When you travel somewhere new, especially outside of the country, you may run into situations with a language barrier. Whether ordering food from a cafe, renting a room at a hotel or ordering an Uber or Lyft driver to take you places, there may be situations where you meet someone who speaks more than one language – and probably one different than you.
Are Uber/Lyft drivers required to speak English?
Even though English is one of the most common languages in the world, Uber and Lyft drivers are not required to speak it in order to be drivers. There are exceptions to this rule, as some cities or states require taxi-service drivers to be able to speak English in case of an emergency.
There are some people who find it frustrating when there is a language barrier with their Uber or Lyft driver – especially if they’re lost or in a new part of town. While this is understandable, it is also important to remember that requiring someone to speak another language in order to work can be difficult for many Americans who want to make money in new or different ways than the 9-5 grind.
Check out our more detailed information on this subject below!
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Are Uber/Lyft Drivers Required to Speak English in the U.S.?
The short answer is no, drivers are not required to speak English in the United States.
However, there are many Uber and Lyft drivers who are bilingual, which comes in handy in beautiful, diverse places like Miami, Los Angeles or New York City.
Miami, Florida, for example, requires that all taxi-service drivers, including rideshare app drivers, must speak at least basic levels of conversational English in order to perform their duties properly. Most drivers, then, can at least communicate to you in basic English for any questions or concerns that you have, and they will still have access to a GPS system to get you where you’re going.
You can also have a look at our article which talks about How Much do Uber/Lyft Drivers Make in Los Angeles?
Can You Request an English Speaking Rideshare Driver?
Right now there is not an option in the United States to search and request a driver specifically based on their language.
Rideshare apps’ main goals are, and always will be: speed. When you request a driver, the closest one available to you is going to get the notification.
There is one good thing, though – Uber and Lyft will allow drivers to list the languages they are proficient in on their profiles. Therefore, if the closest driver to you speaks Spanish, English, and French, you’re going to be able to communicate with them – at least conversationally – in those languages.
If, however, your driver is listed as only a Spanish-speaking driver, you may have to cancel the ride and wait for someone who speaks English specifically.
The issue with this is that you can’t guarantee someone who speaks English is going to be nearby right when you need them, so you may be waiting a long time for your specific, English-speaking driver.
What Happens if Drivers and Passengers Cannot Communicate?
Communication during a rideshare ride usually boils down to small talk and polite conversation until the ride is over.
Sometimes riders will ask about local hot spots or cuisines, but mostly you’re either coming home from a wild night or getting a ride to the airport. While it is fun and worthwhile to communicate with your driver, it is not a dire necessity to be able to or to enjoy using rideshare apps.
However, if there was a situation that required immediate communication with your driver, most likely a language barrier will cause some difficulties.
As we mentioned above, some cities like Miami, Florida require that taxi-service drivers are able to speak conversational English in the case of an emergency that involves an English-speaker.
If during an Uber or Lyft ride, you are experiencing an emergency, it is better to make it clear to the driver that you are in distress and to motion for them to pull over. Then, you should always call 911 or emergency services for that area in order to receive assistance.
Even if your Uber or Lyft driver can speak English, that doesn’t mean that your life should be in their hands. Instead, call the proper authorities and have the driver pull over so you remain in one spot for an ambulance to find you.
If your driver does speak English, you can direct them to change course toward a hospital or other emergency service that your needs may require. However, proper authorities should still be called to make sure that necessary steps don’t need to be taken as quickly as possible.
Can Bad English Affect the Ranking of a Driver?
The ranking of a driver is based solely on the reviews and stars that they get from their riders.
If riders are leaving bad reviews based on a driver’s language proficiency, then yes, they may lose points.
However, having good or bad language skills in English is not indicative of a good driver. Again, all Uber and Lyft drivers will have access to a smartphone in their language, a GPS system that will tell them where you want to go, and will have passed their driver’s test to have a working driver’s license at the time that you get into their car.
Whether or not they can speak English well or at all should not affect the ride experience that you have – unless you prefer a chatty driver.
Duolingo Classes and Skills
As of June 2019, Lyft drivers are now able to take free Duolingo classes online to better their language skills in any language they choose! Especially English!
Duolingo is a great online site that teaches languages to users at their own pace. Once a language course is completed, Duolingo provides users with certificates of completion that are widely accepted by universities and job opportunities all over the country!
If a language-barrier is causing a rideshare driver to lose their rating, they can use sites like Duolingo to better their language skills from the comfort of their own home!
What if the Passenger Doesn’t Speak English?
If you are in an Uber or Lyft car and can’t speak English, but your driver only speaks English, then you may run into similar difficulties as the scenarios we’ve mentioned above.
Language barriers are difficult in any situation, but being a driver for someone who doesn’t speak your language may cause you some form of anxiousness. However, if you pay attention to your riders, follow the GPS request, and get them to their destination in a timely manner, there shouldn’t be any issues.
If, however, there is an emergency of any kind, try to pull over and call emergency services, and then request the language the rider speaks. Then have them speak to authorities. If they are unable to speak to authorities, try to convey the situation as best you can and make sure you’re easy to find if an ambulance is needed.
It is also important to remember that using your best judgment in a language-barrier situation is your greatest asset. Try to be patient and read your rider’s body language for any signs of stress or discomfort.
Do Uber Drivers Speak English in Other Countries?
With the introduction of UberENGLISH in Brazil, Shanghai, and Colombia, finding an English-speaking Uber Driver has now become a reality!
The reason UberENGLISH is only really available in places like those listed above is that these areas are NOT primarily English-speaking. In the United States, most drivers are going to speak English, even in diverse areas, and therefore do not have access to this country-specific app. However, in time there will be better ways to cross language barriers in many more places for Uber and Lyft riders and drivers!
Therefore UberENGLISH dedicates their time to making English-speaking drivers available to tourists and those that speak English as their first language.
Colombia & Brazil
Colombia and Brazil are doing very well as some of the first major countries to receive UberENGLISH.
Now available in Portuguese as well, Uber is doing its best to provide services to a wide array of riders!
Duolingo is even partnering with UberENGLISH to help educate drivers in specific proficiencies for English, Portuguese, and Colombian-Spanish!
Mexico & Latin America
Uber has been working hard to get more English-accessible drivers available in Mexico and Latin America. However, their efforts are not as successful as UberENGLISH in Brazil and Colombia.
There are, however, many people in these regions who speak English as a second-language per their education requirements in primary and secondary schools – in the same way that American students can learn conversational Spanish or French.
In the next few years, Uber expects to have available updates to their apps that allow crossing the language-barrier in many more places!
Uber drivers in European countries and major cities like Paris are known for transporting tourists from place to place very often. Therefore, you are most likely going to find someone who speaks English.
Again, try to check your driver’s language proficiencies listed on their profile, and if you have to wait for an English speaker, then you may just do that.