Arts & Culture Travel Etiquette

5 Magic Words and Phrases to Know in Every Language

Thanks to improved translation apps and the growing prevalence of English speakers around the globe, it’s easier than ever for English-speaking travelers to get by without cramming a new language into their heads before every trip. But it’s still a good idea to memorize a few basic words and phrases in the local language to help smooth the way for yourself and to show courtesy to the people you meet.

Below are translations of the five best words to know in a new language, translated into 15 widely spoken languages. When available, I’ve included links to YouTube videos or audio files so you can hear how each term is pronounced.


If you can say nothing else, you’ll at least want to be able to greet locals in their native language. While there are multiple ways to say “hello” in most languages, I’ve chosen simple, formal options that are appropriate to use in common travel situations such as meeting strangers or entering a shop.

Thank You

Whether someone brings you a meal or helps you with directions, they’ll always appreciate it if you thank them in their language.


Would you like to try that delicious new food your host is offering? But of course! Here’s how to say “yes.”

  • Arabic: na’am
  • Bengali: han
  • French: oui
  • German: ja
  • Greek: ne
  • Hindi: haan
  • Italian: si
  • Japanese: hai
  • Malay: ya
  • Mandarin: shi or hao
  • Portuguese: sim
  • Russian: da
  • Spanish: si
  • Thai: chai (note that this technically means “correct” and is not interchangeable with “yes”)
  • Turkish: evet


Don’t want to buy that rug or hire that pushy guide? Here’s how to say “no.”

Do You Speak English?

Once you’ve exhausted your vocabulary in the local language and need to find someone who can understand you, this is your go-to phrase.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

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