My hovercraft is full of eels

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It's not always laziness that stops us learning languages though – although that probably is the case for many people – as VidaFX found that a lot of the people it polled admitted they were too shy to attempt the local language as they'd be afraid about mispronouncing words and embarrassing themselves.

At least if you're trying to buy things in shops or order from menus, you can always resort to pointing, but Ford has found a worrying instance when that just isn't an option: when you need to call for emergency assistance from the side of the motorway. The motor giant discovered that three-quarters of Europeans have driven in countries where they don't know the local tongue and that ten per cent had actually had an accident outside of their borders in the last five years.

Fortunately, in this poll, we're not the worst – ourselves and the Russians come in on par at 75 per cent ignorance whilst it's actually the Germans who are most likely to get caught out.

To combat this, Ford's latest Fiestas have a system called Sync Emergency Assistance, which – using GPS, mobile networks and magic – lets you call 112 and speak to someone in your own language, whilst also locating exactly where you've had your bump. Edmund King from the AA reckons it's great and wants to see the safety feature fitted in all cars to help make the most of the "vital 'golden hour' after a serious crash".

Whilst that's a nice workaround, it's not really multifunctional, so there are a lot of instances where you'll hit a language roadblock, particularly if you're British, with TripAdvisor finding that only 11 per cent of us fluently speak a foreign language, compared to 70 per cent of Germans and 51 per cent of Italians. The best way to combat the problem for a fifth of us is for all public signs to be displayed in English, although we don't think that's really how it should work…

The issue of being able to speak more than one language has been raised at the European level, with the EC itself commissioning a report to find out our attitudes to multilingualism. Its findings could be summed up as 'the mind is willing, but the flesh is weak', with 98 per cent of those polled thinking that mastering languages will be a positive thing for their children, although the amount who actually could hold a conversation is way below that (54 per cent).

So how can you cope abroad if you're too lazy/self-conscious to speak the language? Whilst phrase books can help to an extent, they're not so great for pronunciations, which is where apps for your mobile device come in.

That's lots on offer, but perhaps the most well-known one is Google Translate which can translate text for more than 64 languages. It's not just a case of typing in words and phrases that you want to translate either – you can speak in English and it'll spit out the foreign equivalent in a similarly audible way.

It works the other way round too, so you could have a waiter or shop assistant speak into your device in their native tongue, you could hear the instant translation and then repeat the process for your reply.

The only downside with Google Translate and similar apps is that they require you to be online to use them, which can certainly rack up your roaming charges if you're not careful.

There are alternative options that can be used offline though, like the Jibbigo/Lonely Planet one which charges you a one-off payment for each language pack you need, whilst the Bing Translator on Windows Phones works in a similar way, but for free – just make sure that you download the language before you go.

Of course, if you're planning on taking a device away with you for translation purposes, you need to make sure that you have travel insurance cover to make sure it's protected, particularly if you're getting your phone out of your pocket frequently to do the honours. Find a travel insurance product that meets your needs by coming to Columbus Direct.
Date Posted: 25 April 2014
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