Britons 'nervous to speak foreign language when abroad'

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

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image captionOver a third of those surveyed said they relied on locals speaking English

A quarter of British holidaymakers feel nervous at the thought of having to speak the local language when they go abroad, a poll suggests.

The survey of more than 2,000 UK adults for the British Council found 40% were embarrassed by their language skills.

But nearly two-thirds (65%) thought it was important to learn a few local words or phrases before going abroad.

The poll comes as exam regulator Ofqual notes a decline this summer in A-level and GCSE entries for languages.

While other traditional subjects have seen a rise in entries this year, Ofqual said languages were continuing to fall in popularity.

The Russell Group of research intensive universities said this further fall in the number of students studying foreign languages was concerning.

"Languages are vitally important to the UK if it is to be fully engaged with the world," said the group's director general Dr Wendy Piatt.

Do you speak English?

The British Council poll found a quarter (25%) of the 2,098 UK adults surveyed said the thought of having to speak a language on holiday made them feel nervous.

Over a third (36%) said they relied on the assumption that everyone would speak English in the country they are visiting.

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image captionOnly 16% of those surveyed said they could speak a foreign language to a high level

Just under a fifth (19%) said they would choose a holiday destination where they knew they would not have to communicate in another language.

Only 16% of those surveyed said that they could speak a foreign language to a high level.

But almost half (48%) said they enjoyed trying out their language skills while on holiday.

Job prospects

Mark Herbert, head of schools programmes at the British Council, said: "While it's good to see that Brits are generally willing to have a go at speaking the local language when on holiday, too many of us still rely too heavily on English while abroad.

"The reality is that speaking a foreign language doesn't just help you to get the most out of your holiday - it is a rewarding way to connect with another culture and, with employers now crying out for more language skills, it can boost your job prospects too.

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionLanguage teachers say learning another tongue helps improve community relations

"Ultimately having more of us being able to speak at least a little of a foreign language is good for the UK's long-term competitiveness in the increasingly globalised world."

The Association for Language Learning said learning a language was not just important for education and skills, but also for the economy, security and community relations.

President of the association, René Koglbauer, said: "At times of fear of 'otherness', it is crucial to emphasise the importance of language learning and its unique contribution to broadening the minds of our youngsters, their awareness of cultural differences and their critical appraisal of misconceptions."

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