Lecturer, Spanish and Translation Studies , University of Surrey
Lucy Bell does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
The British have long been notorious for their lack of ability in foreign languages but there are signs that, far from becoming more cosmopolitan as paid-up members of the European Union, they are getting worse.
According to recent research by the British Council, 82% of British people consider themselves unable to communicate well in a foreign language, 40% have found themselves in embarrassing situations on holiday as a result of their incompetence, and 18% have ordered food off menus without the slightest idea of what it was – and without being illuminated when the food arrived.
The Barton syndrome
The most striking figure, though, is perhaps that 17% of the 2,000 British participants in the poll confess to have spoken English in a foreign accent to get their message across. Out of fear of the foreign, 18% of us stay primarily in resorts (and avoiding too much contact with the “locals”) and 21% stick to British restaurants (instead of facing the possible horrors of local cuisine).