Brits abroad revealed as ‘keen conversers’

52% of Brits like to make an effort with learning the local language and eating local delicacies. ‘Lost in Translation’ report launched by DFDS.

A new study from award winning ferry operator, DFDS, challenges the stereotype that Brits abroad only want to speak English and eat British food. The study, called ‘Lost in Translation’, looks at holidaymakers’ attitudes to foreign languages and has identified four key categories of travellers that Brits abroad fall into.

One of the key findings of the report is that the majority of Brits (52%) have been identified as ‘keen conversers’, who believe that it is important to make an effort speaking the local language when travelling abroad and will always learn a few key phrases in the local dialect. This group is also most likely to enjoy local delicacies and regards sampling regional cuisine as an important part of the holiday experience.

The second group identified by the research falls into a category called ‘basic blaggers,’ which makes up a quarter (25%) of Brits. ‘Basic blaggers’ are people who don’t proactively embrace foreign languages but will always try and use the limited language skills they have, which are most likely learnt at school. For this group, a phrasebook or translator app is essential when venturing overseas, but language barriers don’t stop them from trying something new, such as a local specialty.

The report reveals that only 14% of Brits have been identified as clichéd ‘language louts’, people who make no effort to speak a foreign language when they go abroad, accepting that English is spoken widely, especially across Europe. If conversing with locals, this group would prefer to point and gesture rather than bother with a phrase book. Cautious and unadventurous, they only like to eat food they know.

At the higher end of the spectrum, an impressive 8% of people surveyed were identified as ‘total travellers’, who consider language to be integral to their holiday experience. This group likes to feel confident when conversing with locals and doesn’t feel the need to use a phrasebook. ‘Total travellers’ are also keen to build on their language skills, and local cuisine plays a large part in their decision of where to visit.

When asked why it is important to converse in the local language, the top five most popular responses from those surveyed were:

  1. It’s polite (68%)
  2. It’s part of the overall holiday experience (48%)
  3. It connects people (35%)
  4. It’s the best way to communicate with others (34%)
  5. It’s enjoyable (32%)

The top five phrases people were able to speak in foreign languages were:

  • Hello (85%)
  • Thank you (84%)
  • Goodbye (83%)
  • Please (77%)
  • My name is... (68%)

The report reveals that the biggest barrier when learning foreign languages for British holidaymakers is a lack of time, with 48% of Brits saying they would like to learn another language but simply don’t have the time.

Max Foster, passenger director at DFDS, comments: “At DFDS, we help to connect people and cultures across a variety of countries. We’ve found that language is an integral part of the holiday for many of our passengers, especially those who like to immerse themselves in the different cultures and cuisines of the places they visit. We’re fortunate to carry passengers from a variety of nationalities, which we believe makes for a richer sailing experience for everyone who travels with us.”

Teresa Tinsley, a researcher and consultant on languages and multilingualism, comments: “This report shows it’s time for us Brits to stop agonising about poor language skills and pat ourselves on the back for our efforts to speak local languages when we go abroad. The vast majority of us can at least say ‘please’ (77%) and ‘thank you’ (84%) in another language and are clear that it is polite to try to meet locals half way linguistically, instead of expecting them to speak English. That shows a positive disposition towards language learning, which can be built on in the future.”

“In fact, for me, the key finding of this survey is that as a nation we’re already becoming more multilingual. More than 20% of 18 to 24 year olds say they are already fluent in another language, while the figure is just 8% for those aged 55 and over. Younger people are also less likely to say they are not interested in learning other languages (only 7% of 18-24 year olds, compared to 15% of those aged 55+). So while we won’t all become ‘total travellers’, the message is that whether you’re a ‘basic blagger’ or a ‘language lout’, it’s time to make to brush up on your language skills and look forward to a less tongue-tied 2014.”

DFDS is encouraging people to take part in a Facebook quiz testing their knowledge of common phrases in a number of foreign languages. All those who take part and submit their score will be entered into a prize draw to win a European phrase book every week AND a free mini cruise or ferry crossing of their choice.

Do you have a language gaffe you’d like to share? Be sure to visit our Facebook and Twitter pages and tell us yours - and @DFDSSeaways

DFDS operates sailings between Dover-Dunkirk, Dover-Calais, Newhaven-Dieppe, Portsmouth-Le Havre, Newcastle-Amsterdam and Harwich-Esbjerg.


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