Tourist-oriented places almost always accommodate monolingual English-speakers, but you might go down a side street or through a suburban train station, so it’s best to be prepared.

English versions

  • Many tourist sites for a country with a different language will have an English version of at least some of the pages. Look for a British or American flag, a drop-down language selector, or letters indicating language options. On Swiss sites we found EN/DE/FR or even D/E/F  (Deutsch/English/Francais). Such things are almost always at the top right of the page, but may be top left or even at the bottom. 
  • If you can’t find it, try adding /en  to the URL of the local-language homepage

Work with the local version

  • If there really isn’t an English version, you’d be surprised how much you can figure out when the foreign language is at least a bit related to English. In any language, a hotel or train or airline site is going to have to deliver pretty much the same information, and probably in the same format you’re used to.
  • If you keep a browser window open with Google Translate open, you can struggle through.  
    Or use the open-source, free program Deep-L, which does excellent translations, but not on the page you’re looking at. 
  • For your home research, some browsers allow a translation extension. 
    • Google Translate is available as an official extension for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera.
    • Safari has it built in in older versions, and in the newer Big Sur OS. On sites where translation is possible, an icon appears at the right end of the search/URL window at the top of the browser page.
    • on Mac, TranslateMe costs a few dollars

Translation apps

There are a zillion apps out there, some free. You can easily find one for your portable device. Some will have a few languages built in, and require you to download others as needed. That beats having all of them on your phone. Nearly all support text-to-text, where you can type something in and then show the translation to the other person. Some support speech, where you can speak into the device and after a pause, the device will speak the translation.


There’s so much you can do ahead of time. As an example, here are some things I collected before we went to Japan. Experts may correct me, but here goes.

Japanese people they don’t expect foreigners to have any fluency in Japanese. Most Japanese under 55 understand written English very well. Spoken English not so much. 

You’ll probably hear some common phrases, and you may need to say some of them, such as:

  • “irasshaimase” = welcome, come in (a small nod is a suitable response)
  • “Ohayōgozaimasu”  (Ohio GoZaimus)  = good morning
  • “Konichiwa” = Good afternoon 
  • “Konbanwa” = Good evening   
  • “Matane” (Ma-ta-ne)  = Goodbye [‘sayonara’  is much more formal and more permanent]
  • “sumimasen” (excuse me) as you push off a crowded train
  • “onegaishimasu” (O-ne-guy-she-mas) = [Yes,] please. 
  • “daijoubudesu” (Die-joe-bu-des) = No, thank you.

And you might see important signs for which you could memorize the symbols: 押す = push,  引く hiku = pull, 入口 = entrance, 出口 = exit, and 非常口 = emergency exit, トイレ = toilet, 男 = man/men, 女 woman/women.

I’ll address this more in the Food page.

You can often find such information on Trip Advisor’s Travel Advice button for larger places. But Google will quickly get you started.

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