June 3, 2020

100 Words to Know in Any Language

Say what? (Photo by author).

Sometimes, we’re traveling so fast and passing through regions with several languages, that we never do learn them properly. Such is our current predicament in Morocco, a glorious mix of French, Arabic and a dash of indigenous Berber mixed in.

Now, we’ll admit that we’ve taken classes in both French and Arabic over the years… and forgotten nearly everything. Language is a perishable skill, and if you don’t use it, you tend to lose it. We’ve also taken Italian during our stint with NATO in the military back in our USAF days, and this helps a little bit in other Romance language countries. True story, we learned words like ‘broken,’ ‘scratched’ and ‘dirty’ in Italian before we learned the usual basics such as hello and goodbye.

We’ve pondered this while we’re currently traveling Morocco. My Arabic teacher used to say that you learn a language only when you need something from it. Think of all the crash courses in language skills in history that probably happened out of desperation. Captured by pirates in a foreign land? You might want to learn just what they’re saying, at least if you expect to survive. We once met an American expat in the French Foreign Legion in Djibouti who said he learned French very quickly, as the instructor would smack them in the head with a baton for a wrong answer. While most modern encounters with another culture aren’t as dire, it doesn’t hurt to learn the local language, just enough to survive.

And though true fluency is pretty comprehensive (covering reading, writing, understanding, conversing etc) there are some ways to cheat. In fact, most folks only use a few thousand words a day in general conversation.

It occurred to us during a wait at a women’s hair salon in Rabat that while we couldn’t learn a thousand words in a few weeks, learning a hundred isn’t really a stretch.

If you could only manage with hundred words, what would they be? Here’s our very highly subjective choices, with a little Social Media crowd-sourcing to the rescue:


100 Words to Learn in Any Language

Yes, No

Hello, Goodbye

Thank you
Interrogatives (Who, What, When, Where, How, Why)
Cost, Price
Left, Right
Fast, Slow
Beer, Alcohol
Near, Far, Distance
Hungry, Thirsty
1 thru 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100
Open, Closed
Toilet, Men’s Room, Ladies’ Room
Bus, Train, Car, Plane
Print, Fax, Office store
Water, Food
Beach, Road, Hill, Mountain, Station
Sky, Up, Down, Sun, Moon, Rise
Clothes, Shoes
Pain, Sore
Man, Woman, Boy, Girl, Family
Police, Danger, Doctor
Basic colors: Red, Blue, Black, White, Green, Orange
Hot, Cold
Speak, Understand
Age, Old
Toilet Paper

From these, you can at least construct simple, caveman-esque sentences such as … “how far beer?” or the quintessential “where bathroom?” Hopefully, you’re not mispronouncing these, or in the words of that same sage Arabic teacher, you say could be inadvertently saying “you are goat…”

And, as an added bonus, we’ll be testing this out as well… hopefully, picking up French again isn’t really a stretch for us, growing up in Northern Maine!

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