Language Barriers: Places In Europe Where English Is An Issue

Here's a little known fact. Language barriers are one of the main travel challenges. Language limitations have been found to influence travellers' decisions regarding where to go and how much to spend
France is one of the least proficient countries when it comes to the English language
France is one of the least proficient countries when it comes to the English languageoneinchpunch/Shutterstock

You are on a Europe tour, and you walk into a restaurant in Belgrade and try placing an order for a double espresso with milk and a sandwich, in English. But the person taking your order looks a tad bewildered. You resort to hand gestures to make yourself understood, and end up with the wrong dish somehow. Sounds familiar? This is fairly common, as some of Europe's most popular tourist destinations have the least proficient English speakers. Language barriers are becoming a major travel obstacle.

Studies have shown that language limitations influence travellers' choices regarding where to go. If you're planning a trip to Europe, it's a good idea to know where you'll be most understood, and which countries require basic local language proficiency and a translation app. So you can move around and communicate effortlessly. Here's some help.

Every year, global education company Education First (EF) compiles a list of the top (and worst) English-speaking countries in its English Proficiency Index (EPI). It assigns a ranking of 800 points to each country based on the results of 2.2 million adults who took EF's Standard English Tests in 2022. This is the result for various countries in Europe in their 2023 index.

The Top Countries

With 647 points, the Netherlands remained at the top of the list as they had the best second-language English proficiency in both Europe and out of 113 countries worldwide in 2022. Another European country in the top 5 was Austria, with 616 points, which came in third place worldwide. The next three positions were Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Belgium and Portugal were at 7th and 8th. Germany, Croatia, and Greece were in 10th, 11th, and 12th positions.

In Nyhavn's old harbour, Denmark
In Nyhavn's old harbour, DenmarkMarija Krcadinac/Shutterstock

Poland (ranked 13th in the world), Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Estonia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland (30th place) were among the European nations with "high proficiency" in English.

The Least Proficient

It may surprise you to learn that some of the most well-liked tourist destinations in Europe only had "moderate proficiency" in English. In terms of proficiency, France ranked 31st in the world in 2021. It fell to "moderate proficiency" at 34th in 2022. It is now ranked 34th in Europe and 43rd globally this year, which is among the lowest of all the Northern European nations in the study.

You may need to bring out the language apps in Spain
You may need to bring out the language apps in SpainLucigerma/Shutterstock

In the "moderate proficiency" category, Italy and Spain ranked similarly to their 2022 rankings, sharing 35th place worldwide or 32nd and 33rd in Europe. However, though France, Italy, and Spain are ranked lower than many other European nations, their capital cities have high levels of English proficiency.

Georgia and Belarus ranked 32nd and 33rd in the world respectively. Other European nations in the "moderate proficiency" group are Armenia (48th), Moldova (35th), Albania, Russia, and Ukraine. The 'low proficiency' category includes both Türkiye (66th) and Azerbaijan (83rd) as places where you might find it extremely difficult to be understood. Check out the entire index here.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller