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I am going to France (Toulouse) for a day in October. I will be landing at Toulouse–Blagnac Airport. (TLS). I would like to travel and look around the city.

I have a limited knowledge of French from school.

  • Is the transport well sign-posted in English?

  • Is there information/maps available for English speaking people in town or at the airport?

I'm specifically looking for answers relating to Toulouse and not France in general/answers that are applicable to the most of France.

  • 4
    As mentioned in the answer, you will have no problem to find your way, even with a limited knowledge of French. In addition, if you speak Spanish, you could find many people to speak with, as there is a large Spanish-speaking population in Toulouse (I heard once that a third of Toulousains can speak Spanish, but I cannot find a link now) – Taladris Sep 19 at 17:12
  • @Taladris fantastic remark about Spanish. While I was unable to find the research you were referencing, it says here that 10% of the modern Toulouse population are of the Spanish origin and that Spanish is the second most spoken language there. – undercat supports Monica Sep 20 at 0:36
  • @Taladris I'd be surprise if 30% of Toulouse could speak Castillan. But they traditionally speak Catalan (localy called Occitan. It's the same language) – Madlozoz Sep 20 at 20:03
  • I don't think you'll get any problem, but don't expect signs in English once outside of the airport. It will all be in French and Catalan – Madlozoz Sep 20 at 20:05
  • @Madlozoz: that's just something I heard. 30% of Toulousains fluent in Spanish? Probably false. 30% of the population able to speak enough Spanish to find their way and/or help a traveler? Very likely. From my own experience and the experience of many friends, you can easily find Spanish speakers in Toulouse. – Taladris Sep 21 at 1:18
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I never had any French lessons and I have been traveling in France, often solo, every now and again in the last 35 years or so.
I never ran into trouble, the only time I was told to speak French (as an order rather than as a request) it was by French Canadians being loud in the hostel at night (and in that case I am pretty sure they did understand my English.)
Sometimes people ask if I do speak French and when I say no, we find a way to communicate. Often by finding someone who speaks English as well as French (or Dutch as well as French as Dutch is my native language) or we struggle with what each of us knows in the languages the other can understand.

Dealing with travel officials, you will notice that these days almost all speak some English, in the past you would find one person with a button 'I speak English' in the information office in the main station in Paris for trains to the north of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and to the ferries to England (no tunnel yet.) On my last visit all in the office spoke English and mostly at a high level.

My impression is that all of France has gone through that change. In the 1980's and 1990's the people were willing but most of them did not speak any English or not enough to dare speak with a foreigner.

I think I have been in Toulouse, in the '90's but it did not stand out as special language wise. I have been in many smaller and bigger villages and towns, as well as in some of the cities and I see the same pattern all over.
If tourists are common, English is spoken in most shops and public transport. If it is a town or part of town where fewer tourists come, you may have to find younger people to help you translate. Young French people also use the world wide internet sites the English and other Europeans do, and I think they are picking up and improving their English as a result.

These days almost all young people speak some English and a lot of them speak it well, and many people who were young in the '80 and '90 are secure enough in their English to be happy to use it.

In the last 10 years or so I have been part of a group having a meeting in France once a year. As part of the meeting we set up a show in a local museum or community center or some such.
And invite the local people in.
Our group is mostly French but has a strong English and Dutch membership. Some of our English and Dutch do speak French and speak it well, the rest does not speak French much or at all. Some of our French people do speak English (and some also German) as well as French, so people who can translate are mostly not far away.
But it is amazing how few people in France can not handle a simple face to face talk about what is on show, with only a few words of French from me and a few of English from them.
I have had a few people who just look and walk on but I have never had people getting angry because us foreigners took over their local museum or hall. Mostly they do express gratefulness that foreigners have taken the time and effort to come to them and share their passion.

The general level of English in France is way better than the general level of French in England.

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    I think it usually helps to be able to communicate a little bit in whatever the native language is (things like "I want ...", "Yes", "No", and numbers up to 5). But generally, you can get quite a long way with body language / non-verbal communication. I remember going to Serbia some time back and having a long (like, 3-4 hour) conversation with an old dude who didn't speak any English, and I didn't speak any Serbian! We just spoke pigeon German, our own language, and drew things on a bit of paper - we managed OK. – Algy Taylor Sep 20 at 7:34
  • @AlgyTaylor exactly, you can get by anywhere on this planet with just body language and context. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Sep 21 at 18:59
  • As a French native I wanted to add that in the countryside it's not right at all that everybody speak english, I'm the only one among my friends group (we are about 15 ppl between 18 and 23 years old) that speak english properly. Tho most of them would try to help you and even with a poor english they will be able to understand some basic stuff ! – user98567 Sep 23 at 8:19
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I speak English and limited French and—anecdotally—most French people I've spoken to in the Île-de-France region would switch to English whenever they realized I wasn't a native French speaker, even though I had no issues understanding what they were saying in French.

While the knowledge of French would totally come in handy at grocery stores, cafes and such, you should have no issues visiting any major city in France with the working knowledge of English alone.

  • I experienced the same. Just a few decades ago the French were famous for refusing to speak any other language even if they knew it. Now they switch over to English if they see that French is not my first language. It even happened to me that I specifically asked them to continue in French so that I can practice my French language skills but they still kept switching over to English. – vsz Sep 20 at 6:18
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    I disagree that most people in Île-de-France speak passable English. What I found was that most people you'll actually encounter in Paris speak English well enough, but as soon as you pass the Périphérique it drops dramatically. Those people who don't interact with the public are more likely not to speak English at all, or at a lower level. – CJ Dennis Sep 20 at 6:39
  • @CJDennis That was my experience as well when I stayed in the Seine-Saint-Denis department located to the north of Paris, which is why I mentioned the "city" part in my answer. Although from my experience every "important" official or clerk knew enough conversational English to make my sojourn painless regardless. :) – undercat supports Monica Sep 20 at 9:13
  • Your answer and comment give the impression that Paris comprises the entirety of Île-de-France. Most of Île-de-France (geographically) is not in Paris. Where I stayed in Brie-Comte-Robert, no-one spoke English. – CJ Dennis Sep 20 at 9:36
  • @CJDennis That's interesting, I stayed at multiple locations in Paris, Melun and Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. In all these places I've met enough English speakers and bilingual signs to consider them convenient enough for an English speaker to navigate. That said, my perception may be skewed because I do speak some French. Thanks for sharing your experience. – undercat supports Monica Sep 20 at 12:13
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Toulouse is probably as good a non-Paris city as you could get to. Consider that it's home to Airbus, so while it doesn't have that many tourists proportionally, it gets a considerable amount of solely-English-speaking traffic. As long as you stay more or less downtown you shouldn't have too much trouble dealing with basics, if only because some member of the public could be a British engineer (if they're still in the EU..).

That said, I'd make sure to get your transportation information before leaving the airport, because few bus drivers, say, are going to be able to answer your complex questions in English. Get your materials in writing at https://www.tisseo.fr/en/home and learn a few words of useful vocabulary (sortie, arret..) and you should be fine.

Be aware also that a huge proportion of the population speaks Spanish. There are over a million descendants of Spanish refugees in the area, and in my friends' experience you can get help in Spanish anywhere around Toulouse, much easier than in English.

  • Great point about Airbus (I would add the Space Center too) attracting English-speaking people to Toulouse. Also, Toulouse is known in France for its large student population and French students nowadays are better than their seniors at English (at least written English). – Taladris Sep 20 at 2:19
  • "Toulouse is probably as good a non-Paris city as you could get to." -- or Lyon. I am not only the foodie visiting (regularly) Lyon without any French knowledge just to eat the oh so good food. – chx Sep 20 at 9:43
  • Yes, that's true Taladris, try to ask for help from younger people :-). And chx, food is a universal language, right up there with music. OP, be sure to have some duck while you're in Toulouse 'canard'.. – user61942 Sep 23 at 16:50
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Most french people in major cities in France like Toulouse speak some english, especially those who work in the service area. My advice, start by saying bonjour and aksing if they speak english (parlez-vous anglais?). They'll have probably already guessed you're not french, but they'll be far happier to help if you're polite and don't assume that they speak english (a lot of french people find tourists assuming everyone there speaks english is quite rude).

Overall, all of the important signposts have english translations on them and most people speak english, so you'll be fine!

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You will be fine.

Toulouse Airport is an international airport, you will find enough signage (French and English) to get you in and out of the airport to the city center either on a Tram (T2), bus or a taxi.

Some officials at the airport will have working knowledge of English (be mindful of the accent :-) ); A little less at the city center.

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I'm living in France and did my studies in Toulouse. I get back to Toulouse quite often.

I would advice you to have a look at "Office du Tourisme". They do speak english and will be happy to help you.

There's a little train starting at the Capitole place that take you to the most interesting parts of the city. The duration of the train tour may fluctuate given traffic jam.

Don't forget to try the "Saucisse de Toulouse" and the "Cassoulet".

  • Unfortunately, I believe the little train is a summer-only service, and the OP might miss it entirely. A good thing to step on if you see it though! – user61942 Sep 23 at 16:51
  • @GeorgeM The little train is closed only from January to March (petittraintoulouse.com/horaires-tarifs?lang=en). – Stephan Sep 23 at 20:02

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