Most people do not know how many countries make up Britain or which is the world’s most spoken language, a national survey has found.
More than half wrongly believe that English is the most common language, while just over a third (37%) correctly identified it as Mandarin Chinese.
And less than a quarter correctly identified England, Wales and Scotland as being the countries that make up Great Britain.
The poll of 2,000 adults was commissioned by geographic technology company ESRI UK to mark Geography Awareness Week.
It found that a quarter of people would like to be an explorer – although many have trouble identifying where cities such as Leeds and Sheffield are in England.
When asked to rank a list of UK cities, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Luton, in the order they are located, from north to south, eight in 10 correctly placed Newcastle and Luton.
But only half could only identify Leeds as the second most northerly, while a similar number put Sheffield correctly in third place.
The poll found that just under a quarter of people have visited a local attraction or museum in the last month.
Dr Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, said: “The poll raises some questions about how engaged people are with the many geographical issues in the wider world and about geographical factual knowledge.”
She added: “Good geographical knowledge and skills are vital for all of us, as responsible citizens, if we are to fully understand the nature of change in the world’s people, places and environments.”
Angela Baker, community programmes manager for ESRI (UK), said: “Geography helps us make sense of both our local surroundings but also the world’s bigger challenges like climate change, war, energy and poverty. It’s remarkable that so many people don’t know some simple facts like how many countries make up Great Britain.
“What is encouraging is that explorer came top in people’s preferred careers and that map-reading and compass skills beat being able to use a sat-nav.”
There are 1.3 billion people in China and Chinese people live world-wide. Here Chinese President Hu Jintao greets members of the Chinese community in Peru upon his arrival at Lima’s airport November 19, 2008. REUTERS/Handout/Andina Agency