start speaking to you as if you’re fluent. That’s a good time to let them know that you don’t understand so that they can switch gears.

Spanish Lo siento, pero no entiendo
French Pardon, je ne comprends pas
Portuguese Desculpe, eu não entendo
German Verzeihung, ich verstehe Sie nicht  (formal) / Entschuldigung, ich verstehe dich nicht (informal)
Mandarin 對不起, 我不明白 (duì bù qǐ, wǒ bù míng bái)

16. Can you speak more slowly please?

Switching gears usually means going slower. Let the person know that you’re still learning and you need them to slow it down. Most people will be happy to oblige!

Spanish ¿Puede hablar más lento, por favor?
French Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement s'il vous plaît ?  (formal) / Peux-tu parler plus lentement s'il te plaît ? (informal)
Portuguese Você pode falar mais devagar, por favor?
German Könnten Sie ein bisschen langsamer sprechen, bitte?  (formal) / Könntest du ein bisschen langsamer sprechen, bitte? (informal)
Mandarin 你能說得慢一點嗎? (nǐ néng shuō dé màn yī diǎn ma)

17. I would like…

This one is great for when you’re out at a restaurant or a cafe or really anywhere that you have options. Instead of using a harsh sounding phrase like “I want,” it’s better to take the politer route.

Spanish Yo quisiera...
French Je voudrais...
Portuguese Eu gostaria...
German Ich möchte...
Mandarin 我想要... (wǒ xiǎng yào)

18. I’m allergic to…

Sadly, allergies don’t go away when we’re abroad. Don’t compromise your health. Let a person know if you’re allergic to certain foods or animals. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Spanish Soy alérgico a... / Soy alérgica a... (masculine/feminine)
French Je suis allergique à...
Portuguese Sou alérgico a... / Sou alérgica a... (masculine/feminine)
German Ich bin allergisch gegen...
Mandarin 我對...過敏 (wǒ duì... guò mǐn)

19. Thank you

If nothing else, a thank you is always the way to go. It’s the most basic form of polite conversation, and really, if it’s the only phrase you know in 100 languages, then you’ve done all right for yourself.

Spanish Gracias
French Merci
Portuguese Obrigado / Obrigada (masculine/feminine)
German Danke
Mandarin 谢谢 (xiè xie)

20. Goodbye

Farewell, friends. Hopefully this list of basic phrases will help you get started on the language learning adventure of your dreams!

Spanish Adiós
French Au revoir
Portuguese Tchau
German Auf Wiedersehen  (formal) / Tschüss (informal)
Mandarin 再見 (zài jiàn)

Why You Should Learn Phrases in Different Languages

Besides being useful in everyday interactions, learning these phrases will help you get comfortable speaking in the language. Speaking is usually the biggest hurdle in language learning, especially if you’re in a place where most people know at least some English.

However, if you commit to learning a few common phrases, you’ll have identified yourself as someone who wants to learn. And people appreciate the effort. Sadly, Americans in particular have a reputation for being unwilling to learn new languages, but make the effort and you’ll see that people will be charmed by your attempt to communicate in their language.

To follow up with these phrases, learn how they’re used in context and start moving on to full conversations, you can try learning a language with FluentU.

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Now that you’ve learned the most common phrases in five languages, it’s time to start using them!

Good luck!

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