5 Essential Phrases to Learn in a New Language

5 Essential Phrases to Learn in a New Language

Welcome to Part Eight of our Goer Essentials Series, where we’ve asked Goers to sound off on the essentials to thriving in life overseas. In today’s article, we cover how to survive the first 30 days of your placement.


For this Goer Essential series, we surveyed 25 Goers who are serving two-year global placements in 10 different countries on 4 continents.  These articles are your chance to hear directly from Goers as they share their triumphs, best practices, amusing gaffes, and deep experiences of learning to live, thrive, and make an impact while immersed in a new culture!

About the author:  David Gee served for two years in a GoCorps placement in North Africa serving refugees from across the middle east.  In this Goer Essential series, he shares his own experiences alongside the stories and lessons learned of Goers serving all over the world using their unique skillsets and training to fight injustice, serve the oppressed and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Part 8 — 5 Essential Phrases to Learn in a New Language

Language learning is hard — really hard. Even when you love it and have a “knack” for new languages, there will just be days (and weeks) where it’s just not sticking and you find yourself babbling with the finesse of a 4-year-old.

Still, learning a new language is also an incredible joy. It humbles you and gives you a new perspective and vocabulary by which to see the world, experience life, and build relationships. Most of GoCorps’ Goers get to learn a new language in order to minister in their contexts, so we reached out and asked them what the 5 essential phrases to learn in their new host language are.

Gahiz nefsak! (Prepare yourself - Arabic!)

The Types of Phrases New Goers Learn

Our Goers land in placements all over the world and learn a variety of different languages in order to dive into their ministry track. However, when we asked them what the essential phrases one needs to learn were, it turns out many of them were the same!


Almost all the Goers said greetings are the absolute first thing to learn in a new language. Honing in on the appropriate thing to say when entering someone’s house versus seeing them in the street, or how to greet the elderly versus the young were all very important.

Taxi Talk

Odds are, when you land in a new context you’ll be relying on taxis, buses, and other public transit way before you ever come close to mastering the language. That means taxi talk (giving directions, negotiating prices, and asking about a location) is one of the first domains Goers learn.

Market Banter

In addition to taxi talk, food negotiating skills are also high on the list for the types of phrases Goers learn when learning a new language. Learning to ask “how much is this” or “do you have any ___” is absolutely essential to surviving. 

Survival Phrases

And finally, survival phrases are a must to learn when new Goers hit the field. Survival phrases are just small phrases that help you navigate tricky situations or get help when you need it. For instance, telling people “I'm sorry, I don’t understand” or “I don't speak ____” or “Can you tell me how to get to ____”

Outside of the types of phrases our Goers learn, many shared some specific examples in their new host language. 


Our goers in Spanish-speaking countries shared the following essential phrases:

  • Mucho gusto (nice to meet you). 
  • Soy ___  (I'm ____). 
  • ¿Dónde está ____? (Where is ___?)
  • ¡Que chevere! (How cool!)
  • ¡Perdón, no hablo español! (I'm sorry, I don't speak Spanish!)


  • Ça-va? Ça-va. (It's fine? It's fine. - This is the normal greeting)
  • Je m'appelle ____.  (My name is _____). 
  • Comment dites-vous ______ en français? (How do you say _____ in French?)
  • S'il vous plait. Merci. (Please. Thank you). 
  • C'est combien ca? (How much is this?)


  • "Maaf" ("excuse me/I'm sorry")  
  • "Maaf, saya mau____"  (Excuse me, I would like____")  
  • "Apa ini/itu?"  ("What is this/that?")
  • "ke/dari mana?" ("to/from where?" - but it is used as a greeting similar to "How are you?")
  • Lastly, if you arrive around Ramadan/Idul Fitri (like one Goer did), you'll want to know "Mohon maaf lahir dan batin".  Depending on who you ask, the literal translation varies but I prefer to think of it as "I beg forgiveness both for what I birthed & what remained within".  Idul Fitri is a time of apology & reconciliation in Indonesian culture, & this traditional phrase really bears the spirit of the cultural desire to live in true harmony with all--asking forgiveness not only for what you've done, but also ways you wronged someone in your heart or mind.


  • forsa sayeeda (Nice to meet you)
  • akhbarik ay (what’s your news/what’s up)
  • habibi (‘my beloved’ but actually just a catch-all term for general friends)
  • maliish (kind of translates like hakuna matata, used to solve 90% of disputes)
  • insha allah (God willing - used to avoid and confirm plans)

Good Luck!

Whether you’re currently learning a new language too or hoping to one day as a Goer, we wish you luck! Hopefully, these first five essential phrases can get you started off on the right foot as you begin that humbling and rewarding journey.

Dive Deeper

Check out other blogs in this series here.

David Gee

David is fluent in both Texan and Arabic, and likes to write about everything he has learned from those two worlds colliding. He’s a Goer alum that spent two years in the Middle East learning Arabic and working with Yemeni refugees, and continues to minister to immigrants in his community today. Catch him drinking coffee, riding a skateboard, or doing both at the same time.