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Rick Steves Classroom Europe™ is a free resource allowing teachers to share the best of European art, history, and culture with their students and fellow educators.

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Language Barrier

Europe

Europe is increasingly bilingual, with English as the second language. Politely start conversations in the foreign language, then speak simple English. Make educated guesses and proceed confidently.

Complete Video Script

Years ago, the language barrier was a big problem. But today's Europe is increasingly bilingual — and English is its second language. These days it seems any place interested in your business speaks your language.

While it's nothing to brag about, I speak only English and manage fine. Still, a few tips help. It's rude to assume everybody speaks English. To be polite, I start conversations by asking, "Do you speak English? — Parlez-vous anglais? Sprechen Zie Englisch?" Whatever. If he says no, I do my best in his language. Generally, after a couple of sentences he'll say, "Actually I do speak a little English." Okay, your friend is speaking your language. Do him a favor by speaking slowly, clearly. Enunciate. No slang, no contractions, internationally understood words. Instead of asking for the restroom, ask “toilet?” Instead of asking, "Can I take your picture?" point to your camera and ask "Photo?"

Make educated guesses and proceed confidently. This must be a pharmacy. And at the station, this sign shows trains arriving and trains departing.

Communicate with a curiosity and an appetite for learning. In Europe, each region has its own gestures.