I may be traveling to France and Spain for business purposes, and I'm likely to mix some pleasure with that business trip.

I do not expect many language issues during the business conversations.

However, when I go out sightseeing or touring the countryside, I'm sure I will encounter the language barrier as I do not speak French or Spanish.

I do not think I have enough time to learn much more than a few basic phrases.

What translation tools could I use to communicate with the locals when traveling through the French and Spanish countrysides?

  • 9
    One tip: Showing respect for the local language will always ingratiate you with the locals but if you are in Barcelona Spanish is not the local language and the locals may feel more antipathy towards it than towards English. Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 13:09
  • 1
    @hippietrail I'm spanish and what you call "respect" for language in Catalonia, in fact is "disrespect" they have for the Spanish language they also have. But that's a very long talk to write it on a comment. :)
    – SERPRO
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 13:50
  • 5
    In france it is incredibly important to ALWAYS SAY BONJOUR. it's difficult to fully explain this social-linguistic situation, but, it's that simple - always say Bonjour. To everyone, all the time, no matter what! As long as you do that you'll have a great time.
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 10:35
  • The only people to whom travelers must speak to are immigration officers, and those usually speak English. Everyone else can be talked to in hand signs, pretty much in any corner of the world :)
    – JonathanReez
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:30

6 Answers 6


I'd suggest a few things:

  • Learn to how to say "Do you speak english?" - "Parlez-Vous Anglais?" and "¿Hablas inglés?"
  • Learn some basic pronunciations in the two languages (they may have the same letters but they don't always sound the same!). Reading through a guide then listening to some examples online should help with this
  • Bring a common phrase book, and a pocket dictionary
  • Learn Hello, Please, Thank You etc

Then, when you're there:

  • Generally start with the few words of French/Spanish you know, then switch to the phrase book
  • As soon as you get stuck, ask (in their language!) if they speak English, see above
  • At that point, if they do you can usually switch to English and they'll appreciate you having tried
  • If not, point to items in the phrase book
  • And get the dictionary out for any problem words (most commonly I find are dishes and ingredients in restaurants)

And finally, enjoy your trip!

  • 15
    One tip: never say "Parlez-Vous Anglais?" or "¿Hablas inglés?" as your first question unless you have a pressing need to leave out civilities. I find locals invariably friendlier and more open if I start with hello and a broken attempt to say something in their language before asking about their English, by which time they've usually switched to English if they are able. In the tourist industry people speak English but people who live in touristy areas get fed up with ignorant tourists as the season goes on. Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 13:07
  • I agree, definitely make a start with a few basic words in the local language, and/or out of the phrase book, and only ask about English if that doesn't work (and assuming they haven't switched already!)
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 13:39

I think it's relatively easy to find en English-speaker in France or in Spain. According to this table, 36% and 27% speaks English. It seems to me sometimes they just don't like to use English because they find it disrespectful that you don't use their language. According to my experience if you learn a few phrases and start the conversation using French or Spanish you can switch to English after a few sentences.

Of course a travel guide or a dictionary may help there.

  • 3
    I personally found this especially true in Paris (not to be derogatory, they just like their language). For the most part, rural France was easier for me to get around without any French.
    – Beaker
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 9:34
  • 1
    @Ginamin: I found the exact opposite: More people in the big cities of France and Spain spoke English (or were willing to speak English) than in rural France and Spain.
    – ESultanik
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 12:26
  • IME it's the opposite. The French may be able to speak English, but won't as much. In Spain, they don't have as good English. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 11:26
  • As @RoryMcCann pointed, in Spain we usually don't have enough english level to do a proper conversation, though many people are able to say some english words that can help in many cases.. My tip is for you to bring some basic sentences in their language in case you hear those you can try to answer with your own words or maybe gestures.. :)
    – SERPRO
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 14:56

(As I am French, I speak for France only)

Young people learn at least one foreign language at school, usually english. They should at least understand some short sentences if said slowly. Be kind with their strong french accent.

In Toulouse where I live you can find a big student population, including foreign students who may speak decent english. You can also find German and British people working for a big plane builder (not Boeing) and able to have a conversation in english.

Don't expect administrative employees and older people to understand english.

Anyway, most people are helpful and if english doesn't work, non-verbal communication always does.

  • It's also important to remember that, as is the case for the vast majority of people around the globe, you understand more of a foreign language than you are able to speak it clearly. It goes both ways, so oftentimes, both speakers can user their native language. "Dumbing down" the vocabulary and the grammar (within reason of course), and making effort to speak slowly help a lot, I found, and using facial expressions and hand gestures conveys plenty of information as well.
    – Patrice M.
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 15:36

If is in a big city or tourist zone in Spain, you can try to speak English, because the most of the people understand it. Out of tourist places and with older people is harder, but no impossible to find somebody that understand english.

A clue is, for the people that understands only a little of Spanish (but not much), if you don't have any dictionary or you are asking for a place, you can try to write it in a paper.

For spanish people, is easier read in english that listen english (the pronunciation is the hardest part to learn english for the spanish people).


I got a Berlittz pocket sized French & Spanish books for when I was recently in France & Spain. There are a few phrases that are helpful to know. Aswell as Hello/thank you, the following are helpful:

  • "Good"/"Very good". (complimenting waitors/the restuarant make the waiter/etc. like you)
  • "Do you have a table for X please?"
  • "The bill please"
  • "Do you have a room for X for tonight?"
  • Especially if it's your first time in the country, why not ask a local colleague to show you around ? Most people, time permitting, would be happy to show you around their country (whether native or adopted) and can quickly help you out with the basics of going around and ordering basic necessities, by showing you and letting you practice with a safety net.
    – Patrice M.
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 15:41
  • Otra caña, por favor! Very important in Spain ;)
    – mrbolichi
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 9:54

Your question is very wide, and isn't very specific. What will you search for? How long you will stay in countries? What are you going to do there?

Even if you don't know the language people use, you can use some handy methods of conversation - gestures, images and so on. I don't recommend you to use some books or something - you definitely wouldn't understand what other people say, and there will be some misunderstanding.

I think you should get the travel-guide books for your journey, both in your language and local language - just for ease the searching during sightseeing.

  • Why down vote? Comment, please.
    – VMAtm
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 11:01
  • 4
    This is very generic and better off as a comment on the question. :) Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 18:23
  • 2
    Sorry I don't think this is a real answer and should've been a comment though I agree with the point about the question being too broad. Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 13:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .