Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, Citibank and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
One of the more difficult challenges you can face when traveling abroad, is being in a strange place and not knowing the language.
There are many countries where you’re likely to find folks who speak English. And for the rest, I’ll share tips on how to make it through!
World Travel 101 – Index
- Part 1 – Planning
- Part 2 – Travel Documents
- Part 3 – Foreign Languages
- Part 4 – Money
- Part 5 – Accommodations
- Part 6 – Transportation
- Part 7 – Packing
- Part 8 – Health & Safety
- Part 9 – Staying Connected
- Part 10 – Cultural Awareness & Respect
Places Where Many People Speak English
Luckily, English is the is 1 of the most widely spoken languages in the world. So in many cases you won’t have trouble communicating.
You’re likely to find folks who speak English in Western European countries, such as Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.
A few places you might not expect, where English is spoken:
- Belize – Once a British territory, the official language is still English
- India – Once a British colony and English is still widely spoken
- Kenya – English and Swahili are the official languages
- Philippines – Once a US territory, English is still 1 of the country’s official languages
- Singapore – English is 1 of 4 major spoken languages
- Hong Kong – Once a British colony and English is still widely spoken
However, in places like China and Japan the language barrier is more pronounced, because many Asian countries don’t share our alphabet. So signs and menus can be unrecognizable.
This can get especially challenging when you have a food allergy like Emily!
But if you stay in larger cities, like most tourists, then there will be minimal issues. Many big cities (and even some smaller towns) cater to tourists and have English language translations everywhere.
How to Survive the Language Barrier
When you travel to rural areas or outside of major tourist destinations, you’re less likely to find people who speak English. In these situations, a little bit of preparation can go long way.
Getting to know the locals makes a much more memorable traveling experience. In Portugal, Emily and I met a couple at a busy restaurant because they wanted to share our table.
Unfortunately, we didn’t speak much Portuguese, and missed an opportunity to get to know this couple.
However, Emily visited Spain, and spoke some Spanish. Locals invited her over for a homemade dinner of paella, sangria, and lots of other delicious local dishes. She’ll always treasure that experience getting to know locals over a traditional dinner.
1. Learn 3 Key Words
Don’t assume that everyone will – or wants to – speak English!
Taking the time to learn these 3 important words can take you a long way when you’re in a new land:
- and Thank You!
Even if you don’t get the pronunciation right, people will appreciate the effort. At the very least you may get a smile and a few laughs. 😀
And the more you know, the richer travel experience you may have.
2. Tools to Help You
There are many amazing places to visit in this world and with them come thousands of different languages. There’s no way to learn them all!
Luckily, there are tools to help.
- Phrase Books – Look up words and phrases quickly with books like Lonely Planet Spanish Phrasebook and Dictionary
- Picture Dictionary – Books like Point It give you an index of pictures you can point to if you’re in a pinch.
Note: You could save some money by doing an image search on your phone. You can also use a map on your phone to show or tell taxi drivers the names of the street if your phone app is giving you turn-by-turn directions.
- Google Translate – Speak or type what you would like to say and this FREE app will give you the translation. Or use the camera on your phone to translate text on signs and menus almost instantly! This amazing tool can help Emily avoid ordering anything with fish!
- Tap & Say – Tap key phrases even when you’re offline. Then this FREE app will do the talking for you!
Making your way around a foreign country can get interesting when you don’t speak the language. But learning 3 key words and using tools to help you translate can take the stress out of any communication barriers you may face.
Also, being friendly, polite, patient, and having a sense of humor will make it easy to find folks who are more than willing to help!
And remember, being exposed to new languages is part of the fun and learning experience of traveling, so enjoy the ride!
If you’re an experienced international traveler, how do you break through the communication barrier?