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Answering back in English

 Language Learning Forum : Specific Languages Post Reply
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 5136 days ago

8 posts - 11 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: French, Polish, German

 Message 1 of 80
10 June 2010 at 12:18am | IP Logged 
When I try to speak a foreign language I find that often people will just answer back in English. Is there any way
to overcome this other than try to find places where no-one speaks English???

For example, checking in a Polish hotel I start the conversation in Polish and the receptionist says "Maybe in
English?" I reply in Polish that I'd prefer Polish, to which she says "but English is easier."

In Mauritius I tried to speak French wherever possible and got some positive but some negative reactions. Twice
people told me in English that they didn't want to speak French with me. Once "because you might not
understand something" and once "because surely you're more comfortable in English". It appeared they found it
bizarre that an anglophone wanted to speak (non-perfect) French.

Just wondering if anyone has any similar experiences. I feel that I will have to be near fluent level to be accepted
by some people. Why am I bothered? Maybe I shouldn't be. I guess I am a "total immersion" learner and such
interactions can interrupt my progress, especially if I'm in a country for a short time.
1 person has voted this message useful

Pro Member
United States
Joined 6018 days ago

393 posts - 475 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Spanish
Studies: German, Italian
Personal Language Map

 Message 2 of 80
10 June 2010 at 12:54am | IP Logged 
Pretend you only speak a rare language other than English. :)
2 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 5346 days ago

418 posts - 791 votes 
Speaks: Mandarin, English*
Studies: German, Spanish, Dutch

 Message 3 of 80
10 June 2010 at 12:57am | IP Logged 
Can you plausibly pretend to not understand English? Rapid fire foreign-esque gibberish
may help sell it.
1 person has voted this message useful

Marijke Rose
Joined 5090 days ago

33 posts - 35 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: German, Czech

 Message 4 of 80
10 June 2010 at 1:51am | IP Logged 
The only experience I had with this is when someone else REALLY wants to practice their English on a native-speaker. Or, occasionally, if I am struggling to answer a question, some people will ask again in English... presumably assuming I didn't understand the question (when my problem was only in taking a minute to think of the answer, then figure out how to phrase the answer in German).

The most recent experience I had was when I was hanging out with some American friends who were visiting Germany and we were walking through Cologne, looking in shops, having coffee, etc.. and most of the clerks/waiters would just start using English - then, even though I usually used German still, they'd answer in English regardless - but I never got directed to speak English instead, during that trip.

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Senior Member
United States
Joined 5203 days ago

203 posts - 376 votes 
Speaks: English*, Finnish

 Message 5 of 80
10 June 2010 at 3:18am | IP Logged 
God, I hate this. More often than not it doesn't happen when I speak Finnish because I don't have a foreign accent, but it is absolutely humiliating when it does happen. It's just a huge kick to the balls that basically says "You speak crappy _____ and I don't want to hear it." The last time it happened I just walked away without saying anything further.
3 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 5216 days ago

766 posts - 1020 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Dutch, Polish

 Message 6 of 80
10 June 2010 at 3:23am | IP Logged 
It's frustrating to the say the least, I agree. But in all those circumstances you mentioned the native speaker of
the language was at work, and this could be part of the answer. I completely understand you want to practice
your languages, as I would also, however they just want to get their work done as quickly and as efficiently as
possible. And no doubt due to their English being quite good, speaking that language would be the logical way
to achieve that.

So I wouldn't take offence or get upset in regards to those specific times when that has occured. However if you
face that situation again, with someone you've just met at a bar or a gig etc, just keep answering in their native
language, or ask them nicely that you're trying to learn their language and would much appreciate them replying
said language. Of course if your speaking skills aren't up to a conversational level yet, then that may not be
the best way to practice or make friends who speak your second languages.

But I know where you're coming from, just keep at it, and see those situations as a goal to reach. When you're
really confident and can easily move around in those languages, they won't respond in English, and in the rare
chance that they do, atleast you'll be able to tell them swiftly and convincingly that your are more than proficient
and happy to keep the conversation in their native language.

Edited by Vos on 10 June 2010 at 3:26am

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Senior Member
United States
Joined 5241 days ago

469 posts - 882 votes 
Studies: Spanish*, Japanese, Latin, French

 Message 7 of 80
10 June 2010 at 3:39am | IP Logged 
Many years ago, when I was fairly fluent in Italian (after three years study in university, including the third year being devoted to reading the Divine Comedy in Italian)I was on an Italian airline plane going from New York City to Italy. There were many stewardess on the plane.When I spoke to any of them in Italian,they would almost always respond by smiling sweetly and answering in English. However,I observed that the passengers who addressed them in English had a different experience.Suddenly the stewardesses had trouble understanding and speaking English. To me it seemed that by making an effort to speak to them in Italian I won them over,seemed more polite,more respectful, etc,and they were being kind to me in turn by using English. So, when the native speaker responds in English it may be his or her way of showing appreciation of the effort you made.
Fast forward to last summer. I had been studying Spanish and so I attempted to use it with a native speaker. He was in charge of a small crew of other Spanish workers. He said "oh, you can speak Spanish", but (and this part he said with very obvious pride,"I can speak English". He was proud of his accomplishment and I was happy to use English to allow him to demonstrate his hard earned skill.
So,the moral of the stories, don't be put off when the native speaker uses English.

7 persons have voted this message useful

Joined 5729 days ago

482 posts - 658 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, English, French
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 Message 8 of 80
10 June 2010 at 4:00am | IP Logged 
Many native speakers would probably also be very happy with the opportunity to practice
their English with a native speaker of the language - there's plenty of them around
there but you might be the only native English speaker they've seen that day. Wouldn't
want to waste that opportunity!

Another valid point which has been raised before in these discussions, and which was
raised by Vos here, is that we are in essence wasting these people's time. Many of
them might have the extra time to communicate in a language we're not completely
comfortable with yet, but I think we have to accept the fact that some of these people
really couldn't care less about our language efforts and would rather just get the
business done with so they can serve the next customer or go back to what they were
doing - using whichever language necessary to get it done with quickly.

Edited by mrhenrik on 10 June 2010 at 4:01am

5 persons have voted this message useful

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