Young British people heading abroad are ditching the traditional phrasebook and are more likely to pick up their phones to translate the local language, a new survey has found.

Over 60% of 16 to 34 year-olds say they’ve used their smartphones and apps like Google Translate to help understand the local language, with just 39% opting for a phrasebook, according to the poll from the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities

Phone Translate

But relying on technology brings its own perils with the survey also showing that 21% of 16 to 34 year olds reporting that an inaccurate translation on their phone has led to misunderstandings while abroad.

Across all age groups the majority, some 73%, recognise the importance of learning a few foreign phrases when heading overseas but 65% still rely on locals being able to speak English and 21% did not learn any foreign phrases at all for their most recent trip abroad, not even basic pleasantries such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

Some 29% revealed that they avoid going to a restaurant if the menu is not in English and only 31% said that they can hold a basic conversation in a foreign language with only 14% able to speak a foreign language to a high standard.

‘It’s fantastic that so many of us are ready to give foreign languages a go to make the most of our holidays, and smartphone technology can be a great first step in getting directions and finding out basic information,’ said Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council.

‘However, this technology has its limits and can’t replicate the linguistic and cultural nuances of human conversation. In fact, as our survey shows, it can potentially lead to a whole new level of confusion with phrases lost in translation,’ she pointed out.

‘Ultimately, nobody wants to be stuck staring at their phone screen, so taking the time to learn a few phrases can pay dividends, not just for a couple of weeks in the summer but in the workplace too,’ she explained.

‘With employers crying out for more language skills we need to give language learning the prominence it deserves. Trying out just a few words or phrases on holiday and encouraging your children to practice their language skills this summer is the perfect place to start,’ she added.

The British Council is currently working to build relationships for the UK around the world through language, culture and education. Past research has shown that the UK has a shortage of people able to speak Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Arabic and German, identified as the five most important foreign languages for the UK’s future prosperity and global standing post-Brexit.

The findings come following news that usage of Google Translate soared by 30% in Russia during the recent football World Cup. Top searches from fans making the effort to communicate with locals included translations for stadium and beer.