A middle-aged man who looks rather confused looking at a map in town.

Have you ever been lost in town in an English-speaking community? Many people don't feel confident enough to ask or give directions in town in a foreign language.

Knowing what to expect in that situation can help you (or the person asking you) get to the destination easily and without confusion.

Break the ice

The first thing you should do is ask for directions in the right way. Imagine you're walking in town. People come and go on busy streets, and you must interrupt them while they're on their way.

Start by saying:

  • Excuse me.

  • Are you from around here?

  • I'm looking for this address...

Use a polite tone and ask people if they can help you.

A man trying to call someone's attention by moving his hand up and down.

Ask the right questions

Now you've got someone's attention, it's time to ask for directions. Make it simple and stick to the point. Check out these useful sentence starters:

  • I'm lost. How can I get to...?

  • Do you know how to go to...?

  • Which is the best way to go to...?

  • Could you tell me the way to...?

Jimmy Fallon pretending he is lost.

Time to help

If someone asks you for directions, give clear instructions and use short sentences. Try to organize your ideas to make the steps simpler.

Step 1: Say if it is far or near

  • You're going in the wrong direction. You should be walking that way.

  • That's four minutes away from here.

  • It's too far. You should take [the bus/train, etc.] to...

Step 2: Use imperatives for clear instructions

  • Go up/down/along [street name]

  • Turn left/right onto [street name]

  • Continue past [a specific place]

A traffic officer saying,

Add more details

Offer details that would be useful to get to the destination easily. Consider the following examples:

Step 3: Add concrete details

  • The hospital is in the middle of the block, right next to the Thai restaurant.

  • The library is just around the corner.

  • The school is between the clothes shop and the coffee store.

Step 4: Offer warnings

  • There might be a traffic jam there right now.

  • You might find road repairs.

  • There is no parking available in that place.

  • It's not a safe place to go at night.

A man saying,


Imagine someone asks you, "How can I get to the nearest hospital?" You know how to get there. Select all possible answers you could give:

Sorry, I'm not from around here!

It might happen that you're not from this town and you can't help. Or maybe you've always lived here but you don't know that street or place. Apologize politely:

  • Sorry, I've never been there before.

  • Sorry, I'm just a tourist here.

  • I'm afraid I can't help.

  • No idea, sorry! I don't know the way.

A man driving a car says,

An example

Let's put it together! Here you will find a dialogue between Rachel and Tom to practise.

A man looking at a map Photo by Luca Nicoletti on Unsplash

Rachel: Excuse me, I'm lost. How can I get to the train station?

Tom: Hi! Let me help you. It's three minutes away. It's not far. Go ahead for one block. Turn left onto Picadilly Street and walk for two blocks.

The train station is right opposite the shopping mall.

Rachel: Thank you!

Tom: You're welcome!


If "Of course, it's not far from here" is the answer, what's the right question to ask?

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