Key phrases to know in your favourite countries

Apr 17, 2024

There are 195 countries and independent nations recognised by the United Nations and about 7000 languages spoken across the globe. While English is one of the most widely spoken languages by number of native speakers and as a second language, according to BBC, around 75% of the world's population don't speak a word of English. So, whether you're braving it on your own, travelling with a guided tour, or exploring a port of call on your cruise holiday, if you're in a country where English is not the main language spoken, you'll want to learn some simple, key phrases before you get there.

Of course, there are some steps you can take to make sure you’re prepared when travelling around a non-English speaking country. For instance, taking a simple phrase book along can be really useful, or you could use a translation app on your phone (like Google Translate, iTranslate or WayGo). There’s also another really handy invention: a device that translates in real time, which is like travelling with your very own translator by your side. It will also help to write things down, especially important addresses, if the local language uses characters or a different alphabet. People are generally willing to help so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you get stuck.

But when all else fails, pull out your trusty list of key phrases (which you can either memorise, or screenshot for easy reference). We've put together a list of ten phrases you'll want to learn for your travels. Click on the languages below for a crash course prior to your holiday.

If we missed out a country you're about to visit and want some tips on the languages used there, drop us a comment and we'll add them to our list. 

Mandarin (Chinese) | JapaneseVietnamese| Norwegian

Mandarin (Chinese)

There are over 200 languages spoken across China, but Mandarin is the country's official language with more than 80% of the population speaking it. Mandarin is also one of the most spoken languages in the world with over 1 billion speakers so it's a not a bad idea to pick up a few key phrases, especially if you're planning on visiting China.

The two other languages that are widely spoken in China are Cantonese and Shanghainese. The former is used primarily in the southern provinces like Guangdong and Guangxi. It is also the most commonly spoken language in Hong Kong. The latter, Shanghainese, is a dialect and primarily spoken in Shanghai and the surrounding areas. 

Don't be surprised to find two different ways to write Chinese-traditional and simplified. In China, Malaysia and Singapore, Simplified Chinese characters are used, but you'll see Traditional Chinese characters used on signage in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Percentage of people who speak English: This depends on the region and demographics. English is taught in the Chinese school system for many years, in fact, China has the most English learners in the world. Approximately 300-400 million people in China are actively learning English. However, only about 5% of the population in mainland China can converse in English. However, in Hong Kong, a vast majority of the population is bilingual, so about 50% of the population speak English as well. 

Tips on getting around: Train journeys tend to take you on the more scenic route, plus they’re an efficient alternative to the nation’s busy roads (particularly if you choose China’s super speedy bullet trains). 

As promised, here are the top ten phrases that will go a long way on your travels in China and even Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. 

Do you speak English? Nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma? (你会说英语吗)

I do not understand. Wǒ bù míng bái. (我不明白)

How much does this cost? Zhè xū yào duō shǎo qián? (这需要多少钱)

What do you recommend? Nǐn yǒu shé me  jiè shào? (您有什么介绍)

How do I access the internet? Wǒ gāi rú hé shàng wǎng? (我该如何上网)

I need a doctor. Wǒ xū yào kān yī shēng. (我需要看医生)

Where is the bathroom? Cè suǒ zài nǎ lǐ? (廁所在哪里)

Where is the hospital? Yī yuàn zài nǎ lǐ? (医院在哪里)

Where is the Australian embassy? Ào dà lì yà dà shì guǎn zài nǎ lǐ? (澳大利亚大使馆在哪里)

Please write that down for me. Qǐng bāng wǒ xiě xià lái. (请帮我写下来)

Here are some frequently used words or phrases you can add to the list as well. 

Yes – Shì de (是的)

No – Bù shì (不是)

Thank you – Xiè xiè (谢谢)

I'm sorry – Duì bù qǐ (对不起)

Hello – Nǐ hǎo (你好)

You’re welcome – Bù kè qì (不客气)



Japanese is Japan's national language and spoken by most of its citizens and residents. There are still a few lesser-spoken languages across the islands like Ainu (an indigenous language used in Hokkaido) or Ryukyuan (a group of dialects native to Okinawa Prefecture and parts of Kagoshima). Ainu is used by the Ainu ethnic group living there, but less than 10 speak the language and all of them are above the age of 80. In fact, more people speaking English, Chinese and Korean than the Ainu language. This is why UNESCO has classified Ainu and the Ryukyuan languages critically endangered.

However, to get around more easily, it's also good to understand the way Japanese is written. While it consists of three different scripts - Kanji (Chinese characters - 漢字,) Hiragana (phonetic syllabary - ひらがな,) and Katakana (another phonetic syllabary - カタカナ or 片仮名,) all three are used together. Recognising the characters can help you navigate their train routes.

Percentage of people who speak English: 20-30%. Japanese students are taught English in school from the first year of junior high school and continues at least until the third year of high school, but proficiency depends on the individual's interest in the language. In denser urban areas like Tokyo, you’re more likely to meet English speaking Japanese but the further you go out into the country, the less likely you are to meet people who can speak English.

Tips on getting around: The quickest way to travel is to get a rail pass and catch the train – you’ll also get the most scenic views this way as Japan is also famous for their luxury trains. The most exclusive being the Seven Stars in Kyushu and the modern chic Shiki-Shima. 

Here are the top ten Japanese phrases to learn to help getting around Japan easier.

Do you speak English? Anata wa eigo o hanashimasu ka? (あなたは英語を話しますか)

I do not understand. Rikaidekinai. (理解できない)

How much does this cost? Kono hiyō wa ikuradesu ka? (この費用はいくらですか)

What do you recommend? Osusume wa nanidesu ka? (おすすめは何ですか)

How do I access the internet? Intānetto ni akusesu suru ni wa dōsureba yoidesu ka? (インターネットにアクセスするにはどうすればよいですか)

I need a doctor. Watashi wa isha o hitsuyō to suru. (私は医者を必要とする)

Where is the bathroom? Keshō-shitsu wa dokodesu ka? (化粧室はどこですか)

Where is the hospital? Byōin wa dokodesu ka? (病院はどこですか)

Where is the Australian embassy? Ōsutoraria taishikan wa doko ni arimasu ka? (オーストラリア大使館はどこにありますか)

Please write that down for me. Sore o kakitomete oite kudasai. (それを書き留めておいてください)

These are other frequently used words or phrases you can pick up as well.

Yes – Hai (はい) 

No – Iie (いいえ) 

Thank you – Arigatou Gozai Masu (ありがとうございます) 

I'm sorry – Gomennasai (ごめんなさい) 

Thank you for the food - Gochisousama Deshi Ta(ごちそうさまでした)

I don’t need it – Irimasen(いりません)

Excuse me – Sumimasen(すみません)

I don’t understand – Wakarimasen(わかりません)



Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam but with a total of 54 ethnic groups scattered throughout the S-shaped country, there is a number of dialect languages used in Vietnam. The primary foreign languages taught in Vietnamese schools today include English, French, Chinese, and Russian.  Because of rising number of tourists who visit the country, English is the most common second language and is widely taught to the younger generation. However, French is more commonly spoken by the older generation, since Vietnam was part of the French Indochina colony. 

Percentage of people who speak English: Between 20% to 58% of the popular speak English, depending on geographics. Places frequented by tourists like Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Ho Chi Minh City will have a larger number of people who can communicate in English. 

Tips on getting around: If you’re planning to travel long distances, planes and trains are your best bet. A sleeper bus is a cheaper alternative if you’re not in a rush and will connect you with local life. You can also check out our travel guidebook on Vietnam for more tips.

We've translated some common phrases that might be useful to learn for your holiday in Vietnam:

Do you speak English? Bạn có nói tiếng Anh không?

I do not understand. Tôi không hiểu.

How much does this cost? Cái này giá bao nhiêu?

What do you recommend? Bạn đề xuất món gì?

How do I access the internet? Làm cách nào để truy cập internet?

I need a doctor. Tôi cần bác sĩ.

Where is the bathroom? Nhà vệ sinh ở đâu?

Where is the hospital? Bệnh viện ở đâu?

Where is the Australian embassy? Đại sứ quán Úc ở đâu?

Please write that down for me. Hãy viết điều đó ra cho tôi.

Bonus words you can use during your travels in Vietnam:

Yes – Đúng


Excuse me – Xin lỗi

I don’t understand – Tôi không hiểu

Thank you for the food –  Cảm ơn vì bữa ăn



Norwegian is one of the official languages of Norway and 95% of the population speak it as a first language. Sámi, an indigenous minority language, is the second official language in Norway. Sámi languages are spoken in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia but as there are only between 25,000 to 35,000 people who speak it, it is included in the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s languages in danger. The Kven language, often regarded as a dialect of Finnish, is spoken by people in northeastern Norway. You'll find it is spoken mainly in the Finnmark country and Tromsø municipality of Norway.

Norwegian and English share a similar origin and history. Both are Germanic languages with similar vocabulary, and to some extent, grammar and pronunciation. For example, clock vs. klokke, apple vs. eple, winter vs. vinter, and music vs. musikk. Regardless, most of the menus, travel itineraries, and even some signs are bilingual in the large tourist locations.

Percentage of people who speak English: As English is a mandatory subject school starting in the first grade of elementary school, roughly at age 6, up to 90% of Norwegians speak English as a second language. About 9 in 10 Norwegian people speak English, a rate similar to other Scandinavian countries. The top English-speaking cities in Norway include Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger, but like in most countries, rural areas in Norway might have a larger share of the population that doesn’t speak English or speaks English at a basic level. 

Tips on getting around: Trains, boats, roads, and a network of large and small airports are all making it relatively practical to see any part of the country, but our opinion, ferries and boats offer the prettiest views. Planes are your next best option, given that the challenging landscape can make road travel quite tricky. Car hire and fuel is expensive, and with the cost of ferries and tolls, it's best to use other modes of transportation, but if you choose to self-drive, our deal expert recommends trying their gas station bacon pølse, a bacon-wrapped hot dog cooked to perfection. 

While you won't find much challenge communicating with Norwegians in English, learning a phrase or two would certainly help you make an impression. 

Do you speak English? Snakker du engelsk?

I do not understand. Jeg forstår ikke.

How much does this cost? Hvor mye koster denne?

What do you recommend? Hva anbefaler du?

How do I access the internet? Hvordan får jeg tilgang til internett?

I need a doctor. Jeg trenger en lege.

Where is the bathroom? Hvor er toalettet?

Where is the hospital? Hvor er sykehuset?

Where is the Australian embassy? Hvor er den australske ambassaden?

Please write that down for me. Skriv det ned for meg.

Check out these bonus words you can use in Norway.

Yes – Ja

No – Nei

Thank you – Takk or tusen takk

I'm sorry – Beklager

Please – Vær så snill

Beer – Øl

Right – Høyre

Left – Venstre


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