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Brits abroad swap phrasebooks for Google

Google Translate is becoming the favourite travel companion for the younger generations of Brits abroad, who are abandoning phrasebooks and turning to technology to communicate across language barriers, a new British Council survey revealed.

Younger respondents said they used Google instead of phrasebooks. Photo: Olylinch/Pixabay

One in three said they’d pass on a restaurant if it doesn’t have a menu in English

Over 60% of the respondents aged 16 to 34 said they had used smartphones and Google Translate, with only about half still using a traditional phrasebook.

“Technology can’t replicate the linguistic and cultural nuances of human conversation”

However, one in five also reported that automatic translation has led to misunderstandings on their holidays.

For those keen to avoid the mistranslation trap (remember that Galician festival?), or spending the entire holiday fumbling with a phone, the British Council has a simple solution: why not learn the language?

“Technology has its limits and can’t replicate the linguistic and cultural nuances of human conversation,” British Council school adviser Vicky Gough explained.

“Ultimately, nobody wants to be stuck staring at their phone screen all holiday, so taking the time to learn a few phrases can pay dividends.”

Gough added that holidays abroad are the perfect time to start practising a new language. The survey, carried out with 2,000 respondents from various age groups, shows that British holidaymakers know that in principle but don’t act on it.

While 73% of respondents said they are aware of the importance of learning a language before heading off on a holiday, 65% confessed they relied on locals speaking English and 21% admitted they didn’t learn any phrases before heading abroad.

One in three said they’d even pass on a restaurant if it doesn’t have a menu in English.

In line with the much-loved British politeness, 72% of respondents said they learnt to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language, while 69% learnt greetings.

Ordering drinks, asking for the price and ‘Do you speak English?’ were the third most learnt phrases, at 28%.

Finally, sorry seems indeed to be the hardest word, with only 16% reporting they had learned to say ‘Sorry, I don’t speak the language’.

The survey was conducted by Populus on a nationally representative sample of 2,131 UK adults aged 16+ from its online panel between 25-26 July 2018.

A recently launched initiative will see the creation of a £4.8m-funded Centre of Excellence to support language learning at GCSE in England.

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