Robert Lindsay, Independent Journalist and Provocateur: No Sacred Cows. Smash All Taboos
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No surprise here (perhaps apart from the high percentage in Slovenia). Even if Spaniards do speak English, you hardly understand them, because their accent is soo heavy. Netherlands and Scandinavia are top, partly because about 60% of their TV programs are British and American, and – in contrast to for example Germany – they do not dub foreign programs/shows, they just show subtitles.
You mean Cyprus, not Crete 🙂
So nearly as much percentage of the people speak English in the Netherlands as they do in England, just shows how many new immigrants there are in England.
I had a much harder time getting by not speaking the language in France (it was impossible) than Spain and we did French at school. I think that’s probably the reason why we did French at school rather than another language, because if you go to France you can’t get by without it…
Did a bit of Spanish at college for a few months and remembered some of it for a good while – but it’s all gone clean out my head now, but it’s not as daunting going to Spain and not having a clue about the language as it was in France – strange that a higher percentage of French people claim to speak English.
In Estonia everyone I came across spoke perfect English – but I downloaded an Estonian app on my phone anyway just in case (and found I never really needed it)… 😉
I feel it’s very arrogant and presumptuous for English-speakers to automatically assume that everyone in the world should speak correct English. Americans, Brits and Australians are the worst offenders. The Canadians, since they come from a country which has a proud bilingual tradition, seem to be a lot more tolerant of “non-English” languages.
Many people don’t like to speak English because native English-speakers make fun of their sincere attempts to learn. That sort of condescending attitude has got carried over into India where people who speak English get the best jobs and form the social and urban elite. Blue collar workers including drivers, cleaners, peons and people from the villages are expected not to know any English at all. If they do so, they would risk offending the upper classes. Many arrogant and snobbish upper class Indians actually believe that they speak better English than native speakers.
I digress, English is an international language and tourists everywhere should expect the locals to know enough English to hold an intelligent conversation. That’s not expecting too much considering that you want their tourist dollars.
Based on the information I have, some of the worst countries for English-speakers would be:
France: One of my ex-girlfriends did a degree in hotel management and had to spend 3 months in Paris. She isn’t very good at picking up languages and described her experience in the City of Love as hell. Of course, all educated Frenchmen speak correct English but they simply won’t in order to annoy and piss you off. The worst offenders happen to be taxi drivers, ticket clerks at subway stations, restaurant waiters – people whose job depends on tourists happen to cooperate the least. My ex-girlfriend told me there were days when she had absolutely nothing to eat because the French simply failed to understand her vegetarian dietary requirements. Unless and until you know a few basic phrases in French, you will get shoddy and delayed service and almost no-one helps you. The worst habit of people in France is that they simply IGNORE English-speaking foreigners especially if they don’t have a lot of money. They don’t exist, they don’t matter.
I’ve heard that the French countryside and smaller towns are far better places compared to Paris and many native French think that Parisians are rude, inconsiderate and arrogant.
Thailand I’ve spent time there. Although many billboards and shop signs are in English, it’s a nightmare to navigate your way in Bangkok from one part of the city to another if you don’t speak any Thai. Thai people are very hesitant in speaking English, not because of false national pride but because it’s used very little. The nightclub and entertainment industry is different: almost every girl speaks enough English such as “How much you pay?”, “You want good time?” The more you go to rural Thailand, the English language comprehension gets worse.
Uzbekistan I’ve been there. Beautiful country but if you don’t carry a Russian language phrasebook, you’ll be out of luck. The English speaking tour guides cost an arm and a leg. The Russian girls in Uzbekistan are very friendly, warm and caring but you have to speak at least a few words in Russian in order to get laid.
China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan All these countries do business in English but it’s a nightmare to travel from one corner of the country to another. Most of them don’t speak beyond a few words and very shy when approached in English. Plus the street signs are all in Kanzi characters. You’re out of luck.
Latin AmericaExcept for Mexico, the level of English comprehension in Latin America is practically nil. They don’t care since Spanish and Portuguese in Brazil form their own world. The only good sign: people from these countries are very friendly and will go out of their way to help you even when they can’t speak English.
You forgot Philippines, even in Filipino TVseries is common characters speaking lots of English phrases, but I am sad because there are no Korean TVseries dubbed in English, the international language, there are dubbed in many except it, I mean, why Filipinos only dub them in Tagalog if they are also English speaking, it would be an opportunity
Re: “I digress, English is an international language and tourists everywhere should expect the locals to know enough English to hold an intelligent conversation”
I can’t hold an intelligent conversation in English and i’m from Scotland…
I don’t think you can expect or rely on anyone speaking English when you go to a non English speaking country, though most people (although I found this much less obvious in France) these days do. I had a few difficulties in Germany, the Czech Republic and France (Paris), those were all big cities I visited, less difficulties in Italy (though this was a town rather than a big city), none what so ever in Estonia (big town/capital city) – because everyone I came across spoke fantastic English. No problems in Turkey, Greece, Spain and Tenerife, though these were probably mostly touristy areas – the issue of not speaking the language was hardly noticeable…
I have been to Paris on 3 occasions though and it’s a good idea to be able to understand some French as there’s not much help for English speakers i.e English translation for menus in restaurants etc and you come across a lot more people who don’t seem to speak English, but I never found anyone I came across there unpleasant or rude at all, but I was only there for short visits, the longest was 3 weeks and we spent a lot of time at a campsite with a lot of other tourists… 😉
@SHI: Korean dramas dubbed in Tagalog and Spanish 🙂 ,but not English!
Finns cant really speak english, but we understand it pretty good.
I have same thing, I understand english and I can write it, but I cant speak it, it is too different from finnish.
I live in Spain and I’m English. I’m that rarity who has actually learned the language. Most ex-pat Brits here can’t even order a meal. Your article should actually be about the crass attitude of those who expect to be able to converse only in English. Shame on you – and them.
All right I am banning you.
I’m not surprised that France has one of the lower percentages, I am however surprised that its neighbours are even lower. I got the impression the French took a lot of pride in speaking their own langiuage but not English. Mind you, they are our neighbours so…
Spain tends to have a lot of tourists from Britain, though I dare say few speak English outside the main tourist areas (mostly on the coast I’d imagine- i.e. people whose idea of “holiday” is “the beach”, though there are plenty of cultural/historical destinations to visit too, such as the remnants of Moorish Spain).
Know a lot of people in Germany speak English, but enough who don’t (which has managed to allow me to practice a little bit of schoolboy German at the post office for example).
Not notice on the map of % of English speakers in any individual country their native languages happen to be a Germanic one. with Dutch being closer to English than German? Meanwhile speakers of Romance languages have a lower percentage of English speakers as well.
China recently reduced score percentage of English (any foreign languages) test in its total score of college entry exam (their SAT). It is obvious attempt to discourage students to lean foreign languages.
When most people do not understand English in China, it only forces English speakers to learn Han Chinese. A example of authority attempt to preserve Mandarin as dominant language.
That’s actually smart. The Chinese are determined to preserve ethnic Han tradition. However, the Chinese are also silly for not preserving Hokkien, Uighur, Sogdian, Manchurian language and traditions. The Han are planning to ethnically cleanse their land of the minorities in China 🙁
The English speakers are very arrogant when things are concerned their very beloved “world” language. Why do they think that Spaniards with their beautiful language and self-sufficient culture should know English? Why are they surprised that Spaniards do not speak it? Rather it must be surprising that the English do not learn the languages of the countries where they’re travelling.
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