The 10 Most Important Things To Know In Any Language

avatarMille Larsen
5 mins read

With a little bit of creativity it is possible say a lot with just a little knowledge. You just need the basics. If you have a solid understanding of these 10 concepts, you can survive on your own and figure out the rest as you go.

1. Greetings

For starters, you should know the standard hellos and goodbyes. All around the world, this is how conversations begin. And being able to greet someone in their language will at least make them more willing to put up with your improvisational sign language as you try to explain what you want to say.

  • Hello.
  • Good morning.
  • Good afternoon.
  • Good evening.
  • Good night.
  • Goodbye.
  • See you later.
  • Until next time.

2. Common courtesies

In addition to greetings, knowing the basic phrases of courtesy will reveal that you are a polite person, even as you point and grunt your way through the rest of your interaction.

  • Excuse me.
  • Please.
  • Thank you.
  • You're welcome.
  • No problem.
  • Nothing to it.
  • Enjoy your meal.
  • To your health.

3. Question words

Knowing question words makes you dangerous. At this point, you are capable of asking horrible, grammatically ridiculous questions, and still getting answers! Knowing greetings, courtesies, and questions, you can get help, ask directions, even buy things!

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • Whose?
  • How?
  • How much?

4. Necessities

With just the question words you can ask for things by name, but if you know the names of basic necessities, you can get exactly the help you need.

  • A restroom.
  • A hotel.
  • A bank.
  • Food.
  • The bus stop.
  • The metro.
  • The police.
  • The hospital.

5. Numbers

If you know numbers, you can haggle prices, find out conversion rates, write down a phone number or address, and find out how far away it is.

  • Basic numbers 1-100.
  • Names of currencies.
  • Distances. (one block, one stop, one mile, etc.)
  • Conversion rates

6. Directions

Knowing the words for directions will not only help you if you are lost, but it also makes it easier to figure out if an elevator is going up or down, if a door is an entrance or exit. You can use direction words to point out an item you want to buy, or to follow along with a tour guide.

  • North, south, east, west.
  • Up, above, down, below, left, right.
  • In, out, entry, exit.
  • Forward, front, straight, back, behind.
  • Here, there, near, far.
  • This, that.

7. Basic action verbs

Looking backward on this list, there is an incredible amount of things you can do in a foreign language without ever learning verbs. But with just the following handful of verbs you can not only say a whole lot more, but also refine the things you were saying before.

  • Walk, run, drive, fly.
  • Come, go, bring, take, get, put.
  • Can, should, want, need, have.
  • Eat, drink, sleep, read.
  • Watch, see, hear, listen, say, tell.
  • Is. (to be)

8. Comparatives

Once you're learning comparatives, you're becoming conversational. You can now engage in a basic exchange of opinions with someone.

  • Good, bad, better, worse.
  • Warm, cold.
  • Large, small.
  • High, low.
  • More, less.

9. Body parts.

Knowledge of body parts is good for following instructions like "keep your hands inside the bus", but it's absolutely necessary if you should get sick or be injured. You need to be able to tell a pharmacist or doctor what hurts.

  • Head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth.
  • Arms, hands, fingers.
  • Legs, feet, toes.
  • Back.
  • Stomach.
  • Pain, hurt.

10. Vital information

Last, but definitely not least, you need to know how to tell a waiter if you're allergic to peanuts, or how to tell a doctor if you're diabetic or taking a heart medication.

  • Allergies.
  • Medical conditions.
  • Prescriptions.

And that's it!

Most everything else can be described with awkward traveler's sign language – the pointing and drawing and grunting game of the world. The most important thing is to have a solid understanding of the basics. It is better to know less but know it 100% than to know a lot while being uncertain about it.

Rather than trying to get through n chapters in a lessong book, or marking off a deck of flashcards, you're much better off knowing you have no deficiencies in the vocabulary above. Be sure that you're using these words correctly, and that you're understanding them correctly when you hear them. Everything else will follow.