British Travelers Don’t Speak the Language

When you travel to another country, it’s considered common courtesy to try to learn at least a little bit of the local language. But according to a new survey from travel insurance company Sheila’s Wheels, it’s a courtesy that Brits generally neglect.

According to a writeup of the study in the Daily Mail, out of 3,000 people who planned to go on holiday outside the country, 51 percent said they “rarely” took the time to learn how to say anything in the local language before taking off.  Based on the results of the survey, it seems that the average Brit knows six words or phrases in Spanish, ten in French and three in Italian.

Beyond basic greetings like “Hello” and “Goodbye,” the survey indicates that British holidaymakers are more likely to be able to communicate their desire for beer than anything else. More than half of the people who responded could order beer or wine in another language, while only one in six would be capable of asking directions to a local hospital. 25% of the respondents said it was more important to learn how to ask for a beer in a foreign tongue than it was to be able to ask about flight times. Priorities, right?

Sheila’s Wheels spokeswoman Jacky Brown told the Daily Mail:

“’We know English is one of the most known languages internationally, but it’s rude and sometimes dangerous of us to assume that everyone understands English when travelling abroad. More importantly, if holidaymakers don’t have the most basic knowledge of local languages, it is worrying that they will not be able to communicate in an emergency.”

Ms.  Brown stresses the possibility of an emergency as a the main reason to learn some of the local language. That’s important, and of course she does work for a travel insurance company, but there’s another compelling reason to as well: when you can’t speak the local language at all, there are a lot of experiences you’ll miss out on.

For example, 46 percent of the respondents said they would be “uncomfortable” staying or eating somewhere where English was not spoken, and 22 percent said they would flat-out refuse to do so. One in ten have walked out of a foreign establishment due to language barriers. Being able to communicate, even haltingly, in another language opens so many doors, allowing you to get beyond the tourist traps and really experience the country you’re visiting!

6 replies
  1. Howard Huws
    Howard Huws says:

    I wonder if it’s a form of paranoia? Or a supremacist hangover from the days of Empire? Because so many of them are monoglot, and (as a nation) have a long history of confrontation with all their neighbours, some English-speakers become very uncomfortable when they hear other languages spoken, and feel threatened. Non-English speakers (NES) are automatically assumed to be hostile, and plotting some evil. Tactics for dealing with this include demanding that NES speak English, even to each other, whenever and wherever the English are present; SPEAKING ENGLISH VERY LOUDLY TO DROWN OUT THE SOUND OF OTHER LANGUAGES; downright aggression; and if all else fails, forming enclaves to avoid NES altogether. One doesn’t have to go abroad to see this: it’s an everyday experience in Wales. Fortunately, many of the English who live here are prepared to learn the local language and become assimilated.

  2. Charlee
    Charlee says:

    It is so true and actually really shocking. I’m English, I was born here and I live in London. I speak two additional languages becasue I wanted to learn them so I did, but the reaction I get is strange either people are amazed by me ‘oh you must be so clever!’ (err not really babies can do it) or think I’m wasting my time ‘why bother doing that everyone understands Engish’ it’s so odd…

    • Caroline Mikolajczyk
      Caroline Mikolajczyk says:

      Thanks for that Charlee and really thanks for trying! Im French living in UK and i noticed that too…English people tend to fall under the excuse ” yeah but everybody speaks English anyway”, so im always amazed when people do try 🙂

  3. Clare
    Clare says:

    I agree that there are many people who are unwilling to learn another language, and are very negative towards learning other languages and indeed cultures. However, I think it is easy to underestimate the difficulties not just of learning a foreign language in England but of practising it and feeling confident about using it. In many non-English speaking countries people are exposed to English regularly through music, films, tv and increasingly the internet without having to make a great deal of effort. However, it is rare to be exposed to many other languages in this way here, few non English speaking bands or singers are on the radio and it is difficult to find a cinema which will show non-English speaking films. It is a real shame.

    • Caroline Mikolajczyk
      Caroline Mikolajczyk says:

      Hello Clare, thanks for your insight on the question and i do understand what you mean. However, i didnt learn English thanks to movies or music (im French)but because i made the move to some english speaking countries for several years. It was a choice of course but sort of required for me if i wanted to find a job after, even in France where most companies expect people to be at least bilingual. If you really want something, you have to fight for it. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply to Caroline Mikolajczyk Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *