100 Words

When I lived in Switzerland for graduate school in 1978, I took a Christmas trip to Italy with a friend. I was worried about not speaking the language but my friend’s roommate, who was studying linguistics, said to just learn 100 basic words and use them freely without regard to grammar. A word for me, you, them, goes with a verb without conjugation. A word for later and earlier substitutes for tenses. I tried it and he was right that people really appreciated the effort and made sense out of very few words. I have followed this technique repeatedly and regretted it when I didn’t.

When my family spent the summer of 2006 in Europe so I could write my first book, Driving Innovation, I made a list of what I thought the 100 words should be and I had the children write the translations in tabular form for Spanish and French. We used it in our travels to good effect.

We recently found the yellow sheet with the list of 100 words. (Well, it was actually 75 words.) It was in a phrase book for most European languages that was my traveling companion for many years.

Now that I can’t talk and spelling is slow with the Tobii eye gaze system and slower with a glance chart, I make do communicating  with nods and shakes of my head or directing my stare at the thing I am concerned with. If people are patient and ask me lots of yes/no questions, we can communicate successfully.

If you are reading this, you are capable of memorizing 100 words. In writing this post, my two college graduate children and I have added 25 words to the original 75 from the yellow sheet to make it an even 100. Feel free to customize the list as you desire. Here they are:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Hello
  4. Goodbye
  5. Please
  6. Thank you
  7. I’m sorry
  8. Excuse me
  9. Where is…?
  10. How much (cost)?
  11. When
  12. Who
  13. I/me
  14. You
  15. He/him
  16. She/her
  17. It
  18. They/them
  19. Man
  20. Woman
  21. This
  22. That
  23. Here
  24. There
  25. And
  26. Or
  27. Toilet
  28. Police
  29. Restaurant
  30. Hotel
  31. Bank/ATM
  32. Taxi
  33. Do you speak English?
  34. I don’t understand
  35. What does ___ mean?
  36. Help
  37. I want…
  38. To eat
  39. To drink
  40. To find
  41. To sleep
  42. To read
  43. To have
  44. To be
  45. To do
  46. To make
  47. To need
  48. More
  49. Less
  50. A lot/lots
  51. A little
  52. Earlier
  53. Later
  54. Open
  55. Closed
  56. Good
  57. Bad
  58. Hot
  59. Cold
  60. Vegetarian
  61. Meat
  62. Fish
  63. Poultry
  64. The check
  65. Monday
  66. Tuesday
  67. Wednesday
  68. Thursday
  69. Friday
  70. Saturday
  71. Sunday
  72. 1
  73. 2
  74. 3
  75. 4
  76. 5
  77. 6
  78. 7
  79. 8
  80. 9
  81. 10
  82. 11
  83. 12
  84. 13
  85. 14
  86. 15
  87. 16
  88. 17
  89. 18
  90. 19
  91. 20
  92. 30
  93. 40
  94. 50
  95. 60
  96. 70
  97. 80
  98. 90
  99. 100
  100. 1,000

4 thoughts on “100 Words

  1. Excellent travel advice, Michael! I’ll have to tuck that into my toiletry kit to use when i go to another country since my main other language is German which isn’t that common. We just visited my middle daughter in Ireland who is working for a med device company there and enjoying living overseas. English was easy, but the gaelic was harder to understand.

    Reply
  2. You can not have known this, Michael, but Dan and I have enjoyed a long-running argument about what actually matters in communication when we travel — grammar or basic vocab? He prefers to immerse himself in the structure of a language, while I prefer to jabber away with any and everyone, relying on a rudimentary collection of words and acknowledging my lack of connection to verb tense (and most other nuances). Your 100 words are just the ticket. I WIN!

    On Sat, Jul 23, 2016 at 7:23 AM, innovationlifelove wrote:

    > M Gollin posted: “When I lived in Switzerland for graduate school in 1978, > I took a Christmas trip to Italy with a friend. I was worried about not > speaking the language but my friend’s roommate, who was studying > linguistics, said to just learn 100 basic words and use them ” >

    Reply

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