Essential Spanish 1 (for Spain)

Spanish polite phrases & greetings…

Travelers visiting Spain can learn and practice 50-100 essential Spanish words and phrases here. We’ve posted the first 11 below.
Listen. Record yourself. Play back and compare.
For those who’d like to learn more, we’ll recommend other useful resources. (under development)

Learn and Practice Tips

  • Click the black arrow to hear the Spanish speaker.
  • Click the red dot once to record yourself, click the black square to stop recording.
  • When you click the black arrow again, you’ll hear the speaker and then yourself.
  • Do it several times until you sound like the Spanish speaker.

Why learn these phrases?

Whenever you travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ll encounter situations when these words will be useful. 
Let’s say you’ve ordered your first meal in a restaurant in Spain and as the waiter serves you, you say “Gracias”.
Even if the waiter knows that you don’t speak Spanish, your effort may make him smile.
And beyond “Please” and “Thank you”, basic greetings really are the staple of first words you should know in any country you visit.
We’ll end with asking whether your conversation partner speaks any of the languages you (may) speak. The phrases below are used in Spain. Using them in other Spanish-speaking countries will certainly make you understood.)

The First 11 Spanish Phrases

Walking in the country side…

While there’ll be many opportunities to use basic greetings in Spanish cities, knowing them when you’re outside of a city is even more important.
Being a visitor in Spain will make you much more welcome when you make the effort to greet people in Spanish.

The next 12 Spanish Phrases

In the next installment – Essential Spanish 2 – you’ll learn to ask where the bathroom is, and where the train and metro stations, a bank, a pharmacy etc. are located.

Essential French 1

French polite phrases & greetings…

Travelers visiting French-speaking countries can learn and practice 50-100 essential French words and phrases here. We’ve posted the first 11 below. Listen. Record yourself. Play back and compare.
Over the next few weeks we’ll add more essential words and phrases.
For those who’d like to learn more, we’ll recommend other useful resources. (under development)

Learn and Practice Tips

  • Click the black arrow to hear the French speaker.
  • Click the red dot once to record yourself, click the black square to stop recording.
  • When you click the black arrow again, you’ll hear the native speaker and then yourself.
  • Do it several times until you sound like the French speaker.

Good Things to Know

French is a Romance language (like Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian) and is the official language of France.
In Europe, French is also an official language of Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco, Luxembourg, and of the Aosta Valley in Italy.
French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union.
Because of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the vocabulary of English was influenced by French.
They share in fact many true cognates, but also plenty of “false” ones (i.e. words that look the same but have a different meaning).
So watch out for those. For example, “cent” (refers to a unit of money in English) and “cent” (means “hundred” in French).

Pronunciation Tips

Mastering the sound of French can be a bit of a challenge for English speakers.
A good start is to practice with words you’ll use frequently, like the essential phrases below.
In French, vowels followed by an -m or -n are nasal. You make their sound by releasing air through your nose. Examples are: “non”, “de rien”, “pardon”, “bonjour”, “bonsoir”. (You’ll notice that the letters -m and -n are not pronounced.)
French “r” has no equivalent in English. It is pronounced in your throat and has a slightly scraping sound. You’ll find it in the words “merci”, “pardon”, “de rien”, and “au revoir”.
Note that French “l” is a “clear l”, produced by touching your tongue to your front teeth. Try it with “s’il vous plaît”.
Finally for here: French “-ui”, as in “oui” and “nuit”. Start with the French “u” sound (by saying “ee” and rounding your mouth) and end up saying “u-ee”.

Why learn these Phrases?

Whenever you travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ll encounter situations when these words will be useful. 
Let’s say you’ve ordered your first meal in a restaurant in France and as the waiter serves you, you say “Merci”.
Even if the waiter knows that you don’t speak French, your effort may make him smile.
And beyond “Please” and “Thank you”, basic greetings really are the staple of first words you should know in any country you visit.
And we’ll end with asking whether your conversation partner speaks any of the languages you (may) speak.

The First 11 French Phrases

Walking in the country side…

While there’ll be many opportunities to use basic greetings in French cities, knowing them when you’re outside of a city is even more important.
You’ll certainly notice, that in small towns or in the country side people greet each other.
Being a visitor in a French-speaking country will make you much more welcome, when you make the effort to greet people in French.

The Next 12 French Phrases: Where is…?

In the next installment – Essential French 2- you’ll learn to ask where the bathroom, train and metro station, bank, pharmacy etc. are located.
You’ll certainly have many opportunities to try our “Where…?” questions. Even your smartphone won’t know where the bathroom or the elevator is !

Essential Portuguese 2

Asking “Where is…? questions in Portuguese…

If you’ve already learned and practiced Essential Portuguese 1, you’ll be ready to tackle the next 12 essentials.
These are words and phrases that’ll help you ask “Where …” questions – if you’re looking for the bathroom, a pharmacy, a bus stop, or the subway or railway station, a bank or an ATM.
You may also want to know if the person you’re talking with speaks French, Spanish, Italian, German, or English – maybe one of the other languages you speak.

The Next 12 Phrases: Where is…?

Getting Around Lisbon

Note that Lisbon has an excellent transport system for getting around the city. Figuring out what to take to get where can be part of the fun and adventure of visiting an interesting city like Lisbon.
The Metropolitan (subway, or “Metro”) has 5 lines, one of which takes you to and from the Airport).
A system of trams (“bondes”, called “eléctricos” in Portugal) covers a large area of the city. These historical yellow trams are popular with tourists and navigate through the narrow and often steep streets.
Lisbon also has a large and efficient network of buses (“ônibus”, called “autocarros”) used mostly by locals.
Trains (“trens”, called “comboios”) connect the metropolitan area and Lisbon, and take you to other destinations in the country.
If you are staying only a few days at Lisbon, you may want to use one of the many “Tuc-Tucs” – we used an E-Tuc recently – for a sightseeing tour.
We also found that Uber taxis are quite inexpensive and can be called quite easily to wherever you are – if you have a smart phone.

“Where”-Questions Answered…

Asking “Where”- questions in Portuguese may let the person you are asking assume that you speak Portuguese.
The result will often be an answer and a stream of words you’ll probably not understand.
It would therefore be good to know some basic directional words and phrases in Portuguese – left, right, straight ahead, etc.
You’ll find the next 13 phrases in Essential Portuguese 3.

Essential Icelandic 1

Icelandic polite phrases & greetings…


Our son and his family are planning a trip to Iceland in the summer. He and his wife had been to Iceland previously for a few days and know that English is widely spoken.
Now they want to explore the island with their young children (12, 9, and 5 years) for little longer.
And this time they want to learn and practice the 50-100 essential words and phrases.
Over the next few weeks we’ll add more essential Icelandic words and phrases.

Learn and Practice Tips

  • Click the black arrow to hear the Icelandic speaker.
  • Click the red dot once to record yourself, click the black square to stop recording.
  • When you click the black arrow again, you’ll first hear the speaker and then yourself.
  • Do it several times until you sound close to the Icelandic speaker

Why learn these Phrases?

Whenever you travel to a country whose language you don’t speak, you will encounter situations when these words will be useful. 
Our son and his wife know full well that they won’t be able to have a conversation in Icelandic, but that some basic phrases and greetings will go a long way to break the ice with the Icelanders they’ll meet. (no pun intended!)

The First 11 Icelandic Phrases

What next?

After you have learned and practiced these 11 first basic words and phrases, so can say “Please”,”Thank you” and some greetings in Icelandic, it may be time to learn some typical question words. Look out for Essential Icelandic 2.

Essential Portuguese 1

Portuguese polite phrases & greetings…

Travelers visiting Portugal can learn and practice 50-100 essential words and phrases here. We’ve posted the first 11 below. Listen. Record yourself. Play back and compare.
Over the next few weeks we’ll add more essential Portuguese words and phrases.
For those who’d like to learn more, we’ll recommend other resources. (under development)

Learn and Practice Tips

  • Click the black arrow to hear the Portuguese speaker.
  • Click the red dot once to record yourself, click the black square to stop recording.
  • When you click the black arrow again, you’ll hear the native speaker and then yourself.
  • Do it several times until you sound like the Portuguese speaker

Why learn these Phrases?

Whenever you travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ll encounter situations when these words will be useful.
Let’s say, you’ve ordered your first meal in a restaurant in Portugal and as the waiter serves you, you say “obrigado” (or “obrigada”, if you are a woman).
Even if the waiter knows that you don’t speak Portuguese, your effort may make him smile …
And beyond “Please” and “Thank you”, basic greetings really are the staple of first words you should know in any country you visit.

The First 11 Portuguese Phrases

Walking in the country side…

While there’ll be many opportunities to use basic greetings in Portuguese cities, knowing them when you’re outside of a city is even more important.
Being a visitor in Portugal will make you much more welcome, when you make the effort to greet people in Portuguese.

The Next 12 Portuguese Phrases: Where is…?

In the next installment – Essential Portuguese 2 – you’ll learn to ask where the bathroom, train and metro station, bank, pharmacy etc. are located.
Even if you have a GPS enabled smart phone, you’ll certainly find plenty of opportunities to ask “Where…?” questions!
And don’t forget: asking a polite question can often lead to an interesting conversation …

Essential German 1

German polite phrases & greetings…

Travelers visiting German-speaking countries can learn and practice 50-100 essential German words and phrases here. We’ve posted the first 11. Listen.
Record yourself.
Play back and compare.
Over the next few weeks we’ll add more essential German words and phrases.
For those who’d like to learn more, we’ll recommend other useful resources. (under development)

Learn and Practice Tips

  • Click the black arrow to hear the German speaker.
  • Click the red dot once to record yourself.
  • Click the black square to stop recording.
  • When you click the black arrow again, you’ll hear the speaker and then yourself.
  • Do it several times until you sound like the German speaker.

Why learn these German Phrases?

Whenever you travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ll encounter situations when these words will be useful. 
Let’s say, you’ve ordered your first meal in a restaurant in Munich or Vienna. As the waitress serves you, you simply say “Danke”.
Even if the waitress knows that you don’t speak German, your effort may make her smile.
And beyond “Please” and “Thank you”, basic greetings really are the staple of first words you should know in any country you visit.

Good Things to Know

While it may not be obvious to English speakers: German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language after English.
German and English share lots of vocabulary, so you’ll find many German words that you’ll easily recognize.
But watch out for those with different meanings: e.g. “Gift” in German means poison. So don’t ask for a “Gift shop” when you’re looking for souvenirs!
This post lists 20 German False Friends to watch out for.

Pronunciation Tips

While most German sounds are familiar to English speakers, there are a few that are different.
English does not have the German “umlauts”, the letters ä, ö, and ü.
However, the German “ä” sound is similar to the “a” and “ai” sounds (as in “fare” and “fair”).
To get to “ö”, say “ay” (as in “may”), but round your lips.
To get to “ü”, say “e” (as in “be”), but round your lips.
The German “ch” sound does not exist in English. Still, the Scottish “Loch” (as in “Loch Ness”) gets pretty close to the German pronunciation.
On our gamesforlanguage.com site we have a German Quick Game to Practice “ch”.
Note that the German “l” in “Entschuldigung” is pronounced towards the front of the mouth.
In “Wiedersehen” you’ll hear the “w” more like an English “v” sound, plus the “r” is not guttural, but is produced towards the front of the mouth.
But don’t worry too much about these differences: Just listen and try to imitate the German speaker as well as you can below.

The First 11 German Phrases

Walking in the countryside…

While there’ll be many opportunities to use basic greetings in German-speaking cities, knowing them when you’re outside of a city is even more important.
Being a visitor in a German-speaking country will make you welcome, when you make the effort to greet people in German.
The above basic greetings work also in countries like Austria and Switzerland, although there are many regional variations, even in Germany.
For example, in Bavaria and Austria, you might hear “Grüß Gott”, “Gruetzi” in Switzerland, and “Moin” in northern Germany, instead of “Guten Tag”.
Sometimes it’s best to just echo what you hear.

The next 12 Phrases

Once you have mastered some of the basic words, polite phrases and greetings, it’s time to learn asking some “where…?” questions.
Even with GPS enabled smart phones, you’ll often want to know where the bathroom is or the next ATM, information those phones still don’t have!
The next 12 German phrases you’ll find in Essential German 2.