I went to Paris 2 years ago. When I was there, I was learning the language by talking and listening to the local people. But, while I was trying to speak French with them, they would speak English to me. I am going back this november. What can I do to get them to speak French?

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    @mindcorrosive then what is the 'culture' tag for?
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 18:18
  • @DantheMan There are only 4 questions tagged with it, but I would say it's sort-of similar to this question which was considered as on-topic.
    – Edd
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 18:39
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    Why shouldn't we use the word 'here' in a textlink (also applies to "this") Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 19:31
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    I think this is a valid question, but might be better if it wasn't specific to French. Indeed, the accepted answer is about Spanish. This question really applies to any language when traveling (unless there are cultural differences somewhere that make it especially challenging for some reason.)
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 8:14
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    +1 A person I know had this exact problem (only in France) when touring Europe. Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 18:03

7 Answers 7


It's a common problem I had in South America - I really wanted to improve my Spanish while travelling as it gives you a much better insight into your travels, and can talk to locals more. But so often they'd just switch to English because they welcomed a chance to learn English themselves.

You can either do the obvious (ask them to speak French so you can learn) or what I did occasionally - we'd hold dual-language conversations - I'd try speaking in Spanish and they'd speak in English, as it gives you speaking practice - the hardest of the language skills, in my opinion. Alternatively, you can switch - you speak English, they speak Spanish, and you both get to practice listening skills in the language.

Remember that travelling is a shared experience, they welcome visitors to their country (well most of them do), and if you can both benefit from a conversation, everyone wins!

  • Pues si te gustaría podemos practicar aquí nuestra español también. Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 4:52
  • jajaja ;) muy bien!
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 8:15
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    I just like to mention here, in South America specially in Brazil, people change to English, because it's sometimes easier to understand than the "foreign" Spanish that you are trying to hear. Not to "learn" english. The english works more like a universal language.
    – H_7
    Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 13:05

Just ask them. If they switch to english, say: "S'il vous plaît, en français, j'essaie d'apprendre."

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    In fact, we are so in love with our language that there is a risk, here: You might get a 2 hours formal french lesson. Whether you want it or not.
    – Madlozoz
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 11:38

One thing you could try: Learn a few phrases in an obscure third language.

I speak Romanian, for instance. So if I'm in France and trying to learn French, and they reply in English, I just give them a polite but blank look and say,

Îmi pare rău, nu înțeleg.

Of course, the risk is that they'll decide that you're not worth the trouble. So it just depends on how determined you wish to be.

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    You could also just say "Je ne parle pas anglais" to give the same idea without blank look and the bogus phrase.
    – Max
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 6:37
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    @Max True, but one bonus with my phrase is that sometimes I meet Romanians. 😁
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 10:22

Don't stress about it too much. Sometimes I have to remind myself that learning a language is a means to an end, rather an end in itself. You didn't go to France in order to learn French, you learnt French in order to go to France. Beware of the sunk cost fallacy - don't let the time and effort spent learning French unduly influence whether or not you use French.

I tried to speak in Japanese when possible when visiting Japan ("sumimasen, eigo o hanashimasu ka?" was usually a sign I was going to ask something complex!), but I made an exception for the sweet obasan who ran the ski hire shop in Zao onsen. She asked me to speak in English, and I did so.

Are you going back to Paris, or to France in general? You may want to check whether going to the more remote parts of France will mean people less likely to speak English. Then again, it could mean that those who want to speak English will be more insistent on speaking English than those in the middle of Paris!

You may also want to check whether France's colonies or former colonies tend to speak English less than France. That's an advantage you have over Japanese speakers - the only place outside Japan with Japanese as an official language is the island of Anguar, population 188!


From my experience it may be because your French is not good enough and it causes pain to their ears and some actual comprehension difficulty. On several occasions I have found myself in France with Anglophone companions who had no problem speaking with locals, whereas the locals rather preferred English when speaking with me. I do not take this as an insult- it's their beautiful language I'm butchering.

I would suggest trying to get the pronunciation exactly right- vocabulary and approximate pronunciation is not good enough.


Wow this is very interesting, what happens to me and everyone I know in Paris is the exact opposite. I speak English and they reply in French always, in fact i stopped going to paris for that reason. No matter how many times I say I don’t speak French they just insist to, and what kills me is that they clearly understand me so they know English but I don’t hear other than French. I’ve also noticed that this phenomenon decreases as you go further away from Paris, people seem to be friendlier elsewhere in France.

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    That's because you're speaking English to them. They put you in a category of those who don't try and they like to play it back at you. At least that's how I interpret it because they never do this to me. I think though it's partly fuelled by the fact they can understand more English than they can speak, are aware of their bad grammar and pronunciation, etc. When you show that you are open and friendly they will be open and friendly. When you expect things to be a certain way you will get things in a certain way... but not the way you expected - their way. Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 11:01
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    I think so too, well you know what I do when I meet French people in Egypt, I speak Egyptian to them. If they expect everyone who visits their country for a few days to learn their language then I should expect that too, i mean we are all foreigners to each other, shouldn't we try to meet in the middle isn't English the world's second language. I guess they don't like that but that's too bad because it is the most spoken language in the world, it is much more useful to learn English than any other language So they are the ones without a second language not me Why do they have to be so arrogant
    – msk
    Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 19:17
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    I never found them arrogant. I expected it from what I heard before I went. But I didn't find what I expected. There are other nationalities that I sometimes feel have a tendency toward arrogance, but not the French. Who's to say the French people you meet in Egypt have the same mindset as those you meet in Paris? Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 19:23
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    Of course I am not saying that all French people have the same mindset, I just do that for fun to know how it feels on the other side. It usually turns into joking and laughing about it altogether. If there is one thing I have learned from traveling it is that no one is the same.
    – msk
    Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 19:41
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    I am temporarily living in Paris, and my friends agree with @hippietrail's comment. The French really appreciate if you at least try, starting with a "bonjour". Only when you have made an effort will they reciprocate. No effort on your part means no effort on their part.
    – joulesm
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 15:52

I know there is already an accepted answer, but I thought I'd throw in my two cents anyways.

My advice - just keep speaking in French. Be more insistent than they are. If they continue to attempt to speak in English just say something along the lines of: "Would you mind if I continue practising my French?"

There's a chance, of course, that they will not let you speak in French at all, and continue in English no matter what. If that's the case, and you don't wish to continue any battle of wills, just concede, and speak in English. You can of course always ask them later (or better yet, before!) if you can conduct conversation in French, "even if I make some mistakes".

BTW - here's a pretty cool article about the topic.

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