But what if you use English for both?
For example, do you work as a hotel receptionist?
A local tour guide?
A bus driver?
A server or bartender?
People who work in the travel industry around the world generally use English as a common language to communicate with international tourists. This not only includes tour guides, but also people working in hotels, restaurants, transportation services and more. You could work in a bakery in a busy tourist district, as a taxi driver, a hotel receptionist or even a bike tour guide.
Because there are so many jobs in tourism, there are many different types of tourism English. If you’re looking at a job in this dynamic, international industry, you’ll discover that your daily responsibilities require a special set of vocabulary.
This special vocabulary allows you to:
- Answer tourists’ questions
- Give recommendations
- Provide directions
- Engage in small talk and make friendly conversation
- Describe places
Learning academic English is a common part of schooling in most countries.
However, people who work in the tourism industry often choose to take additional courses in “tourism English.” These courses help them get prepared for scenarios like the ones described above. But why?
What’s Special About the English Spoken in the Tourism Industry?
In the English dialogue examples that you hear in class or online, there are usually two native English speakers talking.
In real life, it’s possible that your conversations will be between two non-native speakers of English—you and your guest or customer.
Therefore, working in the tourism industry requires that you’re able to communicate effectively with native and non-native speakers of English.
Knowing the customs of English-speaking countries is helpful, but not all tourists you meet come from Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States. Many tourists are non-native speakers of English—just like you!
In the international world of tourism, you’ll discover a diverse mix of native and non-native speakers who come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds. Therefore, it’s critical that people working in the tourism industry develop strategies for understanding new English accents and being prepared for tricky situations that might arise.
To help you, we’ve come up with some tips for effective communication with international English speakers. You’ll practice how to check for clarification, politely communicate that you didn’t understand something and handle common scenarios where miscommunication can occur.
English Tourism Vocabulary: The Words You Need to Connect with Travelers from Around the Globe
Basic Vocabulary to Get You Started
Here’s a list of common tourism-related English terms.
You might be asked questions with these words, or you might need to use them yourself.
Make sure you’re familiar with them and can use them in full sentences.
Attractions — places for tourists to see
What attractions should we see while we’re here?
Make sure you go see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building!
Business district — also called the financial district, this is the center of the city where most offices are located
Avoid the business district at 5:00 PM. There’s a lot of traffic!
Entertainment district — an area that has lots of clubs, bars, theaters, etc.
Let’s go to the entertainment district tonight. I’m ready for some fun!
Dining district — an area with a lot of restaurants
You’re looking for a nice restaurant? The dining district is two blocks away. There are lots of good places to eat!
Custom — something that people do as part of their culture
Can you tell me if I need to tip here? I don’t know the customs of this country.
Highlight — best part (of something) or an important part of an event or period of time
The Statue of Liberty was the highlight of our trip.
Scenery — the setting for a place, natural beauty that you see around a place
The scenery around the city is lovely.
Surroundings — all of the things around you
Be aware of your surroundings at all times so you don’t get lost.
Depart — leave, take off
We’ll depart from the hotel at 11:00 AM.
Arrive — come to a place, reach a destination
We’re going to arrive at the airport in about 15 minutes.
Recommend — give advice, suggest
Can you recommend a good restaurant?
Sit back and relax — a common phrase to tell people to have a good time
Sit back and relax and we’ll have your drinks out shortly.
Phrases to Check for Understanding
Double-check what you heard
If you work in the tourism industry, you probably have experience with miscommunication.
As a guide, host or receptionist, it’s your job to make sure that you’re double-checking for understanding. These phrases are simple and quick ways to make sure you and your guest are on the same page.
- I heard you ask (about flights). Is that correct?
- So, you said (you wanted to visit the ruins), right?
- Okay, I understand that (your flight leaves at 3 PM). Is that correct?
Take the time to ask for clarification with these phrases
Even though you’re both speaking English, your guest may use vocabulary that you’re unfamiliar with. Likewise, they might have an accent that’s difficult for you to understand. Here are some polite ways to ask them to repeat or clarify what they said.
- I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand that. Can you say that again?
- Pardon my English, but I didn’t quite understand that. Can you say that again?
- I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch that. Can you describe what you mean?
Invite your guests to ask questions with these phrases
Some cultures encourage people to be outspoken, while those from other parts of the world prefer people to act in a more reserved manner. Make all of your guests feel welcome by encouraging them to ask questions.
- Does anyone have any questions?
- Yes, sir/ma’am? Do you have a question?
- Please feel free to raise your hand any time if you have a question.
- So, any questions?
Practice and Expand Your English Tourism Vocabulary with These Common Scenarios
Depending on your job, you’ll probably be required to give directions to tourists, provide them with recommendations for a good restaurant or attraction and in general make friendly conversation that makes them feel welcome.
In these scenarios, you’ll play the part of the “guide,” but it could really be anyone a tourist might come in contact with. Practice these dialogues so that you feel confident using these words and phrases in your interactions.
- For (authentic cuisine, family activities, etc), I recommend…
- My favorite place is…
- Personally, I suggest…
Tourist: Excuse me, do you know a good place for ice cream?
Guide: Oh, yes. For really good ice cream, I recommend “Maria’s.” It’s located about six blocks from here, and it’s my favorite place. Personally, I suggest the chocolate cherry flavor, but they’re famous for their award-winning lemon flavor. I think your family will like it.
Tourist: Great, thanks!
Providing directions and describing places
- Turn left
- Turn right
- Go straight
- Stop at the…
- Continue until…
- Take the (subway, bus, etc.)
- Follow the signs for…
Points of reference
- At the traffic light
- At the next (street, light, block, etc.)
- In (five) blocks
- Near the (hotel, beach, station, etc.)
- On the main plaza
Tourist: Can you tell me how to get to the theater?
Guide: Sure! The theater is near the train station. You need to go straight down this street for one block. At the next street, turn left. Continue until you see a sign for the theater, in about five blocks. If you’re lost, you can follow the signs for the train station. Does that make sense?
Tourist: Yes, thank you!
Here’s a helpful video to practice basic phrases for giving directions.
Using simple “ice breakers” to make friendly small talk
Here are some phrases that you can use when you want to get to know the tourists a little bit better.
- So, are you enjoying your time in (Paris) so far?
- Tell me, what is your favorite part of the city so far?
- I’m curious, do you think this city seems friendly?
- Tell me, what do/did you think of the (architecture, food, beach, festival, etc.)?
Looking for more ways to practice? If you work in the hotel and hospitality industry, practice your English for hotel management, or learn hotel and hospitality vocabulary from movies.
Soon you’ll be able to communicate with any tourist who crosses your path!
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