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Eight travel destinations where English alone won’t cut it

English speakers have it relatively easy when it comes to traveling abroad – it’s the most popular second language in the world, commonly studied in 55 countries. And in most major international cities, even in the countries on this list, you will have an easier time finding English speakers than in more rural locations.

But even though English is not uncommon as a second language, it’s unwise to assume you can travel anywhere in the world without learning some basic phrases. Whether you’re asking for directions, navigating public transportation, or simply ordering food, basic tasks can be stressful when you can’t communicate. In this post, we will look at 8 of the most challenging places to visit for travelers who only speak English. Before exploring these destinations, you might want to brush up on the local language.


Only about 10 million out of China’s 1.3 billion people speak English. In major cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, you might hear English more often than in rural areas. Mandarin, the main Chinese language, doesn’t use the Latin-style alphabet. This only makes it harder for English speakers to try to read signs.


Colombia is the most challenging South American country for English speakers. Less than 10% of the population speaks English, so review some Spanish before visiting. Even in major cities, like Bogota, it can be hard to find local English speakers.


Like Colombia, some parts of Brazil can be a challenging South American destination for English-only speakers. Unlike Colombia, most Brazilians speak Portuguese. Besides Portuguese, a small percentage of the population speaks indigenous languages.


Although many Russians study English in school, it isn’t widely spoken. Some restaurants and tourist sites use it, but the average person doesn’t speak English. Consider bringing a phrasebook to help navigate the language barrier.


Laos is a small nation in Southeast Asia. It can be challenging to navigate this country even if you speak Lao. English speakers have an even harder time because you won’t often find locals who can communicate with you. According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Laos is one of the lowest English proficiency countries in the world.


Outside of the main tourist areas, English is not widely spoken. Turkish is the most common language in the country. Bring a guidebook or practice some Turkish phrases before visiting.


Most Moroccans speak Arabic, which doesn’t use the Latin alphabet. French and Spanish are frequently heard, but English is not as commonly used in Morocco. On the EF English Proficiency Index, Morocco is ranked as a Low Proficiency country.


Although some Mongolians are starting to learn English, it is not common in this country. Mongolian, the primary language, doesn’t use the Latin alphabet. As more Mongolians study English, this might be easier to navigate in the future. For now, practice Mongolian or bring a guidebook for your visit.

If you plan to visit a country with a low English proficiency, try to study the local language first. For more information on ALTA’s services, including language training, please visit

Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator. You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.

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