Easy Phrases to Learn Before Traveling Anywhere

Learning a Language Can Be Simple


The best investment decision I ever made while living in China was getting a language teacher. It took me a whole year living in China before I decide to take the plunge into seriously learning the language. Once I started my lessons, I started to understand random conversations overheard in the street, at work, and in the media much more! However, it took me way too long to realize the value and impact that a language teacher would have on my life here.


So you may ask yourself, how did I get by during my first year living in China? I often wasn’t lucky enough to encounter locals who spoke English and started learning Chinese mainly through listening. Below is a list of the phrases I used the majority of the time to communicate with people who didn’t understand me when I speaking English.


The ideal scenario is that you take some online courses with a language teacher before traveling anywhere. Although, when you are pressed for time these phrases are the best to use and not just for China.


Greetings & Goodbyes

Hello (Nǐ hǎo 你好)

Good morning (Zǎoshang hǎo 早上好), good afternoon (Xiàwǔ hǎo 下午好), and good evening (Wǎnshàng hǎo 晚上好)

Goodbye (Zàijiàn 再见)


When starting any perceivably long interaction

Sorry, my [insert language] is not good.  (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ de zhōngwén bù hǎo 对不起,我的中文不好)

I am American.  (Wǒ shì měiguó rén 我是美国人)


Finding the essentials

Where is the [insert location/object]?  (zài nǎlǐ 在哪里)

Where is the bathroom?  (Cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ 厕所在哪里)

Where is the train?  (Dìtiě zài nǎlǐ 地铁在哪里)


When you’re out shopping

How much is it?  (Duōshǎo qián多少钱)

What is this?  (Zhè shì shénme这是什么)

I don’t need. (wǒ bú yòng 我不用)

I don’t want. (Wǒ búyào 我不要)

Thank you  (Xièxiè 谢谢)


When you want to learn or clarify

How do you say [point to object]?  (Nǐ zěnme shuō你怎么说)

What does [word] mean? (shì shénme yìsi 是什么意思)

I don’t understand. (wǒ tīng bù dǒng 我听不懂)


The last three sentences are the most important phrases and the main ones to remember. If you can learn these three sentences during your stay in a country, you can get a contextual understanding of most conversations within a month’s time.


I would recommend learning these phrases as locals tend to be more open and kinder to foreigners who are trying to learn a language. Additionally, the best way to learn about a culture is by learning the language.

If you want to see an extended version of this article on Youtube (and me trying my best not stumble on both Chinese and Spanish) click on the video below.


Fear Setting vs Goal Setting

I quit my job

As of January 17th, 2020 I will be self-employed. I am leaving my comfort zone to travel the world with my girlfriend. I’m planning on sustaining myself through remote work (copywriting and online teaching to start).
How did I get here? How did I decide to make such a frightening change? I credit fear setting as the main catalyst for this big life-changing shift.
Fear setting is a mental exercised I learned from Tim Ferriss. Instead of defining your goals for 2020, I recommend defining your fears instead. Tim describes the exercise in far greater detail but, simply put:
Fear setting is a mental exercise where you define your fears, how you could repair them if they occurred, and how putting off the decisions that may change your life are affecting you and the people closest to you.
I did the exercise in my journal (pictured below) and it helped to bring clarity to my whole situation. After speaking to my girlfriend about it, it turns out all of my responses to the questions in this exercise are highly accurate.


Once I had established what I was really afraid of and the cost of inaction, it made more sense to take the risk. I have been an English teacher in China for a year and eight months now. The experiences I have had in this country will always stay with me and I will be forever grateful for what I’ve learned here. However, it is time for me to continue my journey around the world and challenge myself to grow more.
My suggestion to anyone reading this is to sit down after reading Tim Ferriss’s blog post or watching his TED talk and do this exercise. If your life seems boring or unfulfilling, it most likely feels that way because you are postponing an important decision out of fear. Do not be afraid of failure.
After doing this exercise, you’ll realize that the failure you fear isn’t fatal and even if you fail you can always start from square one and try again.
I have no idea if this new change in my career will be a successful one. What I do know is that if I don’t try to do this now, I will end up losing out on a big opportunity to see the world and growing my writing skills. Most of the people I admire have done something similar to this. It would be a great disservice to myself if I don’t try taking travel more seriously.

Below is a quote from author Sebastian Junger that I often revisit — found through one of Tim Ferriss’s books. It sums up why fear setting is so useful.

School programs you to always succeed which makes you safe. You have to learn how to fail in order to learn.”

— Quote from Sebastian Junger, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss, page 422

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