09:24 25 June 2013
With summer edging ever nearer, many of us will be planning our annual getaway in anticipation of balmy days on warmer shores.
But are you a tourist who likes to immerse yourself in local culture, sample the home-grown cuisine and have a bash at the local lingo? Or do you prefer to opt for full English breakfasts, seek out dependable English-speaking waiters and employ universal ‘holiday mime language’ when asking for the bill?
Despite the latter perhaps summing up the typical ‘Brit abroad’ stereotype, recent research from TravelSupermarket has discovered that, encouragingly, more than half of holidaymakers make an effort to speak the local lingo when abroad. We take a closer look…
Parlez vous anglais?
Contrary to the popular belief that ignorant Brits jet off to their holiday destination with the expectation that everyone will – and should – speak English, our research showed that 59% of Brits have a stab at speaking at least a few phrases in the native language when they are abroad.
And they proved themselves to be a well-mannered bunch, with ‘thank you’ revealed as the must-learn phrase of any holiday (76%), followed closely by ‘please’ (55%) and ‘excuse me’ (31%). Just 3% felt that knowing the word for beer was important (3%) or the beach (1%).
Furthermore, despite only 46% believing they knew some basic phrases in another language, nearly all could identify the meaning of five of the most common holiday phrases across three European languages, such as the Spanish phrase for ‘Where is the bus station’ (88%) and French question ‘Do you speak English?’(92%).
But more than a quarter (27%) said they felt frustrated by their lack of linguistic talent abroad, revealing this makes them feel awkward (23%) or embarrassed (18%). A total of 69% of holidaymakers have used their hands to mime a question or phrase to overcome a language barrier.
So what is it that is encouraging over half of us to lose the stereotype and get to grips with the local language when on holiday? I spoke to two well-seasoned travellers to get their view…
Debbie Moran, 31
Debbie loves travelling and has a job that takes her to all four corners of the globe. She finds speaking another language enriches her experience – even if she occasionally gets it wrong!
“I’m fortunate in that I get to use my language skills for both leisure travel and work. I’m employed by a company who sell internationally, making the ability to speak and write in another language a valuable commodity.
“I speak Spanish as my second language and have found that during my travels people are a lot more receptive when you make the attempt to speak their language, even though at times it may go wrong!
“I once confused ‘being embarrassed’ with ‘being pregnant’ which took a fair amount of explaining! It can be daunting at first, however being able to communicate does make travel a lot more enjoyable and gives you a much better opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the local culture.
“As a woman travelling alone, I do also feel safer having knowledge of the local language, making the trip easier to handle. I’m currently considering adding to my language skills, perhaps Mandarin – if only to have a better idea of what I’ll be eating!”
Nik Ewen, 34
Frequent traveller Nik Ewen realised how important communicating in another language was after a shift in family circumstances…
“Five years ago my dad announced that he was moving to Spain to set up a new company and enjoy some sunshine. I knew this would mean frequent visits over there to see him.
“He found himself in an ex-pat community which resulted in him initially just socialising with English speakers – with no necessity to learn the language. I’m ashamed to say that I lazily went along with it, pleased to find that it was so easy to communicate in his new home.
“It wasn’t until last year, however, when he introduced me to his Spanish girlfriend – whose English was better than ours – that it hit me how ignorant we were being. We were still both very much of the ‘point and hope’ school of communication, and she found it hilarious that we were both still so hopeless.
“She was able to frequently switch between two languages depending on where we were and who we were speaking to, and when visiting me and my girlfriend in the UK she would never have expected us to be able to speak her language – so why shouldn’t we afford her the same respect in her country?
“I am now learning to speak Spanish on a conversational level and think that, while on holiday, we should all at least make the effort to greet and thank people in their own language. It costs us nothing.”
As these two holidaymakers show, not only is it respectful to the locals to at least attempt to get to grips with their mother tongue, it can also enrich your holiday experience and break down barriers.
So if you feel inspired to get to grips with the lingo abroad, why not take a look at our article ‘Holiday mimes and translations.’
Here you’ll be able to take a look at some of the most popular phrases you might need on holiday along with their translations in Italian, French and Spanish. It also demonstrates the most commonly used ‘holiday mime language.’
Bob Atkinson, travel expert at TravelSupermarket said: “It’s exciting to see so many Brits ready to embrace the local language on their holidays, despite our stereotype of being a little on the reticent side to engage with the locals in their own tongue compared to other nationalities.
“With huge numbers of us travelling overseas, language is part of the holiday fun, learning a few key phrases and simple pleasantries makes a huge difference to how you are received in shops, hotels, restaurants and taxis.”
Bob went on to say: “I travel widely and always learn key phrases to try and make the right impression. Couple a smile with a please and thank you and many locals will warm to you straight away. Often this has led to holiday friendships and vibrant exchanges of what our own countries are good and bad for, really enriching the experience of my trip.”
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