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Language in India: Can You Travel in India If You Only Speak in English?

It is on the mind of almost every traveller whether or not the communication would be easy for them. For a tourist planning to visit India, it is quite a common thing to ponder his head over the fact whether he would be able to communicate with the local people in English, or if learning a local language would be necessary. If the latter, where to get trained for local vocabs?

Getting back to the concern – can you travel in India if the only language you speak is English! Can you? Well, yes. Of course, you can. Though it is always good to know few excerpts of the local languages of the particular places, but India, being a tourist’s favourite since ages, is where English is known to almost everyone at least for the basic communication.

English CAN be the language of communication

Such is the diversity of India as a traveller’s favourite, that a particular language in India can never be a barrier in communication. If you are someone who knows only English, you can be ascertained to meet local people who can converse in basic English, if not scoring in fluency.

In other words, English works everywhere with people buying and selling things, in the hospitality and tourism business. Even the roadside vendors would be able to answer you about the details of the products sold.

Chat with the Indian Locals in English
Chat with the Indian Locals in English

English – indeed the binding thread

There is no doubt that English, as a language, is the only binding thread to communicate with anyone and everyone across the globe. In India too, where more than 22 different languages are spoken throughout the country, English is the only common vocab which more than 90% of people understand and communicate.

English is often NOT considered as a foreign language in India

Surprised? Don’t be. To be true with the facts, English is a foreign language as it is not native to India nor is it ubiquitous. But, the presence of the language in India is so versatile and vivid that it is hardly felt to be imported in our vocab from outside the country.

Look at this from a historical perspective. English, its influence to be precise, was brought to India by the British more than two hundred years ago, and it did stay for more than two centuries. Quite a big impact, though the language was never forced on the local people.

Yet, the language slowly crawled in to education, administration, and colonialism, and it stayed on. Today, India has two languages for central administrative purposes – Hindi and English, the latter being an associate official language.

Places where English is a sure shot thing

If you are visiting places like banks, airports, branded retail outlets, supermarkets, malls, luxury hotels, restaurants, and offices, you can be rest assured that communicating in English will be an easy job. These are the places where English is used among the most used language in India. Here, the people are dealing regularly with multilingual and foreign people and hence, English, as an international language is crucial enough. 

Places where English might not work

Though you might be visiting the posh places mentioned above, in your daily life during the visit, you might be interacting with auto drivers, road side vendors, cab drivers, waiters of road side stalls, bus conductors and more. And chances are high that these are not among the group of people well affluent in English language. For them, you might need to learn some local language, may be Hindi, for example.

Face the fact – Hindi doesn’t work everywhere

Yes, it is true that though Hindi is claimed to be one of the most widely spoken languages in India, yet the fact remains that demographic variation effects on the knowledge and grasp on the language. As a matter of fact, South India is less into Hindi as people down there speak in their local languages more than they do in Hindi. If you converse with them in Hindi, they might not be that affluent. Instead, communicating in English with them would be a better option.

Rural Vs Urban – and understanding of English

Travelling through the metro cities, English will not be a problem as most of the people can understand and speak in English, as one of the most common languages in India. While the elite class would be fluent in English conversation, the other sectors of society too do have quite a decent hold on the language.

The discrepancy lies in rural areas where literacy rate is much low. Here, people might be aware of the terms “sorry” and “thank you” as their only verbal inputs of English. It is here where you, as a foreigner, must learn some basic Hindi words and their verbal meanings so that the communication bridge is crossed easily.

Some common Hindi words you must learn, just in case

•    Namaste – It is a respectful greeting to start and end a conversation, similar to hello.
•    Aap kaise hain? – How are you?
•    Main thik hoon – I’m fine
•    Kya – What?
•    Nahi – No
•    Haan – Yes
•    Dhanyavaad– Thank you
•    Mujhe India pasand hai– I like India
•    Aapka naam kya hai? – What’s your name?
•    Mera naam ….hai – My name is….
•    Chalo – Let’s go
•    Thik hai – Okay
•    Mujhe maaf kijiye– Excuse me
•    Mujhe jaana hai – I have to go
•    Khana kaha milega? – Where can I get something to eat?
•    Mujhe peene ka pani chahiye – I want drinking water
•    Bathroom kahaan hai? – Where is bathroom?
•    Aap kaha ja rahe hai? – Where are you going?
•    Aap se mil ke khushi hui – It’s nice to meet you
•    Phir milenge– We will meet again.
•    Kitna baja hai? – What’s the time?
•    Mujhe maloom nahi– I don’t know
•    Mujhe theek se Hindi nahi aati– I can’t speak Hindi well.

Numbers in Hindi

•    0 – Shunya
•    1 – Ek
•    2 – Do
•    3 – Teen
•    4 – Chaar
•    5 – Paanch
•    6 – Chhey
•    7 – Saat
•    8 – Aath
•    9 – Nau
•    10 – Dus

This is all about English, its urgency as a language in India, impact of the language in rural and urban regions, and whether you need to know local languages if travelling in India. Keep the guide handy, especially the word list, to get going within anywhere in the country.

Happy India exploration. Dhanyavaad.

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