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No matter where you travel in the world, attempting to speak the local language can go a long way — even if your pronunciation isn’t the best.
A few years ago I stayed at the very buttoned up, elegant Hotel de Crillon in Paris. Though I was fearful of being a bumbling American tourist, irritating the tuxedoed staff with poorly accented attempts at speaking French, I made it a point to initiate every interaction with a few key phrases that I had memorized and practiced ahead of time. I now learn the same key phrases in the language of any country to which I'm travelling.
So, even though I knew the waiter at the hotel’s elegant restaurant spoke flawless English, I'd place my order in French: "Je voudrais un cafe au lait." (I'd like coffee with milk.) To which he'd smile and reply in perfect English: "Would you prefer your milk cold, or steamed?"
When I jumped in a taxi for my meetings across town, the first thing I said to the driver was “Bonjour. Parlez- vous anglais?” The answer was frequently “non”, but making the effort helped break the ice.
My accent was probably awful, but as they say, it’s the thought that counts. The simple fact that I tried to speak French first seemed to endear me to the hotel staff and the many other Parisians with whom I interacted.
Below are the key words or phrases that I always try to learn in the local language before travelling (or you can carry a cheat sheet with you, like the one I used in Paris). Then, you can practice your accent with a native speaker (or a smartphone app like iTranslate).
• Hello -- (Bonjour)
• Goodbye -- (Au revoir)
• Thank you -- (Merci)
• Please -- (S'il vous plait)
• Sorry -- (Desole)
• Yes, no, OK -- (Oui, non, d'accord)
• I would like ... -- (Je voudrais ...)
• Do you speak English? -- (Parlez- vous anglais?)
• How much? -- (Combien?)
Give it a try and you'll see that a little language skill goes a long way toward mending international relations. Bonne chance!
What phrases do you find most useful when travelling to other countries? Have you had any language challenges while abroad? Leave your comments on our Facebook page.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel