The Language of Travel

One of the greatest joys of travel is experiencing new cultures, having a chance to live like locals do, eat with them, talk to them, see their world through their eyes. All too often though people worry that a language barrier will make this awkward and as such tend not to go as far off the beaten path as they otherwise would. We think that’s a mistake, as usually with a combo of smiles, hand gestures, pictures and phone translators most travelers can get around.  The language of travel is patience.

If English is your first language or if you have a rudimentary skill it is even easier. In fact over 1 in 7 people on this planet can speak English which means even if you’re a German in a rural Brazilian village you can probably order a meal as you’ll most likely speak some English and so too will the waitress or waiter. And if they don’t some helpful stranger nearby almost assuredly will.

Total speakers, 2017 (million)

English: 1212

Mandarin: 1107

Hindi and Urdu: 697

Spanish: 512

Arabic: 422

French: 284

Malay: 281

Russian: 264

Bengali: 261

Portuguese: 236

Punjabi: 148

German: 132

Japanese: 128 

Pro Tip

If you’re having a hard time finding someone to translate for you, look to kids. Often teens and even younger take languages in school and maybe be more adept at foreign languages. As well bring gifts. You’d be surprised at how well a small gesture like pens and paper or small treats helps to bring out kids with language skills. And if they can’t speak your language, chances are they’ll have an app to help them.

So while patience is a virtue, it’s really not as difficult as many people think to get around in foreign countries. The language of travel is English and so if you have some rudimentary skills, chances are you’ll do well.  But take heed if you’re Chinese, we’ll undoubtedly have to revise this article in a few years when Mandarin will probably replace English as the language of travel.