It’s time for September’s myth of the month! Today we’re looking at the language abilities of the French — specifically English. So do French people speak English?
Tell me if you’ve ever had a conversation like this:
Person 1: Hey, I’m going on vacation to insert foreign country here.
Person 2: Cool, do you speak language of that country?
Person 1: Not really, but it’s OK because they speak English anyway.
Sound familiar? Well, I’ve heard that exchange a bunch of times in regards to vacationing in France. Tourists head to Paris and just expect the French to speak English (and the French are rude?). Now this isn’t the case with every foreigner who comes to France. Many are culturally aware and many more probably know at least a few words to get by. But there’s this pervasive belief that the French speak English. I can personally attest to the fact that the majority of people in my small town do not know English. Or at least not well enough to understand regular conversation or to try and speak a few words. My in-laws do not know English either. A few words here and there but nowhere near conversational. I could go on…
So really, do the French speak English?
Ask yourself this. What language did you take in high school? Maybe Spanish? Did you goof off or do you remember what you learned? How would you fare in a Spanish-speaking country today? Not that well? The majority of us don’t remember what we learned in a high school language class and many French people (especially those in the country who have no reason to use English for work) are exactly the same. There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, don’t expect every French person you meet to speak English. Many French people have some knowledge of English and might even speak to you in English to practice, but don’t walk into a store expecting this.
You’ll also notice that tourist areas have a higher concentration of French people who speak English. Makes sense, right?
So what’s the best way to tackle the language barrier when visiting France?
Learn a few key words and phrases, use them often and be humble and respectful.
That goes a long way. And you never know — maybe that French person knows more English than you originally thought…