Bringing clean water to the world means going all over the world. And when you travel, there are some words you should know in any language and be ready to use at a moment’s notice. Sure, there is always the option to have a translator with you, but even when traveling with native speakers, you may find a need to get basic information quickly. Or, you might just want to say hello!
Here’s a list of some common phrases to know, and just a handful of the languages we’ve found extremely useful in our clean water work. Note: Just like English, these languages can be highly regionalized. You may find different words used in the area you visit. Just listen to the locals and you’ll learn a lot. Otherwise, just ask someone! Most people are happy to help you learn a little of their language.
It’s basic. It’s simple. It’s also something you’ll probably say to every person you encounter. Hello is definitely one of the words you should know in any language spoken in your destination. Saying hello in the native language of the person you’re greeting shows them you at least care enough to learn a little of their language. So, when you greet someone, you can say:
- Spanish: Hola
- Swahili: Habari (Many visitors say “Jambo,” and you may find locals saying it to you. However, it’s basically a joke at this point, because only foreigners really use the word.)
- French: Bonjour
- Haitian Creole: Bonjou
Saying goodbye can be hard, but every visit must come to an end. Use these phrases to bid farewell to your new friends.
- Spanish: Adiós
- Swahili: Kwaheri
- French: Au revoir
- Haitian Creole: Orevwa
Expressing gratitude goes a long way in any language. Here are some simple ways to expressing thanks.
- Spanish: Gracias
- Swahili: Asante
- French: Merci
- Haitian Creole: Mèsi
4. You’re Welcome
As a response to someone else’s thanks, use the common phrases of the language, rather than a literal translation of the words “you’re” and “welcome”.
- Spanish: De nada
- Swahili: Karibu
- French: Je vous en prie or De rien
- Haitian Creole: Pa dekwa
5. I’m Sorry
Any time you’re in a new culture, speaking a new language, and learning new customs, there’s a good chance you’ll make a mis-step, say a wrong word, or accidentally bump someone. Knowing how to say I’m sorry is an essential skill.
- Spanish: Lo siento or Perdón
- Swahili: Pole
- French: Je suis désolé (for male speakers), Je suis désolée (for female speakers) or pardon
- Haitian Creole: Mwen dezole
6. How Much Does It Cost?
Nearly every language has numerous ways to ask the price of something. Here are a few.
- Spanish: ¿Cuánto cuesta?
- Swahili: Kiasi gani?
- French: Combien ça coûte?
- Haitian Creole: Konbyen sa koute?
7. I Am…
The phrase, “I am…” comes in handy when telling someone your name, describing your nationality, or even your purpose for being in their country.
- strong>Spanish: Soy…
- Swahili: Mimi ni…
- French: Je suis…
- Haitian Creole: Mwen se…
No need to violently bob your head with this handy word in your language arsenal.
- Spanish: Sí
- Swahili: Ndio
- French: Oui
- Haitian Creole: Wi
The opposite of yes…obviously. A great word to have at the ready, but use it wisely!
- Spanish: No
- Swahili: Hapana
- French: Non
- Haitian Creole: Non
10. Sorry, I don’t understand
Sometimes people will assume you speak the language, especially if you’ve nailed the pronunciation of a couple of phrases. But if you don’t understand someone, use these phrases to let them know, instead of just nodding your head and pretending to know what they are saying.
- Spanish: Lo siento, no entiendo
- Swahili: Samahani, sielewi
- French: Je suis désolé, je ne comprends pas (for male speakers), Je suis désolée, je ne comprends pas (for female speakers)
- Haitian Creole: Mwen regrèt, mwen pa konprann
There are dozens of other phrases you could learn, but at least try to learn these 10 phrases and words you should know in any language.
Bonus: Phrases For WASH Training
In our Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) presentations, there are some specific phrases we use to educate audiences about the need for proper hand washing to prevent against bacterial illness. These can also be found on our Educational Posters, available in multiple languages with regionalized graphics. We’d like to thank our friends at CAWST for making these posters available.
1. Contaminated water contains microbes that make us sick.
- Spanish: El agua contaminada contiene microbios que nos enferman.
- Swahili: Viini vinavyo tokana na uchafuzi wa maji ndio yanatu sababishia magonjwa.
- French: L’eau contaminée contient des microbes qui nous rendent malades.
- Haitian Creole: Dlo ki kontamine genyen mikwob ki fa fé nou malad.
2. Microbes come from poop.
Yes, this phrase elicits snickers the world over, regardless of language or culture.
- Spanish: Los microbios vienen de pupú.
- Swahili: Viini vingi hutoka kwa mavi.
- French: Les microbes proviennent des excréments humains et animaux.
- Haitian Creole: Mikwob yo soti nan poupou.
3. Stop microbes, protect yourselves.
- Spanish: Detengamos los microbios, protejámonos.
- Swahili: Zuia viini, mjikinge.
- French: Arrêtez les microbes, protégez-vous.
- Haitian Creole: Estope mikwob, se pwotege tét ou.
Don’t Get Lost In Translation
Keep these phrases handy, commit them to memory before your trip, and experience the joy of being able to communicate (even just a little bit) with your local hosts.