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Local languages

One of the simplest ways to help you get on friendly terms with local inhabitants is to speak their own language.

While it’s unlikely you’ll have time to become fluent before you travel, even a few words can go a long way. Here are some tips on how best to pick up the local lingo.

Stick to the basics

Keep it simple at first by learning greetings, please and thank you. After that, learn some important phrases you’ll find useful on your day-to-day travels, such as asking for directions, for the menu and bill, or how much things cost.

Be brave and have a go at using what you’ve learned, even if you feel like you are getting it wrong. Approaching people in their own language, no matter how mangled, is always likely to get you a better reaction than assuming they know English.

Phrase books

Phrase books are cheap, durable and portable. They are widely available for every country, so you can learn the right regional variations of your selected phrases, which is especially important when there are several national languages, and many regional dialects.

Tried and tested phrase books are produced by Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Rough Guide and Collins. Have a flick through these at your local bookshop to find the one you’ll feel most comfortable using.

Phone apps

Technology is becoming more practical and adaptive to the needs of the traveller. Here’s a selection of some of the best smart phone apps out there:

SayHi Translate

SayHi Translate has accurate speech recognition in more than 40 languages, and has been number one in Apple’s App Store. The app combines language and dialect to give you the best translation for the particular area you’re travelling in.


Languages, also in the App Store, include 12 full-language dictionaries. A very useful feature is the app’s offline mode, so you don’t need an internet connection to use the translator.


iTranslate provides a dictionary, text-to-speech, Romanization (converting unfamiliar characters into English letters) and voice recognition for more than 70 languages. It’s available for both Apple and Android phones and tablets.

Fodors Travel Phrases

Fodors Travel Phrases app gives you access to 400 essential phrases in 22 different languages. You can browse by category and listen to a native speaker’s pronunciation of the phrase. It also has an offline mode.

Word Lens

Word Lens uses the camera in your smartphone or tablet to scan and translate text, for example on signs or menus. It’s currently available to translate from five European languages into English and doesn’t need an internet connection.

Further information

For more guidance on the cultural aspects of travel, see our sections on cultural tips, local customs and local religions.

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The content of these pages are for general information only, They do not constitute advice and must not be acted or relied on as being so.