One of the most common phrases when traveling is ‘do you speak English’. The amount of times I’ve used this in my own travels is beyond count. It’s a cruel privilege that whichever country you are in, you expect a minimum of 1 in 10 people to reply ‘yes’ to the most basic of questions, even if the sentences following ‘yes’ are slightly hard to decipher. But on the other hand, this post-colonial guilt trip of expecting English shouldn’t be scared away from, it’s not your fault you can’t learn an entirely new language for the sake of 3 months round 1 country, where you would have to learn a whole new one for the next country anyway. You’re not god’s gift to languages and you know what, that’s ok.

It’s a great gift being able to speak English, great enough that we should grasp it tightly and use to enrich both the asker’s and the answer’s life. We want to acknowledge most people can speak English while respecting their culture and language enough, so why not put in a little effort to learn the most simple sentence, ‘Do you speak English’? So here’s a short list of ‘do you speak English’, in a small selection of languages with a short (but necessary) explanation for them.


Russian: Now, Russian might be an odd one for some travelers, you may say, ‘well, surly you only need Russian for Russia. Well I also thought the same, but then I came to SE Asia, and well, let’s just say the Kremlin don’t need to worry about this part of the world anytime soon. 😉 Russian is needed, not to get by, but to get help. Russians love it when you try to speak Russian, your accent and pronunciation will make them smile and lighten the mood immediately.

Native phrase: Вы говорите по-английски?

Phonetic Phrase: Vee (think ‘Vee’ and ‘Oi’ mixed) govorite po-anglisski?


Spanish: And here it comes, the one, the only, the actual native international language in person, Spanish, and the crowd habitually miss-understands each other due to so many different dialects (bit of a Spanish language joke for all you Spanish enthusiasts out there). Spanish has more native speakers than English, an estimated 10 million more, the size of a city to be fair but still, that’s one more city of native speakers than English. It also covers most of South America, not to be confused with Portuguese in Brazil. So, if you want to visit S. America, or N. America for that matter, or Europe, you should get this easy phrase down.

Native Phrase (happens to be phonetic): Habla usted Inglés?


Thai:  Now Thai is a good one to get right. If you’re visiting Thailand I implore you to learn this one, for your own sake it will make everything easier. Thais, very much like English speaking countries, are proud of their language and can get annoyed with tourists always assuming they speak English. I have met a few Thais not willing to speak with me because ‘this is Thailand, so speak Thai’, even though they could speak English. Chances are he was having a bad day but still, a little bit of respect goes a long way in Thailand. So, give them the nod, the cheeky hello with the ‘Wai’ (hands together as if praying in front of your face) and throw out the ‘Khun put passa angrlit my’? Chances are there will be smiles, a couple sligh (or sometimes not very sligh at all) laughs, and que a nice conversation.


Native Phrase:  คุณพูดภาษาอังกฤษ?

Phonetic Phrase: Khun put passa angrlit my’? (level tone)



Hindi: Hindi may not be an obvious one, nor may it be spoken all over India, however, most Indians will understand the reference, or even acknowledge the attempt at speaking the language, even if your ignorance lets you try in an area where no one speaks it. It’s the thought that counts after all, right? English is spoken in all regions of India, maybe not by everyone in the more rural areas, but I guarantee you will be able to communicate, and as the rule goes with every other language, a little bit of cultural respect goes a long way.


Native Phrase: आपको अंग्रेजी आती हे?

Phonetic Phrase: Āpakō glazy appy he?


While these phrases will only get you so far if someone cannot speak English, they take minimum effort and payout the jackpot sometimes. And you never know, it may lead to an actual interest to learning the full language, all it takes is a taste, then you’ll want the whole cake, and hay, language cake isn’t even fattening, it’s a win win.


Koh Samui Tutor & Vocational School – KSTVS. Interested in learning a phrase or two? Then please contact us at Or if you’re on Koh Samui, drop in, we can be found at 11/8 Moo 1, Maenam, Koh Samui, Surat Thani, 84330, Thaiand. Want to speak to someone on the phone, no problem, call us on 077248228

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