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Asian Countries With Language Barriers

Discussion in 'Asia' started by Catchmeifyoucan, Apr 22, 2016.

  1. Catchmeifyoucan

    Catchmeifyoucan New Member

    Which countries do you think are the most compatible with English speaking travelers? I know, being half Filipino, that the Philippines is very English speaking friendly because it is taught in their schools. I've heard that Korea is also another country where English as a second language is widely practiced. Are there any countries you would recommend avoiding for people that speak English only? Or any where you would suggest having a translator on hand?
  2. Valerie

    Valerie Active Member

    I would say any rural part of China or Japan (though I'm making a great generalization by naming only two countries). Rural or more isolated places are very insular and probably wouldn't have had much need for learning English as a second language. The more urbanized a place is, the less you will run into language barrier issues.
  3. amelia88

    amelia88 Active Member

    I would never say to avoid somewhere based on not knowing the language - to me that's part of the adventure! It can be a little intimidating to not know how to communicate with someone, but it's also amazing too.

    As Valerie mentioned, in my experience the more rural settings are ones where I've found more limited English being spoken. But I've found that everywhere, with a bit of a game of charades and acting things out, pointing to pictures or even using google translate on my phone (thank you technology!!) I've been able to be understood pretty well.
  4. Corzhens

    Corzhens Active Member

    When I first went abroad in 1994, it was a packaged tour to Hongkong. I remember our tour guide's name was Polly, a pert Chinese who speaks good English. After the city tour, we went to the place called Mongkok, the downtown where all kinds of stores are located. That was the start of our ordeal. At that time, English is very rare in Hongkong and I would haggle with the price using the vendor's calculator. We only communicate with hand signals and nodding or bowing of the head. You can imagine our problem in the restaurant, we couldn't order what we want for we only relied on the pictures in the menu.

    When we came back to Hongkong in 2013, it was a different experience for English is quite common although there are still Hongkongites who couldn't speak English.
  5. Miya

    Miya Active Member

    Despite the image it has with the rest of the world, Japan is sadly not an English-friendly country. I have been to the big cities before and they have English signs on menus and stores, but hardly anyone can speak English. English is taught in school, but only the very, very basic stuff. Junior high school students can speak close to no English despite having English class 4 times a week. If you ask them "How are you", some of them still can't answer. I know this for a fact because I teach at multiple junior high schools.

    High schoolers are slightly better, but not by much. Fortunately, Japanese people are super kind and they rely heavily on body language and gestures to communicate. So even if you don't speak a lick of Japanese, you'll still be fine in Japan.
    amelia88 likes this.
  6. Catchmeifyoucan

    Catchmeifyoucan New Member

    Thanks for the suggestions. Japan is some where that would be on my list for travel. I've heard that it can get pretty pricey for lodging, and paying for food. I'll keep in mind the body language gesturing if I consider going. Maybe I'll try to do some Japanese lessons first just to get some basics. I've always had reservations in trying to a speak a language that I'm not fluent in though. I'm afraid I might misuse a word or put it in a tone that frames it as disrespectful.
  7. Myrr

    Myrr Member

    I think it would be more challenging in China, Hongkong and Vietnam. People do not usually speak English and even if they do, to understand their English, you really have to listen carefully because of their accent and the way they pronounce the words. Same as in Singapore. The good thing about Singapore is that there are a lot of foreigners and Filipinos who speak good English. And what's really surprising about Singapore is that some locals speak Filipino. I was really floored when we went to Bugis and this Singaporean approached me and talked to me in Filipino. I've never been to Japan but I guess the language barrier won't be a problem for me because I know a bit of Nihongo, thanks to the countless anime that I've watched. ;)
  8. amelia88

    amelia88 Active Member

    I definitely think their kindness and patience makes travel there easy - the other great thing about Japanese is that a lot of "foreign" words sound like English anyway - hoteru for hotel, for instance - so it is friendly for foreigners in that sense too, I think!
  9. ellajanelle

    ellajanelle Member

    I agree with amelia88, I think it's part of travelling and the adventure that comes with it. It could piss you off a bit though when not a single person understands. Haha! But I think there's always someone in a hotel who understands and can speak some English, if not fluently. I agree that Filipinos are trained English speakers. Even some of those who do not speak English regularly or have not had formal education understand the language. English is widely used in the Philippines. If you notice, a lot of hotels in Asia have Filipinos in their front desks.
  10. djordjem87

    djordjem87 Member

    Since I have some friends from Philippines and Thailand I can say that they are good with English. Never too good but they understand well. I also have Indian friends and they do have thick and heavy accents, sometimes funny and stereotypical but since they had the British Raj, the influence of England and their language and culture was massive. When I say since I mean because they had, I know it's been a while now since the Raj was finished. Anyway, most of the people speak Indian and even between each other because they do not know all the Indian languages and English is universal.
  11. crimsonghost747

    crimsonghost747 Active Member

    With some of the poorer countries it's also very much about where you end up going in the country. If you are in touristic areas then most people will speak good english because it helps with their business... but if you venture a bit further into the local areas you might find that no one speaks english as they don't need it in their daily lives.
  12. Coco

    Coco Active Member

    It's pretty much a good idea to just bring a translator in hand. Don't let the language barrier hinder you from travelling to a country. Just buy this t-shirt and point out what you want to another person:

    Hehe. Seriously, I'm considering buying this shirt online! Lol. Anyway, with regards to your question about which countries have the lowest English speaking population, here's the answer:
    • Bangladesh. It has only only 2% in its population which are English speakers.
    • Thailand. It has only 27.16% of English speakers in the population.
    • China. Only 8% of the population speaks English, this is for mainland China only, not Hong Kong and Macau.
    • Sri Lanka. It only has 9% of the population that can speak English.
    Anyway, these are numbers that I found off the internet. Someone in this thread mentioned about the Japanese and how they aren't able to understand English that well. I can attest to that having been to Japan and having two cousins from there as well. But despite the language barrier, we still have fun whenever they come here or whenever we go to Japan. So really, language shouldn't be a barrier to you to have fun as well.

    I hope this helps!
    Myrr and Catchmeifyoucan like this.
  13. Catchmeifyoucan

    Catchmeifyoucan New Member

    Awesome shirt and it actually seems like it would come in handy. As far as the list of countries that is pretty helpful. I would think that in Sri Lanka there would be a higher English speaking population, but that only comes from the fact that one of my uncles is from there, and all of his family that I met can speak English very well. Even the ones that live over there still.
  14. GemmaRowlands

    GemmaRowlands New Member

    Whenever I am going anywhere, I always like to make sure that I can speak at least a little bit of the language, as I find that it comes in useful along the way. It is also important to learn "I cannot speak much [insert local language]" as this would mean that they understand that you're struggling. I also think it is a mark of respect to take the time to learn about the language, too, as I think it is polite to be able to greet locals in their own language.
  15. Phileas80

    Phileas80 Member

    The level of English spoken in South Korea really isn't good. The language is taught widely in all the major cities but you'll often find yourself in situations where no one speaks English. You can navigate around Seoul easily as it has everything a capital city needs to help foreigners get around but meeting people who speak English well is based on age, location and luck.