If English is your native language, it’s unlikely you’ll have trouble communicating with people from different countries. English is the most spoken language worldwide with 1.5 billion speakers. Due to the vast number of people who speak English, it’s very useful for connecting people when their languages differ. However, the downside to its popularity is the expectance that comes along with it; travellers often assume everyone is familiar with English, regardless of the country they visit. It’s a common occurrence that English speakers will often try to communicate in English with natives in foreign countries. In reality, British travellers should make an effort to speak with people using the language relative to the country they are visiting.

The data for British people speaking other languages is poor. According to a 2019 survey published by the European commission, 62% of Britons only speak English, with 28% speaking one other language, 18% speaking two, and a tiny 6% speaking three or more different languages.

This British attitude towards language learning doesn’t seem to appear in other countries, with 51% of EU citizens speaking English. Statista’s 2019 report on English proficiency in European countries confirmed Sweden had the highest rate of people who were proficient in English at 71% of the population.

Learning other languages not only expands knowledge on different cultures, it’s also a sign of respect when visiting other countries. Experienced traveller and Lonely Planet guidebook author Alexis Averbuck told Lonely Planet, “Learning even a small bit of a local language can give insights into the culture and shows respect for the people of that area. I notice that many people are glad to see me try to speak their language, even if it’s just the words of polite culture. Sometimes, all it takes is saying ‘have a lovely day’ ‘thank you for the help’, to make someone’s day.”

Although British people have been criticised for their poor attitudes towards learning languages in the past, it is clear more effort is being made by Brit’s to learn different languages in recent years. Despite travel restrictions during the pandemic, learning a new language specifically boomed during coronavirus lockdowns. Language apps saw an increase in downloads, with London based app Busuu observing a 312% increase in the number of users in 2020, boosting the UK users to more than three million.

So why is it more British people are taking to learning languages now compared to past years? As well as being a lockdown hobby and taking more interest in different cultures, it can be assumed more British people have taken up learning more languages as a result of Brexit. British people no longer have the right to live and work in EU countries; under new law, residence permits are often needed which usually requires an element of the countries language to be known. Yet, despite the reasons, learning new languages can only create a positive outcome, with being bi-lingual bringing along certain benefits. Reports from the CBI, a representative of numerous British businesses claims bi-lingual people are sought after in the job market, making multi-linguists more employable.

The UK government is also encouraging language learning through recently investing £4 million in new language schemes in education. The government wants 75% of pupils to take a modern language GCSE by 2022 and 90% by 2025. According to The British Council’s 2019 Language Trends survey, students have shown an increased interest in languages, with the survey showing an increase in children opting to learn French or Spanish at GCSE level.

Want to pick up a new language? Try these apps for easy language courses

· Busuu: A highly-rated London-based language learning app with courses for beginners up to upper-intermediate in 12 major languages. The app is initially free however has a premium upgrade option from £5 a month.

· Babbel: Language learning app offering short yet effective courses for both beginners and advanced learners. The app was built by language experts and backed by researchers at Yale University. The first month is free then £8.75 a month.

· iTalki: Different from other learning apps, iTalki is a tutor based platform allowing the user to have conversations and teaching from a real life language expert. Users can trial tutors at a discounted rate to find someone who suits them before paying in full. Prices vary for different tutors but average around £10 a session.


Published By
Ruth Mullan