- While the majority of Brits (65 percent) think it’s important to learn a few local words or phrases before going on holiday abroad, 40% are embarrassed by their foreign language skills and 36% still rely heavily on the assumption that everyone will speak English in the country that they’re visiting
- A quarter said the thought of having to speak a foreign language on holiday makes them nervous
- Almost a fifth (19%) admitted to purposefully choosing a destination where they know they won’t need to communicate in another language
- Brits live up to their good-mannered stereotype with ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ being seen as the most important phrases to learn before going abroad
As millions of people from the UK head overseas this summer, a lack of language skills equates to sun, sea and stress for many holidaymakers, according to a new poll by the British Council.
While the majority of Brits (65%) think it’s important to learn a few local words or phrases before going on holiday abroad, 40% are embarrassed by their foreign language skills with a quarter (25%) admitting that the thought of having to speak a language on holiday makes them feel nervous.
36% said they relied heavily on the assumption that everyone will speak English in the country that they’re visiting while just under a fifth (19%) said they would even go so far as purposefully choosing a holiday destination where they knew they wouldn’t need to communicate in another language when there. Only 16% of those surveyed said that they could speak a foreign language to a high level.
The research, carried out by Populus among 2000 UK adults, was commissioned by the British Council as part of its work to build relationships for the UK around the world through language, culture and education - and to advocate for the learning of modern foreign languages in the UK. In 2013, the British Council’s ‘Languages for the Future’ report revealed that the UK currently has a shortage of people able to speak the ten most important foreign languages for the country’s future prosperity and global standing.
Mark Herbert, Head of Schools Programmes at the British Council, said: “While it’s good to see that Brits are generally willing to have a go at speaking the local language when on holiday, too many of us still rely too heavily on English while abroad.
“The reality is that speaking a foreign language doesn’t just help you to get the most out of your holiday - it is a rewarding way to connect with another culture and, with employers now crying out for more language skills, it can boost your job prospects too. We could all stand to benefit from broadening our horizons that little bit further through language learning and encouraging more of our young people to do so as well– taking the plunge and trying out just a few words or phrases on holiday this summer is the perfect place to start. Ultimately having more of us being able to speak at least a little of a foreign language is good for the UK’s long–term competitiveness in the increasingly globalised world.”
The poll also revealed that Brits live up to their good-mannered stereotype with ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ being seen as the most important phrases for holidaymakers going abroad and almost half of those surveyed (48%) said they enjoyed trying out their language skills while on holiday. ‘Hello’ or ‘goodbye’ and ‘how much does it cost?’ were also seen as key phrases to get by in foreign climes as were ‘Do you speak English?’ and ‘Where is…?’.
The British Council works to improve foreign language skills in the UK as part of its mission to build relationships for the UK around the world through education and culture. It provides Foreign Language Assistants who help teach languages in schools across the country, and also helps young people in the UK to develop international skills through overseas links and opportunities to work and study abroad.