Can you get by speaking English on your international trip?

August 11, 2015 Mark Dauner

Can-you-get-by-speaking-English-on-your-international-tripIt should be obvious to everyone that an important component of international travel is effective communication. Wherever in the world your travels may take you, knowing what language(s) you’ll need to be able to communicate in is key. Can you get by using English on your trip? Will you need to learn some key phrases in a local language or use a translation app like TripLingo (which is integrated in Travel and Transport’s Dash mobile app) or Google Translate?

One way you can get a pretty good indication of languages spoken and used in international locations is by studying the languages people use to communicate online. Google Trends offers a new tool that allows you to see the language of the top searches in some of the world’s largest cities.

  • Berlin
  • Delhi
  • London
  • Madrid
  • New York City
  • Paris
  • Sao Paulo
  • Shanghai
  • Toronto

Some of the results are obvious. As you might expect, the number one language used for Google searches in Madrid is Spanish. However, what you might not realize is the 2nd most used language is English – overtaking other European languages by a significant margin. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, you might expect Portuguese, English and Spanish as the top three languages. That’s true. What is fourth? It’s Afrikaans. I probably wouldn’t have guessed that on my own. It also allows you to search those cities by language – finding the ones that have the largest percentage of Google searches in Swahili, for instance (of those 9 cities, it’s Delhi, followed by New York City). I’ve found this tool to provide some fascinating insight on the languages and cultures you might encounter during international travel beyond the expected ones.

There are a few problems with the tool. First, since only nine cities are analyzed, you don’t necessarily get the whole picture. In the Swahili example above, no cities in Southeast Africa such as Nairobi are included, which would certainly yield a higher percentage of Swahili speakers than Delhi or New York because it is an official language in Kenya. In addition, Google isn’t necessarily the prevalent search engine in all of the cities analyzed. In China, for instance, Baidu holds an almost 80% market share in search with Google at only about 10%. Google has had a tumultuous history in China and no data on Chinese languages or dialects appears in the analysis tool after 2006. English, German, Japanese and French lead the list of languages searched in in China, leading one to believe that Google is either primarily used by expatriates and travelers from other countries, or that the data is incomplete.

Still, there is some very interesting data to be found and this can be a great starting point when looking for indicators on languages and cultures throughout the world. For me, travel is all about discovery and I think this is a great place to start your journey before you ever set foot in the airport.

What tools do you use to get acquainted with languages and cultures of the world before you travel? I’d love to hear about them. Let me know in the comments of on Twitter @TandTNews.

The post Can you get by speaking English on your international trip? appeared first on Travel and Transport.

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