9 Exotic Places Where English Is Widely Spoken

Exotic destinations

In most countries, hotel staff, airline employees and tourism personnel speak at least some English. However, once you step off the tourist trail, you will quickly be reduced to using a phrasebook or relying on the point-and-gesture method of communication. To avoid that, many travelers choose to stay in the tourist bubble.

But in a number of countries, including many former British colonies, English is used for official purposes, or as the unifying or bridge language in nations where there are many regional languages. So even if you're a monolingual Anglophone, the world is not off limits — you just have to know where to travel.

Here are nine far-flung destinations where an English speaker can step off the tourist trail and still be able to communicate. (Text: Josh Lew)

South Africa

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South Africa is a linguistic melting pot. It has 11 official languages, and a smattering of other dialects and creoles that have no official status but are spoken by local communities. In very rural parts of South Africa, many residents speak only the local vernacular. But almost everyone else in this country of more than 50 million people can speak English. English, which is more-or-less politically and ethnically neutral and is the de facto lingua franca (or bridge language) for the entire country. From the beaches of Durban to the wineries of the Western Cape to the grasslands of Kruger National Park, you will be able to get by in English without any problem.

In some areas, local languages may be heard more often on the street (Afrikaans and Xhosa in Cape Town, Zulu in Johannesburg and Durban). However, when two South Africans of different ethnic or linguistic backgrounds communicate, they almost always use English. So not only can you use English to communicate, nearly every South African whom you encounter will expect you to use it.

Philippines

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Filipino, a tongue based on the widely spoken language of Tagalog, is the co-official language of the Philippines, alongside English. English television channels and newspapers are common in urban areas, and, since everyone who has been to school has studied English, it is widely used on the street as well. Even when speaking Tagalog or another regional language, locals will often sprinkle their sentences with English words and phrases.

In the cities, Anglophones will have no problems speaking with taxi drivers, waiters, or even people in the smallest shops or market stalls. This widespread knowledge of English has made the Philippines a popular destination for travelers from the U.S., Australia, Great Britain and other English-speaking nations.

Guyana

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Guyana is the only South American country that uses English as an official language. Located on the continent's northeastern coastline, it has more in common — at least culturally — with Caribbean nations like Trinidad and Tobago than with its South American neighbors. The language on the street has a unique cadence and uses words and grammatical structures from other languages, so it can take a few days to get used to it.

With a blending of Indian, Native American, and African culture and lots of beaches, eco-tourism destinations, and well-kept colonial-era architecture, Guyana is one of the most underrated destinations in South America, and certainly the most accessible nation on the continent for English speakers.

Sri Lanka

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This South Asian island nation is coming back into the tourism spotlight after a long-simmering civil war between government forces and Tamil separatists. This history-filled Buddhist-majority country, with idyllic tropical mountains, wildlife-filled forests, and some of the world's best beaches, has a colorful colonial past and some cultural and religious practices that have not changed for hundreds of years.

English remains the second language for much of the population. This is especially the case in the cities like Kandy and the capitol, Colombo. Though some rural-dwelling Sri Lankans are monolingual or bilingual in Sinhalese and/or Tamil, the two main local languages, most people have at least a functional command of English, and many educated people in Sri Lanka are quite fluent.

India

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English remains an important language in India, Britain’s largest former colony. Hindi, the tongue of the northern regions of India, is the co-official government language, alongside English. A number of other regional languages have tens of millions of first-language speakers. Each of these languages has its own cinema and own form of popular music. Because of the regional language differences, English is a major language bridge among Indians, especially for the middle class and the white collar workforce.

If you have ever seen a Bollywood movie, you know that many Indians sprinkle English words and phrases into conversations in Hindi or their regional language. This means that you can follow part of what's being said, even if you don't speak the language. Except in very rural areas, most people know at least basic English, and many Indians in cities throughout the country are fluent. The unusually rapid speed of speaking, the use of outdated British words and phrases, and an unusual accent can make English in India difficult to understand at first. However, once you become familiar with the nuances, you can go anywhere in the country and understand almost anyone.

Singapore

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One of Southeast Asia's most prosperous nations, the tiny city state of Singapore is home to 4 million people. Three different ethnic groups make up most of the population. As a former British colony, English has long been the main language of communication between these different groups. Each child in Singapore learns English alongside their “mother tongue” in school (Mandarin for the Chinese population, Tamil for the Indian population, and Malaysian for Singaporeans of Malay descent). The result: almost everyone, save the very elderly, can speak English fluently.

Singaporean street English, often called Singlish, uses Chinese grammatical structures and is sprinkled with Chinese and Malay words. It is mostly understandable once you can grasp the rhythm and the sometimes-strange word order. All Singaporeans are able to switch between this local vernacular and standard English, which they learned in school.

Nigeria

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By some accounts, there are as many as 500 languages currently used in Africa's most populous country. Several major languages are used as regional bridge languages, but everyone also speaks English, which is the sole official language.

Many Nigerians are quite fluent in English, having learned it from a young age in school. Even those who have not had any formal education can speak Nigeria's informal English, sometimes called Nigerian Pidgin English, which has lots in common with the local dialects spoken in the anglophone Caribbean. English-speaking tourists can introduce themselves to urban Africa in the booming mega-city of Lagos or explore the wildlife-filled lands of Yankari National Park without using a phrasebook.

Malta

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This European nation sits in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Everyone on this ancient island speaks Maltese, a language that has more in common with Arabic and Amharic than with any language spoken on the continental mainland of Europe. However, virtually everyone who lives in Malta is more-or-less fluent in English as well.

Malta's radio and TV stations broadcast in both English and Maltese, so you can get a taste of all aspects of Maltese life without a phrasebook. Unlike Arabic, Maltese is written with a Latin alphabet, so reading does not require being familiar with an entirely different writing system. This makes it easier for visitors to pick up a few words and useful phrases while they travel. Many Maltese residents appreciate any attempts that tourists make to speak Maltese.

Ghana

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This relatively user-friendly African nation relies on English as a bridge language. Ghanian English is relatively easy for American English speakers to understand. Other Ghanian languages are often heard on the street, but the media uses English almost exclusively and most business transactions are also carried out in English. Virtually everyone in Ghana has at least a functional command of the language.

The city of Accra is considered one of the safer metropolitan areas in Africa, at least in terms of violent crime, so it provides a good introduction to the continent for people who are traveling there for the first time.