Phrasebooks are works compiling a list of useful words and phrases in a foreign language alongside their translation, used mainly by people travelling abroad. They also provide useful information about the language and culture of the destination area, in order to allow the reader to get by easier in situations that could arise in the destination.
Wikivoyage has dozens of digital phrasebooks that you can use on the internet, download to your favourite device for offline use, or print onto paper.
Learning a language can take months or years, but real-world travel plans for leisure or business often don't allow you the necessary time. That's where a phrasebook becomes useful.
Phrasebooks are not grammar guides, dictionaries nor language courses. Rather, they are an aid to help you understand and say specific words and phrases, with a focus on everyday conversation and on scenarios that typically occur during a temporary stay in another country or region. They are usually divided into thematic chapters according to the purpose of communication, such as how to greet someone, how to ask for food, how to buy something, and how to ask for help. Sometimes they can be accompanied by a digital support with audio files to practise pronunciation and ease listening comprehension.
Most phrasebooks include an explanatory guide to the language's writing system, phonology and pronunciation. Some also touch on aspects of the native culture, or include an elementary grammar guide or reference index. A good phrasebook will thus allow you to deal with most common situations that arise during temporary travel, without needing to have an interpreter escort you. Electronic phrasebooks have the additional virtue of being as light and easy to carry as your device.
But if your reason for travelling is for longer-term purposes such as studying, working or retiring abroad, your phrasebook will only get you so far. In these situations, it is best to properly learn the local language.
Choosing a suitable phrasebook
First, you have to determine which language you'll be focusing on for your trip; check out the 'Talk' section of the article for your destination country or region. Most likely, the language you'll want a phrasebook for will be the local language (or a variety of that language) spoken in the destination. However, some places have a dominant language that may be non-native or with colonial origins that a large percentage of the local population understands as a second language. Examples of these include Hindi in India, or French in parts of Africa. Such languages are often easier to find complete and useful phrasebooks for, whereas the true native language may be considered "obscure" in your home country. Yet, for a more authentic travel experience, to truly understand the local culture, or if you simply want to leave your comfort zone, it may be better to choose a phrasebook for the local language.
Once you’ve chosen a language, you have to find the most suitable storage format for your phrasebook, according to your trip and destination.
If the place you’re visiting is somewhere a high-speed internet connection is practically taken for granted, it is a good idea to choose the digital format. As long as you have internet, you can access an unlimited number of phrasebooks you want through the device and keep them updated. By contrast, paper books are static and can only become outdated. Digital phrasebooks can even include audio files to practise your listening and speaking skills.
When travelling in countries where the connection is poor, you can still use your device, although it's advisable to download an offline copy of the target phrasebook beforehand. The Kiwix project, a static version of Wikivoyage that can be used offline, is one option.
In very remote destinations without reliable access to power sockets, it is better to bring a phrasebook in paperback format or to print out your digital phrasebook ahead of time.
Practice makes perfect
Before you even leave home, it’s a great idea to read through the phrasebook of your target language. This will allow you to become familiar with its contents and layout, to memorise the most important phrases and to start practising and assimilating the pronunciation, if possible with the help of an audiobook. You’ll also get advance warning of what useful words and phrases are not in the phrasebook, while you still have the opportunity to source additional material.
The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to learn at an effective pace. It’s much easier to memorise five new words a day for a month than it is to learn a whole phrasebook while sitting in departures. The more prepared you are before you arrive in your destination, the lower the chances you’ll find yourself desperately rummaging through your phrasebook while a local impatiently waits for you to say something intelligible.
The following sections list the foreign language phrasebooks that are available on Wikivoyage. For more general information on language and travel, including tips for where few locals speak your language, see Talk.
A few languages are very widely used throughout the world and are listed first. All other languages are listed under the continent where they are most closely identified. If you are not sure which languages are spoken in the country you plan to visit, see the "Talk" section of the article for that country.
Phrasebooks are coded according to their level of completion and overall quality as outlined at Phrasebook status:
- Afan Oromo
- Arabic (Modern Standard)
- Bambara (or Bamanankan)
- Chadian Arabic
- Egyptian Arabic
- Guinea-Bissau Creole
- Moroccan Arabic
- Nyanja (or Chewa)
- Seychellois Creole
- Swahili (or Kiswahili)
- Tashelhit (or Shilha)
- Tunisian Arabic
- Amdo Tibetan
- Arabic (Modern Standard)
- Akeanon (or Aklanon)
- Bengali (or Bangla)
- Bikol (or Central Bikol)
- Capiznon (or Capiceño)
- Cebuano (or Bisayan)
- Chinese (Mandarin)
- Filipino (or Tagalog)
- Hiligaynon (or Ilonggo)
- Ilocano (or Iluko)
- Jordanian Arabic
- Khmer (or Cambodian)
- Lebanese Arabic
- Manado Malay (or Minahasa Malay)
- Manipuri (or Meitei)
- Minnan (or Hokkien/Taiwanese)
- Odia (or Oriya)
- Osing (or Using)
- Pandan Bikol (or Northern Catanduanes Bikol)
- Paser (or Pasir)
- Pashto (or Pushtu)
- Rinconada (or Rinconada Bikol)
- Shanghainese (or Wu Chinese)
- Surabaya Javanese
- Tausug (or Bahasa Sūg)
- Teochew (or Chiuchao)
- Thami (or Thangmi)
- Zaza (or Zazaki)
- Azerbaijani (or Azeri)
- Dutch Low Saxon
- Low German
- Manx Gaelic
- Scottish Gaelic
- Slovenian (or Slovene)
- West Frisian
- Australian Kriol
- Chamorro (or Chamoru)
- Chinese (Mandarin)
- Eastern Arrernte
- Pijin (Solomon Islands Pidgin)
- Tok Pisin (or New Guinea Pidgin)
- Torres Strait Creole
Some special purpose lists of phrases are also available.
These special "phrasebooks" are for people interested in learning to read or write a complex script.
- Requests for phrasebooks: if you need a phrasebook for a language not listed here that still does not have its own article. You can also start the book yourself if you speak the language in question, but make sure to base it on our Phrasebook article template
- If you need more than a phrasebook, you can consider looking for other resources in the other Wikimedia sister projects:
- On Wikibooks there could be textbooks and grammar guides
- On Wiktionary there could be definitions, explanations or examples of usage of words, or also lists of related words
- On Wikiversity there could be courses or researches about the language
- On Wikipedia there could be encyclopedic articles about the language, its history and spread, and other related topics.