A lack of language skills causes Brits holiday anxiety

Thursday 06 August 2015
  • 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.

Notes to Editor

For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact Kristen McNicoll in the British Council Press Office on 0207 389 4967 / 07731 987 561 or kristen.mcnicoll@britishcouncil.org

Populus interviewed a random sample of 2,098 GB adults aged 18+ from its online panel between 31 July – 2 August 2015.  Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.  Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  Further information at www.populus.co.uk.

More details about the British Council’s languages work are available at: http://www.britishcouncil.org/education/schools/support-for-languages 

The mention in Mark Herbert’s quote of employers’ demand for more language skills in the UK workforce refers to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2014 which indicated that nearly two-thirds of firms identified a need for foreign language skills, which is likely to increase as ambitious firms look to break into new fast-growing markets.

A ‘5 a day’ top tips for people keen to start learning a language can be found here: http://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/britishcouncil.uk2/files/d041_languages_5-a-day_graphic_a5.pdf 

Twitter hashtag: #LearnALanguage

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

For more information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.org. You can also keep in touch with the British Council through http://twitter.com/britishcouncil and http://blog.britishcouncil.org/.