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Do they really not speak English at all??

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Do they really not speak English at all??

Hi there,

My partner and I are visiting Paris next week for a long weekend. We have never been to Paris before and we are really looking forward to it. I have been looking at some of the posts with ideas and suggestions about favourable locations and they have been very helpful. I have heard though, on a number of occassions, that French just do not speak English. That's not to say they can not speak English, but that they refuse to! Every time we go to a new country we do our best to blend with the locals and speak their language and even though we are based in London at the momment we are actually Greeks ourselves. I can't help feeling a little nervous about French however, because as much as it is a gorgeous language,my knowledge of it is simply non-existent!

I am willing to try my best in French but will I be able to make use of my English as well or will that be viewed as offensive?

I think both phrases: "It's all Greek to me" and "Excuse my French" are appropriate here!

Any thoughts/experiences?


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1. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

Hello Marina

It is an urban myth. When French people can speak English, they do. Don't worry. A smile will work wonders.

Happy holiday


Sydney, Australia
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2. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

Yes, You have a week which, with all the online assistance available to learn travellers' French, is a lot if you can be bothered to try to learn some basics. If you decide you could not be bothered, why would you object if the French could not be bothered to try their English? If you try to learn some basics, you can meet in the middle.

I have always tried to improve my French, and to practise it whenever possible in France. I am not sure why (LOL) but the harder and the more I tried, the more I found French people keen to try their English, which was far superior to my French. They could tell I spoke English from the appalling way I spoke French.

However, I suspect that if you or I just walked up to a French person in the street in Paris and started to speak English to them without attempting even the basic courtesies in French, the person might find they were not interested in helping you. I suspect you and I might react similarly in our own countries with a tourist who did not at least say "Hello, excuse me" before pointing to a map to seek hand sign and mime directions.

Here is the BBC site with a helpful basic course. See how much you can learn in a week!


Vienna, Austria
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3. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

In my experience, the harder you try to speak at least a few words of French, the more quickly and willingly the French people you are talking to will use English if they can. I guess they consider it polite to make an effort to speak their language first and they will be happy to help you in your language then.

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4. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??


I'm also in Paris next week - I can't wait.

I did previously post on the same thing as i'm really apprehensive on have dinner and getting something crazy cos i couldn't understand but the best advice i got was to get a good guide and phrase book. I have to say those around me are annoyed with my practicing.

I think a few basis words and phrases can't but help. Aslo will get you in the mood for mixing with locals.


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5. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

Major urban myth and completely unfair. It gets repeated over and over by people who have never been there to the point where it becomes taken as fact. Most French people with even the most basic English are happy to try to communicate. I have lived in France and visited many times. On my most recent visit I was struck by the general improvement in the number of people who spoke quite good English. Younger people in cities and tourist destinations are highly likely to speak English. Anybody employed in some sort of tourism or hospitality related field is likely to speak English.

Dont listen to ignorant opinions that are blindly perpetuated by people who know nothing about the French. Go there unencumbered and make your own mind up. Also dont judge France and the French on the basis of a long weekend in Paris. This is also a great injustice. Paris is one place in an incredibly diverse and fascinating country. Dont let small minded parrots put you off.

Southampton, United...
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6. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??


I've just returned from the semi final in paris and I found that if you try they'll come back to you in english.

At the bar in stadium there was the usual ignorant person who just said "oy mate, 4 beers please", I was trying to get served for a while and I just said "monsieur s'il vous plait" and straight away the barman looked at me and said in english "i'll make sure you're served next" and I was.

I think we'd probably be the same if someone spoke to us in french without even trying english.

The french were great hosts, the train to the stade to france was great, we were the only couple of english fans amongst loads of french fans in their kit, and we all had a good time. My hubby came away with the red,white and blue stripe on his cheeks.

You'll be fine.


mentor, ohio
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7. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

I taught my husband to say I'm sorry, I don't speak french, (in french) so he'd have an answer if someone spoke to him in French. I also taught him hello goodbye please thank you and I would like. I have four years of high school french, so can get by enough. He was a big hit when he had to say he couldn't speak french, and if they couldn't speak english, they did their best with hand signals and "mimeing". They seemed to appreciate his effort....

Also, get a menu translater---it makes things much easier.

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8. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

This urban myth kept me from visiting France for 20 years. When we finally did visit, I had a wonderful time with the French, and I know about 8 words in their language. They have a certain formality about them, which could be mistaken for rudeness, but I have found them to be generally approachable and willing to communicate if YOU make the first effort. So learn to smile and say, "pardon, madame, je ne parle pas francaise, parle vous ingles?" and you'll get along fine.

Don't make the mistake of avoiding France just because you don't speak French!

Los Angeles...
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9. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

Good morning

Easy one there

Most of the french learn English at School (as many Americans have taken french) the trick now is to find those who have retained anything a few years later.Or even had a chance to put it to works at least once.

I have found that you will receive the most help from anyone who has travelled and found themselves in a difficult situation (lost or otherwise ) . They will come to assist you or offer directions if you stand on a street corner with a map at hand.

Golden rule while travelling is to learn a few common words in the language used in the visited country. This includes asking if the person speaks any english. Beats the old Howdy!.

Bon Voyage ! ( 2 freebie french words already!)


Tampa, Florida
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10. Re: Do they really not speak English at all??

Please = s'il vous play (sill voo play)

Thank you = merci (mare see)

Hello = bonjour (bone zhoor) during the daylite hours

bonsoir (bone swar) in the evening.

Goodbye = au revoir (ore vwar)

Do you speak English? = Parlez-vous anglais? (parlay voo ann glay)

Speak these at a minimum, and you'll be fine.

If a French person in Paris is reluctant to speak English, it may also be because they are very self-conscious of their language abilities....and not because they are being snobbish.