Parlez vous Français?
“Do you speak English?” or slightly better, “Parlez vous anglais?,” you might be inclined to ask as soon as you step foot on French soil and you will find that many French people do speak English — more than ever before. However, consider the impression you want to make. Americans are notorious for expecting everyone around the world to speak English… one of the many characteristics of “Ugly American” behavior. Maybe you’re on vacation and you aren’t going to be there long so you figure you’ll survive by depending on those French citizens who speak English. And perhaps your attitude is that they should be lucky you chose to spend your hard-earned vacation dollars in their country. These days even the French need tourists to boost their economy.
The French, especially in Paris, have a reputation for being rude. I have never found that to be true when I made at least a small effort to speak French. Consider how you feel when you’re trying to do business at home and you encounter someone who doesn’t speak English or doesn’t speak it very well. It might even be someone who has lived here for a very long time. First off, given that most Americans are not motivated to learn a second language nor does the education system mandate it, it’s very unlikely you will be able to communicate with this person in his native tongue. Secondly, you probably think to yourself — he’s here, he should speak English! Well, guess what? That’s what people think about Americans when they travel around the world — you’re here, you should speak our language!
Like I said, the smallest effort can make a big difference. In France, a simple “Bonjour” upon entering a business establishment and “Merci. Au revoir.” upon leaving will go a long way in opening the lines of communication and contributing to a positive experience for both parties. Most people are familiar with these phrases already. You can easily pick up a few more using a French phrase book or one of many free apps like 24/7 French Tutor, Mindsnacks French, or SpeakEasy French where you can listen to and practice pronunciation.
If you’re thinking about actually moving to another country, then learning the native language as best you can is a must. In France, many, many people speak at least some basic English nowadays. On our 2012 Tour, we found this to be true throughout the country from large cities to small villages. In addition, there are many English-speaking expats, particularly British, with whom you can communicate. But what’s the point of moving to a new country if you remain within that comfortable circle? You might as well stay home. The whole idea is to have a different experience. Granted, it’s not going to be an easy or fast process to learn a new language. It will take a lot of dedication, effort, and time, but, in the end, it will be worthwhile. Wouldn’t it be fun to at least exchange a few pleasantries with your new French neighbors and conduct your shopping at the marché, boulangerie, pâtisserie, and charcuterie in French? You will end up feeling very isolated if you never try to get out of your comfort zone and assimilate on some level. Learning the language of your newly adopted country is just the beginning. It will naturally lead to learning about the culture which will help you understand the people, and, eventually, you will start to feel at home.
This is the approach we are taking and we’re very excited about it. More about our resources and our methods for learning French in the next post. Until then… Au revoir et merci beaucoup pour lire notre blog.