Have you ever wondered what it is like for an English native speaker, travelling abroad to other countries where English is not the first language? In this article, we will cover a wide variety of topics to try giving you a bit of insight as to what it’s like, at least for me anyway.
I love travelling, and have travelled to quite a few foreign countries. I thought it would be easy, having English as my native language, as it is one of the most recognised languages in the world… but was I in for a big surprise. I had to have an attitude adjustment. Turns out, there are actually quite a few countries where although English is studied at school, it is not practised and language is like a muscle, so if you don’t use it, you lose it. Travelling in these countries was challenging, from trying to find out what food is being offered on the menu, to explaining to the taxi cab driver, where you want to go to. The frustration at explaining the same thing over and over again while trying to keep calm is difficult especially if you are running short on time. There are a number of challenges facing an English native language speaker in a foreign country. One thing that is always on your mind is realising that not only are there language barriers, but there are also cultural barriers too. It will do you well to research the culture of the country you are visiting. In some countries, you give specific flowers for specific occasions and a certain number of them too, or shaking hands over the threshold which is a no-no. Visiting new countries, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and traditions can bring so many unique and priceless memories. You wouldn’t want to ruin it by offending someone by doing or saying something which is usually acceptable in your own culture.
Nowadays, we have apps readily available, like ordering an Uber taxi through the app, and its ease of use, pointing at your exact current location for pick-up, and a map marking where you want to go to, or Google Translator which translates from a list of different languages. In fact, as of June 2021 (according to Wikipedia), Google Translate supports 109 languages and more than 100 billion words are translated every day. It is not the only translator app, but it is one of the more popular ones. With apps like these, travelling has become so much easier, and it is slowly breaking down what once was seen as a difficulty or a challenge, and instead, it is bringing people of all nations and cultures together.
Something I have noticed is that English idioms, and some English phrases, are not commonly known. So when I start talking about getting my ducks in a row, I get some strange looks. I have made it my mission to include these types of phrases in my English teaching sessions, to help students, who so badly want to learn the English language, to understand these common expressions which they will most likely come across or hear when speaking to an English native speaker.
There are times where words can be taken literally when they are supposed to be taken figuratively. I’m sure it can be confusing when a foreign language speaker is telling an interesting story to an English native speaker, and then they reply with “Get the heck out of here”, so do you get up and leave – no, it’s just a silly expression, and these types of expressions get us native speakers into trouble sometimes because it doesn’t mean get out of here, it’s actually just the same as saying “oh my goodness” or “oh my word”.
In the end, it is important to remember these differences, where you are or where you going to, and to always show respect for one another. Being an English native speaker has its own challenges. If you are an English native speaker, remember what has been discussed here, do some research about the culture(s) you are visiting and always keep in mind that not everyone will understand you or everything you say or even why you are saying it. As for English non-native speakers, don’t be afraid to practise using English and use the opportunity when it presents itself. Also, ask questions if you don’t understand a phrase or a word and if something offends you, explain why so that you can help other cultures understand your culture. Just because someone speaks English as a first language, and is travelling in a foreign country where there may or may not be English being spoken, it doesn’t mean we know everything, actually we are the ones who need the guidance and look to you for help.