Knowing a foreign language

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Spain is the most popular holiday destination but how many of us know Spanish?

Is it important to know some words of the language of the country in which you holiday?

It is widely believed that Britons are not good at languages and are reluctant to either use or maybe, learn a foreign language. According to research from a survey made by Holiday Autos, the average Briton will jet off on their holiday this year, knowing just eight words of the country’s language.

One argument goes that it is useful for the holidaymaker to understand a little of where they are travelling. Another says that in order to entice us to destinations, hotel, restaurant staff and guides learn basic words in Engliah so that they can provide service to customers.

Whatever argument you follow, it remains that, generally, our knowledge of foreign languages is woeful. But does it really matter?

The same research suggests that 23% said they holiday in English speaking resorts so there was no need to make an effort to speak the local language. But then, the most single appealing destination for British and Irish holidaymakers is Spain yet a lack of knowledge of Spanish doesn’t seem to deter us from holidaying there. France is the second most visited destination and our knowledge of French is better than our knowledge of Spanish but it isn’t widespread according to the survey.

Based on these – the most popular destinations that we visit – knowing a foreign language doesn’t matter a great deal. If you accept this then you could argue that, for most of us, why bother to learn a foreign language? It is also quite widely expected that wherever you go in the world, English is spoken. In the Swedish capital of Stockholm, I asked directions from a street cleaner fully expecting her to understand English. And she did.

In Luxor in Egypt an eight year old girl was trying to sell me a doll. Being irascible that morning, I said I wasn’t English and resorted to being Welsh. She tried over a dozen languages on me to see if we could find one in which both of us could converse including Korean, Japanese and well as many European languages. Do holidaymakers need English when those that sell us services are so adept?

I think it is polite to know a few words and I feel guilty when I don’t know some of the local tongue. It looks as though many of us are quite happy for those we visit to understand us rather than vice versa.

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