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!