All you really need to settle down abroad is four phrases. I would have given you five to make a regular-format list, but let’s not be superfluous. This is the ultimate list of the vocabulary you really need:
1. I don’t need. Trying to refuse the receipt at any kind of store check-out more often than not seems to turn into a long and confusing debate when you don’t speak the cashier’s language. If you ever lived abroad, you know exactly what I am talking about—and a quick bab.la search can remove this time-wasting source of irritation for good.
2. I don’t speak. Phrase books and text books alike are quick to teach you how to say “I speak”—but for some pedagogic/motivational reason, they seem to think you need to be kept in the dark about the opposite statement until you’ve advanced enough to negate it yourself. They are wrong.
3. I am looking for. Phrases such as “Where is the post office?” and “How do I get to the central station?” are not what you really need to learn when going abroad. As any expat soon discovers, the essential construction is one that you can use in the grocery store. Countries’ variations in both cultural notions and legal regulation often mess with your inner supermarket compass by dictating whether you will find chocolates at the check-out or in a back aisle, and whether tampons will be by the shampoos or by the diapers. (After four years of living in different countries, I could write a whole article on grocery store il-/logic alone.)
4. Wi-fi. Password. If you happen to know the word for “please”, by all means, add it at the end here. If not, grunting these two words like a starving cave-man will convey the urgency that is often associated with this request. If you think looking up “wi-fi” is unnecessary because it is an international word—you are naïve and you will pay the price. Even in countries where “wi-fi” is the word used, knowing whether to pronounce the vowel sounds as “ee” or as “ai” is often essential.
Of course, as a step two us lexiophilers and bab.la team members are all for the all-in language learning. We love languages—and we know you do, too! That’s why we’re hosting the Top 100 Language Lovers 2013 competition—check it out if you haven’t nominated your favorites yet.