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How Far Can You Get in the World Only Speaking English?

There are plenty of people who travel and live abroad, yet somehow manage to get by with only knowing English. The falling rate of people learning languages in the U.K. and U.S. perhaps points to a sort of English-speaker arrogance—because English is considered such a global language, we tend to assume that everywhere we go we’ll find people who speak it. On the other hand, monolingual status can also stop people from traveling abroad because they fear not understanding others or not being understood. Are you curious to find out just how far you can get with English being the only language you know how to speak? Let’s take a look!

Photo via Flickr

Is English really global?

English has long been touted as the global language for business, travel, and politics, but is this really the case? While English is widely used, it may surprise you to learn that it’s not even one of the top two most spoken languages in the world! Chinese is the language with the most speakers, followed closely by Spanish. English may carry a lot of clout, but it’s not quite the dominant tongue most people imagine it to be. And it’s time for nations like the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. to stop portraying themselves as ‘bad’ at learning languages in order to avoid acquiring anything other than English. People around the globe put their best foot forward to learn other languages, English being one of them, and there are many countries where bilingualism and multilingualism is the norm. Unless you want to believe that being born American means that you don’t have the same language learning genes that the Swiss do – which is, of course, ridiculous!

Photo via Flickr

How far can you go?

It’s a known fact that English speakers can be found in almost every major city on the planet. However, that doesn’t mean that traveling without knowing any other language is a breeze. If the only thing you care to get out of your travels is photos in front of major monuments, or visits to tourist-heavy sites, then learning to speak another language besides English probably isn’t that important. But, if you want to be less of a tourist and more of a traveller, if you want to understand the culture, history, and people, if you’re interested in doing business with locals, or traveling off the typical beaten track, then learning the language of the country you’re visiting is the way to go! And even if your plans don’t extend beyond big cities, knowing how to speak the local tongue can be a huge help. I can tell you from personal experience that cities like Taipei and Tokyo actually have few locals with a good grasp of English—I certainly wish I’d taken time to learn at least some Mandarin and Japanese before paying these places a visit!

Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr

What should you learn?

You may be wondering which languages you should focus on if you really want to have most of the world covered when it comes to being able to communicate. Many experts say that Spanish is a great second language to learn because it is a common language in North and South America and useful in Europe as well. Not only that, Spanish is an excellent gateway language to picking up other, similar tongues such as French or Portuguese. Once you conquer Spanish, learning other Latin-based languages is a lot easier and you can easily acquire multilingual status. Another great option is the most spoken language in the world: Chinese. Not only because it’s spoken in China, one of the globe’s biggest powerhouses, but also useful if you’re traveling to Taiwan or Singapore—both of which are huge business hubs in Asia. If you master the language trinity of English, Chinese, and Spanish, you’ll be able to travel large parts of the world with very little trouble!

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Even if you don’t have any plans to set foot on foreign soil, learning another language can be hugely enriching. It will spark an interest in another culture, help you make new friends, and yes, even inspire you to travel! Why settle for only English, when you can have so much more?

Do you have experience traveling while only speaking English? Do you think knowing the local tongue would have made for a better travel experience? Share your story with us!