When one travels abroad, it is amazing how many people can understand basic English. It is also amusing how badly some things are translated into English. I expect the same happens when English is translated into another language – meanings get distorted. This often leads to misunderstandings.
As a country, we are quite good at encouraging people to come and visit us to see the sights and sounds. But, one thing I have noticed in my travels around the UK, is the lack of language skills of staff in hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist destinations who can speak another language.
We need to find a way, whereby there is always at least one member of staff who can speak one of the main languages used by tourists. This would include French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Hindi and Swahili. Most foreigners will know one of these languages, wherever they come from. For example, most tourists from South America speak Spanish. Even those who speak Portuguese (those from Brazil) will understand Spanish to a certain extent.
Maybe there should be a multi-pronged approach. All schools should teach at least one language, with a focus on conversational skills. Each council should be given money by the Government for their tourism budget to run conversational skill courses in at least three languages according to the highest number of foreign tourists that visit. Each employer should give time off to its staff to attend these classes, funding their attendance. Staff would need to agree to go on regular refresher courses to keep their skills up to date. Maybe, a financial incentive is given to attend these courses. It is also important that senior staff also attend these courses, to show leadership and how serious this matter is taken.
By recognising the importance of learning another language, will mean that there can be an increase in the number of different ways one can increase tourists and also in our dealings in business we will be on a level playing field.