You’ve been planning this trip to New York for months.
But you didn’t plan on this.
You’re in the middle of Times Square and you have no idea which way is north or how to get to the TKTS Booth to get your theater tickets to “The Phantom of the Opera.”
That’s when you realize something is missing from Google Maps.
No, I don’t mean a new store or a diversion due to roadwork.
It’s the clarification that comes from social interaction and real-world conversation.
I know you might be shy and it’s hard to stop a stranger on the street. Perhaps you’re not confident about your spoken English fluency. Maybe it’s your listening skills that you’re worried about.
But have you thought about the fun of talking to a local? He or she might be able to tell you about a cool cafe where you can stop on the way to your destination. You’ll get to practice English conversation—and we all know that practice makes perfect.
So don’t be shy! Put your phone in your pocket and ask away. We’ll help you with ways to ask and give directions in English. One day, it’ll be your turn to help a lost traveler. When that happens, you’ll be confident thanks to what you learn in this post.
Let’s jump in!
Directions in English: How to Find Your Way While Traveling
Asking For Directions
Approaching strangers to ask for directions could be intimidating. You’re not sure that they will understand you. Also, everyone seems to hide their nose in their phones or wear headphones when they walk through the streets.
Don’t worry. We’ll give you some phrases to add to your travel vocabulary that’ll get someone’s attention. These polite expressions are a great way to start a conversation and get the help you need.
Polite Expressions and Useful Phrases
This phrase is used frequently. You hear it all the time on the street or in a shop. People say “Excuse me” before asking another person to do something (like showing you the way to the theater!).
When using it, pronounce “me” with a longer vowel and a higher pitch to indicate the question to come.
Excuse me? Where is the nearest souvenir shop?
Sorry to bother you…
It’s another way to let a stranger know that you’re asking something from them and you appreciate their help.
Sorry to bother you, but would you mind showing me the way to post office?
May I ask…?
You can use this expression to start a question in a courteous manner. Remember that you don’t have to reverse the word order when you continue with the “where…” part. In grammar rules, it’s the issue of embedded questions or indirect questions.
May I ask where the Marriott hotel is?
Could you please…?
You follow this expression with a verb such as “show,” “point,” “help” etc.
Could you please point me in the direction of the main square?
I am (I’m) lost.
Excuse me? I’m lost. Could you please help me find 5th Avenue?
I can’t seem to read this map.
Sorry to bother you. I can’t seem to read this map.
This is my first time in the city.
May I ask you a question? This is my first time in the city.
Now it’s time to ask about where you need to go. Follow “Excuse me” or “Sorry to bother you” with one of these questions:
How do I get to…?
Excuse me? How do I get to Times Square?
Which way to…?
Sorry to bother you, but which way to Main Street?
Can you help me find…?
Excuse me? Can you help me find Hotel Pennsylvania? This is my first time in the city.
Now you know how to ask for directions. If you still have concerns about how to break into a conversation or how to pronounce certain words, there are tons of videos on YouTube about this topic and even some that allow you to practice with a map! You can also check out FluentU.
If you’re in a big tourist destination like New York City, chances are someone will come up to you to ask for help. It’s important to give the right directions because you don’t want other people to get (more) lost, do you?
That means you’ll need to use the right spatial prepositions (which describe where things are) and not get confused between “right” and “left.” Make sure to use imperative sentences (like this one) to sound confident when telling someone where to go.
You start with a simple verb to give clear instructions and add in spatial prepositions. Use landmarks like churches or parks so that people know they’re headed in the right direction. (In other words, learn nouns.)
Let’s crack open each topic one at a time, so that we can give better directions.
Walk along/walk straight down
Walk along 6th Avenue until you find the Rockefeller Center Station.
Turn left at the intersection and the building is on the right.
Go over the bridge and turn left at the next stoplight.
Make a left/right turn
Make a left turn when you see the Hard Rock Cafe.
Head to Hudson Theatre and you’ll see the restaurant on the right.
Take the first/second left/right turn
Take the second right turn and the museum will be on the left.
Continue down West 45th Street until you get to the bus stop.
Follow this street for 10 minutes before turning left at West 41st Street.
Spatial prepositions tell where a thing is located in relation to something else.
Meaning: on the side of something else
The Imperial Theatre is beside the New York Marriott Marquis hotel.
Meaning: to the side of, similar to “beside” but can be used if there’s nothing in between
The New York Marriott Marquis hotel is next to the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Meaning: close, not far
The Rockefeller Center Station is near West 46th Street.
To the left/right of
Meaning: as long as you don’t get confused between left or right (or get political) this one is straightforward. If you stand in the middle of an avenue facing north, buildings to the east are on the right and the buildings to the west are on the left.
The post office is to the right of the corner store.
Meaning: to have someone or something on each side
The Broadhurst Theatre is between the PlayStation Theater and the Majestic Theatre.
Meaning: being at someone or something’s back
The restaurant is just behind the metro station.
In front of
Meaning: if something is in front of you, it’s in a position where you can see it if you look forwards (see the example with “around the corner”)
When you turn a corner, you’ll find yourself in front of the church.
Meaning: on the other side of a road, river, etc.
The New York Marriott Marquis hotel is across from the Disney Store.
Around the corner
Meaning: you’ll find something when you turn a corner (a place where two streets meet)
If you’re in front of the Disney Store on 7th Avenue, then the Saint Mary The Virgin Church is around the corner.
Meaning: to be situated (located)
The Disney Store and the New York Marriott Marquis are both on 7th Avenue.
At the crossroads/intersection
Meaning: a place where two roads meet (especially when one is a major street)
You’ll see a big mall at the intersection of 6th Avenue and West 51st Street.
Using landmarks when giving directions makes it easier for an inquirer to find what he or she is looking for.
Cross the bridge and the hotel is on the first street on the left.
Walk past the park, and keep going straight until you see the sign for the museum.
McDonald’s is past the church on West 51st Street.
Times Square begins at the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue.
It’s also useful to know the names of more common things you find in most big cities, like blocks, malls, coffee shops (e.g. Starbucks).
If you’re giving directions in the countryside or on a walking trail, you’ll probably need nouns like big trees, a fast-running river, hills, etc.
Now you have some vocabulary to start giving directions!
Asking and giving directions are important components of basic conversational language. We hope the structure and words in this article will enlarge your travel vocabulary and make you comfortable enough to ask and give directions.
Knowing these words will make you feel more confident to go places and start talking with the locals. Who knows what’s awaiting you!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You'll have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.