What Are The Friendliest Countries For Language Learners To Visit?

Are certain countries more tolerant of tourists speaking their language poorly than others?
Woman holding a map looking out at the city

In the multilingual fantasies of your dreams, are you hamming it up with the neighborhood baker in flawless Italian? Or are you sheepishly attempting a complete sentence in French as a quizzical local looks down his nose at you? No matter how you see things going, the friendliest countries for language learners aren’t always the ones most people immediately suspect — and you may be surprised by some of the possibilities that await you in the realm of welcoming language tourism.

But first: what do we mean, exactly, by “friendliest countries?” This is definitely a subjective measure of the warmth and receptivity that people experience when they visit a foreign land, and it’s worth noting that not all cultures demonstrate “friendliness” the same way.

In America (and in countries with high levels of immigration over the last 500 years), smiling at strangers is somewhat common and expected, and that’s due in large part to the fact that those cultures have developed in conditions where facial expressions were necessary to overcome linguistic barriers in a highly heterogenous society. In other countries that are more homogenous (and used to high levels of instability), smiling can be seen as a sign of stupidity or ill intent. So it makes sense to say that if you’re coming from a country like the U.S., what you perceive as unfriendliness in a foreign country may not necessarily be coming from an intentional place.

Then, there’s the matter of where one might subjectively feel most encouraged to practice their budding language skills. Certain countries (like France) have developed a reputation for being snooty toward foreigners who have the gall to butcher their language, but does the stereotype necessarily match reality? Hint: not all survey data is necessarily consistent with these tropes.

It’s probably safe to assume that if you’re in a major tourist city that’s brimming with foreigners attempting to awkwardly stutter through the language, you’ll probably encounter a higher percentage of rather #unimpressed locals with limited reserves of patience. Conversely, if you’re in a place that’s a little more off-the-grid, and especially one where locals speak a minority language, you’ll probably make someone’s day when you address them in their native tongue.

But perhaps the closest thing we currently have to an objective measure of the world’s friendliest countries is a survey released by InterNations, a network for expats. The organization asked its members where they felt most welcomed as expats and visitors, and thus produced a ranked list of over 180 countries.

The Friendliest Countries For Tourists And Expats, Ranked

Among the friendliest countries on this list are Portugal (number one), Taiwan, Mexico, Cambodia, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Oman and Colombia.

Bringing up the very rear, the unfriendliest countries were Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria and Kuwait.

What’s perhaps somewhat surprising (depending on who you ask of course) is that the United States, supposed beacon of people from all walks of life, falls somewhere closer to the “inhospitable” side of this scale.

Either way, this list may not totally gel with your expectations. But more importantly, it may give you new and unexpected places to add to your bucket list of destinations.

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