Lonely Planet Writer

Research suggests 10% of adults don't travel abroad due to language barriers

Once you have the money, visas and time off booked, what’s stopping you from taking that trip? New research suggests that language barriers are still a huge obstacle to people deciding to travel.

A young woman asking another for directions.
Respondents say a language barrier can cause huge misunderstandings, including becoming lost. Image by portishead1

A survey, carried out by booking site Hostelworld.com, found that 10% of UK adults say language barriers prevent them from travelling abroad; which could be up to five million people. That number rises among younger people aged 18-24, where 15% feel discouraged due to a lack of knowledge about the local language.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents said they wished they were better at speaking other languages and had plenty of reasons for doing so. Primarily, they wanted to become more deeply immersed in the country’s culture (38%) but also to meet new people (24%) and 21% wanted to use new language skills to help them get off the beaten track.

Twelve per cent of respondents say they got embarrassed trying to speak another language because of the amount of misunderstandings they reported. Twenty-one per cent said they had gotten lost on their travels due to a language barrier, 20% of people said they found it difficult to order food, while 9% had even gotten on the wrong train, bus or even plane!

Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto City, Nagano, Japan
Japan is the country people want to visit the most, if language wasn’t an issue. Image by cowardlion/Shutterstock

Japan is the top country that travellers say a language barrier is off-putting. Twelve per cent said they would visit the country if they spoke the lingo, with Spain and China coming second and third respectively.

Hostelworld commissioned the survey to coincide with the release of a new translation feature on their app, helping travellers translate 43 languages with your phone. In total, they surveyed nearly 8500 adults across UK, USA, Spain, France, Italy and Brazil earlier this year.

As well as Hostelworld’s new translation feature, there are some other potential solutions to help you out of awkward situations with a language barrier: