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New research out today reveals that despite travelling more than ever, foreign language skills have not improved amongst Brits, with more than 25 million (54 per cent) unable to recognise even the most basic of phrases in the language of their destination., one of the UK’s leading accommodation websites, conducted the research, which showed that 81 per cent of monolingual British travellers refuse to take a phrase book or dictionary with them when travelling abroad, with a complacent third (33 per cent) admitting that they tend to rely on bi-lingual locals to speak English.

And if all else fails and there’s no English speakers in the vicinity, many still refuse to use the native tongue with almost a fifth (19 per cent) resorting to simply talking louder and slower in the hope that this may get their message across. 39 per cent embarrassingly create an ad-hoc sign language to try and communicate with the locals and approximately 5 million (10 per cent) confess that they simply speak English in a foreign accent as they think this may help aid understanding in some way.

The more ‘cosmopolitan’ Brits who do attempt to speak a foreign language when abroad often do a ‘Del Boy’ and get words and phrases wrong. research showed that 75 per cent of holiday-makers got the words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ mixed up in at least one of the languages from the top three European destinations (France, Spain and Greece).

It seems that we’re no more experimental when it comes to our European neighbours’ cuisine, with the majority of Brits (69 per cent) heading to English bars for instantly recognisable foods, such as pie and chips, instead of trying local specialties. In fact, 29 per cent admitted that they are at a loss when ordering from a foreign menu and 61 per cent have ordered the wrong dish as a result of their poor language skills. Indeed, one third (33 per cent) even bring their own food on holiday (such as tea-bags and sliced bread) to avoid having to ask for / buy the equivalent in a foreign language.

However, our national lack of multilingual talent also has more dangerous implications when abroad. Although nearly two thirds (65 per cent) have suffered illnesses while on holiday, most of us would be unable to communicate the need for medical assistance, with less than half (48 per cent) able to say ‘ambulance’ in a foreign language.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the words that Brits do tend to learn before heading off for a break in a European destination include ‘beer’ (79 per cent), ‘swimming pool’ (80 per cent) and ‘beach’ (77 per cent).

Regional Differences

Londoners were the most linguistically accomplished, with 42 per cent of capital dwellers being able to speak at least one foreign language fluently.

Over half of people in the Manchester area (53 per cent) admit to speaking English abroad all the time. The Welsh were the most ‘word-shy’ of nations, with a third (33 per cent) too embarrassed to try any foreign words while abroad, ten per cent more than the national average.

And those in the Midlands blamed poor education for their lack of knowledge, with almost half (42 per cent) saying that they ‘hated’ learning another language.

Holiday-makers from Liverpool were the most likely to head for an English bar in search of recognisable food whereas the Scots were the most experimental when it came to ordering the local dish.

Age Gap

The younger generations were the most keen to learn a language with 80 per cent of under 25s saying that they would if they had the opportunity.

However, the under 25s were also the most likely to always speak English when abroad (46 per cent), compared to only 31 per cent of over 55s who proved to be more linguistically adventurous.

Gender Differences

Women are better at remembering foreign phrases – one in ten (10 per cent) of females knew 8 or more useful words in a foreign language compared to just 7 per cent of men.

Women are also more inventive than men when it comes to communicating their message without knowing language basics – 42 per cent admit to actually acting out a message to a foreigner, compared to just 31 per cent of men.

Chris Morris, Managing Director of, comments:

“A phrase book or dictionary doesn’t take up much room in a suitcase, and British tourists will be surprised at how far a couple of useful phrases can go. Although ordering beer can be an important part of any holiday, it’s always great to broaden your horizons, soak up the culture and try and learn some of the language so you can communicate successfully with the locals.”

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For further information please contact the LateRooms press office at Mischief on 0207 100 9999 or email

Notes to Editors:

LateRooms used the independent research company, Fly Research to survey 1,000 people from across the UK on 11th June 2008

Figures based on percentages of UK population aged 18 years or more (47,467,300 – Mid-year population estimates, Office for National Statistics, 2006) 54 per cent = 25,632,342

Brits’ top three European destinations (France, Spain and Greece) were based on research from the Office for National Statistics, Statistics from International Passenger Survey - published in Travel Trends on 8 November 2006). Those surveyed were tested on these 3 languages.

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