Whenever you travel to a destination where the primary language is not English, it’s a good idea to learn a few phrases and key words in the local language. This can not only help to locate the nearest baño, salle de bain, or badezimmer when nature calls, it can help save your life.
Whether you take a language class, study a phrasebook, use a language app, or don’t bother with any formal preparation, you should bring an index card listing translations of key phrases you might need for getting help in emergency situations. Keep the card handy in a pocket or bag separate from your wallet (in case your wallet is stolen) that you can easily access at all times. You can also capture this information as a screen shot on your phone, but keep in mind that if your phone runs out of batteries or is stolen, you’ll be out of luck. This is one of those cases in which low tech may be better than high tech.
Choosing which words and phrases to include will be specific to your destination, activities, and needs. But no matter where you’re going, there are some standard translated phrases that are important to have on your translation card:
- Leave me alone
- Call the police
- I need the police
- I need a doctor
- I need to go to the hospital
- I had a [car, bike, moped, etc.] accident
- I have been robbed
- I need a taxi
- I need someone who speaks English
Beyond these basic phrases, look at your specific situation and think about other words and sentences that could help you. For example, if you are going sailing on vacation, you might learn some emergency terms associated with boating. Obviously it helps if you practice saying the words in advance, but the card is a good backup for when you’re stressed and not thinking straight. You can also point to the phrase if you’re having trouble pronouncing the word or phrase in a way locals understand.
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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