Before you visit a country where you don’t speak the language, how do you prepare? Do you study the words for “hello,” “goodbye,” and “excuse me”? Or do you focus on places, like “bathroom” and “hotel”?
Either way, there’s no way to learn every single word you’ll need on your trip—but you’re certain to learn at least one new word while traveling!
Learning something interesting about a new place, including a new vocabulary word, is one of the best parts of traveling. So we asked Duos to share the most memorable vocabulary words they learned across their travels, and their stories didn’t disappoint. From the French word for “scrambled eggs” to the Korean for “collarbone,” these words made an unexpected impact!
“I studied abroad in Italy 14 years ago, and knew ZERO Italian before living there. I quickly learned that prego means so many different things in Italian (Thank you! You’re welcome! Start eating! What did you say?) The first time I attempted to buy tomatoes from a local market, a vendor used prego, which I assumed meant I could take the tomatoes for free. It did not mean this, which became incredibly clear when the woman had her neighboring vendor chase me down to pay for the items.” —Jenelle, Marketing Program Manager
“After 11th grade, I was doing a 2-week homestay program in France with a French family, and one morning, I helped cook breakfast. I made scrambled eggs, something we all recognized but which none of us knew how to say in the other's language. I remember teaching the phrase "scrambled eggs" to my host mom in English, and she even wrote it down on a sticky note! Likewise, the French oeufs brouillés is forever ingrained in my memory because of this story!” —Evan, Operations Engineer
“On the first day of a cross-country bike trip in Korea, I got hit by a moped and broke my collarbone. I had to go to the ER and then wear a brace for months while having regular follow-ups with a doctor. I talked more about collarbones during that period than in the rest of my life combined, so the scientific Korean term for collarbone (쇄골 swaegol, from Chinese 鎖骨 suǒgǔ, literally “lock bone”) is indelibly engraved in my memory.” –Ramsey, Assessment Scientist
“I learned the word majo (charming, attractive) from my 70-year-old host mom in Spain, because we used to watch this Spanish dating show together called First Dates. She would always ask me if I thought a particular person on the show was majo. It was funny because until then I never knew how to say someone was cute like that in Spanish! I started using it all the time—I'd say Él/ella es muy majo/a!” —Sandhya, Marketing Intern
“I spent 5 months volunteering in a children's home in Nepal and learned a lot of words that I won't forget! But the words that still tug at my heartstrings are the ones the kids and I said back and forth to each other at the end of every day: Ramra sapana dekhnus! which roughly translates to "Have good dreams!"” —Skye, Senior Executive Assistant
“While traveling in Peru, I recently learned tupananchiskama, which is “until we meet again” in Quechua. I love this as an alternative to goodbye, especially in those situations when you are traveling, and connecting with people, but you have no idea when you will in fact see them again.” —Shawn, Freelance Operations Manager
“I got bronchitis while in Japan, and at the clinic I learned the word 伝染性 (densen-sei) for "contagious," as in, “It’s not contagious” (伝染性じゃないです。 )” —Tim, Head of Original Content
“I was refreshing my French for a trip to Paris, and got annoyed that I was stuck on lessons about strikes (les grèves). But I practiced the word anyway. Fast forward to my trip, and what's going on in Paris? Massive garbage strikes and train strikes potentially canceling my itinerary in and out of France. At least half my communications with my Airbnb host ended up being about les grèves. I was like, “Touché, Duo.”” —Miranda, Software Engineer
“When I was in Japan, my host mom made me some delicious curry udon. I asked her what ingredients it had, and one of the ingredients she listed was ninniku. I had never heard this word before, but I knew nin sometimes meant "human" (人) and niku (肉) was the word for meat . I was like, “WHAT!? 人肉?” but turns out it means "garlic" (ニンニク). I'll never forget the word for garlic!” —Lu, Software Engineer
“When I studied in Copenhagen I ordered a sandwich med kylling, but pronounced it more like “killing” instead of “cool-ing.” That pronunciation makes a huge difference—my version sounded like I was asking for a kitten sandwich instead of a chicken sandwich! Now, I remember both words, and the slightly different pronunciations, by saying in my head: “Don’t kill a kitten, but chickens are cool.” —Sam, Editorial Director
It’s hard to prepare for a trip! You’ll never know exactly the words you’ll need, and you never know what unexpected words might end up staying with you forever. But there are some basic phrases you can rely on, which is why we partnered with Travel Noire to create a few language cheat sheets you can keep in your back pocket (er, phone) if you’re visiting…