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'To try or not to try'

Yass, Australia
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'To try or not to try'

We are visiting France very soon. I understand a lot of written French and I can speak quite a bit. I've been told my pronunciation is not bad, but I am quite slow. I find it very hard to understand the spoken language because it is spoken so fast. I've heard so many different opinions on this. Should I try to converse in French or not? Do you think people would be offended if I asked them if they could please speak slowly?

Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: 'To try or not to try'

Always use whatever French you have. It is appreciated even if they switch to English -- and outside very touristy operations most people don't speak much of that --

San Francisco...
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2. Re: 'To try or not to try'

D'accord.

Lords Valley...
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3. Re: 'To try or not to try'

As a tourist you will find that most of the people you come in contact with speak enough English to get by, especially the younger ones. After the basic greetings in French they will probably switch to English. There is nothing wrong however with trying to use your French. Give it a shot.

Paris, France
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for Paris
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4. Re: 'To try or not to try'

People who work a lot with tourists in Paris generally speak English, although they usually are not very fluent. This being so, you have the choice of speaking English or French as long as you don't stray too far from the standard tourist path. People who do not come into contact with foreigners regularly may not speak any English (all French people study English in school, but the oral instruction is poor and most never become usefully fluent).

For example, at the Eiffel Tower, all the tower employees with customer contact speak English. However, if you walk into a home improvement store, you're likely to meet employees who do not speak English. Their customers are almost exclusively French, so they don't need English. They might even have chosen to work for that store because they wouldn't need English.

Likewise, once you move outside Paris, English speakers become very rare.

So, in the touristy areas, you can use your French or not, depending on your preferences. Outside those areas, depending on how well you speak French, you may find it easier to speak French than to try to find someone who is fluent in English.

Remember, when two people are talking and one (or both) of them is not fluent in the language being used, many undetected misunderstandings can occur.

San Francisco...
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5. Re: 'To try or not to try'

Actually I find it easier if neither party speaks the other's language... mainly in smaller towns. Pantomiming and sign language and a few basic words, bathroom, food, etc..can get you a long way and both of you get a few laughs along the way.

It's fun when you speak to very young pre-school children and they haven't heard english before... the look of bewilderment on their faces is priceless, but within a few minutes, you become friends anyway.

Unfortunately in Paris when I try to use my very basic french, they immediately break into english.... more and more every year. :-(

Brisbane, Australia
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6. Re: 'To try or not to try'

It probably depends on you and the other person - but I would try your French first and then it is likely you will both come to an arrangement to speak whatever language works best in the situation. For example, I approached the ticket office for the Batobus near Notre Dame - a woman young enough to be somewhere between my daughter and grand daughter. "Bon jour - je suis desole mais je parle Francais une petit petit peu - parlez vous Anglais?" She smiled the kindest smile and said: I can speak English! Merci beacoup,I said, much relieved. We laughed. Nice feeling. And in a bar near Issy val de Seine (we had taken the tram from La Defence just for fun), where we had the bar to ourselves, the barman tolerated my French enough to have a conversation of a kind on the merits of French and Australian beers. Mates for life!

But buying bread or getting a sandwich in a queue where everyone is in a hurry - I found that a little stressful, aware that I was holding people up. Pointing worked best then - along with the courtesies: bonjour, merci, au revoir

Paris, France
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7. Re: 'To try or not to try'

Always try a little French first, but you will be amazed at who can speak English. In my completely non-touristy neighbourhood, I have noticed that the supermarket cashiers and shopkeepers can often switch to English if the other person speaks that language better (we have a lot of Polish and Russian immigrants and lots of Afghan and Iraqi refugees where I live, and they get by mostly in English).

Melbourne, Australia
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8. Re: 'To try or not to try'

Be brave! One you've broken the ice, you will be surprised how much you remember of your school French. If they rattle off an answer, request "lentement svp". Sometimes they will revert to English, but if they think you want to have a go, they will play the game. And you will always understand more than you can speak in return. LOL (little old lady as well as laugh out loud), I practise out loud in my local supermarket, I speak out loud to my purchases Bonjour du sucre, ca va? It boosts my confidence and helps with my vocab. Of course, I'm about to be locked up. I have never forgotten my very long-winded question of a gendarme asking him where was the nearest metro. He listened to me, smiling, and then stepped aside to show he was standing at the top of the metro stairs!Try to speak French, buy flowers and the local newspaper, have a basket, hire a poodle and YOU WILL BE FRENCH!!

Perth, Australia
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9. Re: 'To try or not to try'

Hi Leigh,

Give it a go where ever you can. You'll get a better reception by trying your french, even if you make mistakes. If they speak too fast, ask them to repeat slowly, they''ll will then talk to you as if you're a deaf kid, but it doesn't matter. I know, i was born there.

But most of all, be polite; the "bonjour monsieur/madame, bonsoir, merci, etc.. are very important to the french people. Then you'll be fine.

Cheers. Jeff

Bedfordshire...
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10. Re: 'To try or not to try'

"and then stepped aside to show he was standing at the top of the metro stairs!"

lol, you lol :)