The Beginner’s Guide to Common Conversational Phrases in 5 Languages

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.

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)
FrenchComment allez-vous ? (formal) / Comment ça va ? (informal)
PortugueseComo você está?
GermanWie 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.

SpanishEstoy bien
FrenchÇa va bien
PortugueseTudo bem
GermanMir 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.

SpanishMe llamo... / Mi nombre es...
FrenchJe m'appelle...
PortugueseO meu nome é...
GermanMein 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)
FrenchComment vous appelez-vous ? (formal) / Comment t'appelles-tu ? (informal)
PortugueseQual é o seu nome?
GermanWie 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.

SpanishUn placer conocerle (formal) / Un placer conocerte (informal)
FrenchEnchanté / Enchantée (masculine/feminine)
PortuguesePrazer em conhecê-lo
GermanNett, 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.

SpanishYo soy de...
FrenchJe viens de...
PortugueseEu sou de...
GermanIch 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)
FrenchD'où êtes-vous ? (formal) / D'où es-tu ? (informal)
PortugueseDe onde você é?
GermanWo 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?
FrenchQuelle heure est-t-il ?
PortugueseQue horas são?
GermanWie 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…?
FrenchOù se trouve... ?
PortugueseOnde é...?
GermanWo 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...?
FrenchComment puis-je arriver à... ?
PortugueseComo faço para chegar até...?
GermanWie 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.

SpanishIzquierda, Derecha, Derecho
FrenchGauche, Droite, Tout droit
PortugueseEsquerda, Direita, Reta
GermanLinks, Rechts, Geradeaus
Mandarin左, 右, 直 (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.

SpanishYo estoy perdido / Yo estoy perdida (masculine/feminine)
FrenchJe suis perdu / Je suis perdue (masculine/feminine)
PortugueseEstou perdido / Estou perdida (masculine/feminine)
GermanIch 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.

SpanishPerdóneme (formal) / Perdóname (informal)
FrenchExcusez-moi (formal) / Excuse-moi (informal)
GermanVerzeihung (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.

SpanishLo siento, pero no entiendo
FrenchPardon, je ne comprends pas
PortugueseDesculpe, eu não entendo
GermanVerzeihung, 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?
FrenchPouvez-vous parler plus lentement s'il vous plaît ? (formal) / Peux-tu parler plus lentement s'il te plaît ? (informal)
PortugueseVocê pode falar mais devagar, por favor?
GermanKönnten 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.

SpanishYo quisiera...
FrenchJe voudrais...
PortugueseEu gostaria...
GermanIch 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.

SpanishSoy alérgico a.../Soy alérgica a... (masculine/feminine)
FrenchJe suis allergique à...
PortugueseSou alérgico a.../Sou alérgica a... (masculine/feminine)
GermanIch 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.

PortugueseObrigado/Obrigada (masculine/feminine)
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!

FrenchAu revoir
GermanAuf 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!

And One More Thing...

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