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What if you can't speak French?

Community Highlights Europe What if you can't speak French?

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A lot of folks tell me they are afraid to visit France because they don't speak French. I agree that it is very nice to speak French, but most Americans don't have a foreign language option in school and if they do, it is Spanish. That shouldn't keep you from visiting France.

Most younger French people speak at least a little English and many speak it fluently. The French love to help people so if you are struggling with the language, they will help you. If they don't speak your language, they will find someone who does.

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Rue des Trois Moulins in Lyons-la-Fôret

Rue des Trois Moulins in Lyons-la-Fôret

It helps if you start the exchange with, "Parlez vous anglais?" (Do you speak English?) This gives them a chance to mentally switch to English and you'll both be fine. English is a second language in many French schools. However, near borders, that changes. In Alsace near the German border, the second language is German and English would be a third language for them. In the Basque and Catalan regions of France near Spain, Spanish is the second language. In southeast France, Italian would be the second language taught in schools. Many will speak some English but it's difficult for them so be patient and willing to try your questions in several different ways. Speak slowly and clearly and don't raise your voice. Saying the same thing louder will not help and it makes people nervous because they think you are angry. Keep in mind English may be their third language or they may have had it in school twenty years ago.

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Half-timbered house in Honfleur

Half-timbered house in Honfleur


We've learned a lot of French over the years but we've discovered when we start with "bonjour" that we are nearly always answered in English. Try to learn hello, good-bye, please and thank you if you don't learn anything else and you will be fine, especially in the cities. (Hello = Bonjour; Good-bye = Au revoir; Please = S'il vous plaît; Thank you = Merci) The first two are very important because when you walk into a shop, it is considered polite to greet the shopkeeper so you must say at least "bonjour" when you walk into the store. It is also polite to say "au revoir" when you leave. It's just what they do, common good manners in France. If you do that, you'll be treated nicely and probably spoken to in English since your accent will give you away immediately. Use either of the two translators listed below to hear the correct way to pronounce these phrases.

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Here's a good on-line translator if you want to experiment. Click here: Reverso English-French online translator If you click the little loudspeaker icon above the translation, it will speak the French to you.

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Rue Saint-Michel in Rochefort-en-Terre

Rue Saint-Michel in Rochefort-en-Terre

When you are online, you can often highlight text, right click on it and scroll down to "Translate with . . . . " and get a good idea of what you are trying to read. When you write to Tourist Offices for information, write in English and you will probably be answered in English. I try to write in both English and French hoping they will understand one of them and nearly always get my answer in English.

Don't avoid France because you can't speak French. It's nice if you can, but it is not necessary. The French are very helpful and will do whatever they can to assist you.

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Château at Josselin on the Nantes à Brest Canal

Château at Josselin on the Nantes à Brest Canal


Here is another good translation web site. Type in your English and when you get your translation, click on the loudspeaker icon at the bottom of the translation box to have it pronounced for you.

Click here: Google Translate

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If you carry a smart phone or tablet, the Google Translate web site is good for instant translation. Type in the English and it translates into French. You have a box in English on the left and a box of French on the right. Click the loudspeaker icon for either and you have a talking machine. We met a French lady who used this. She didn't speak English so it was perfect for her. It takes a bit of time but it works.

This featured blog entry was written by Beausoleil from the blog Questions about France.
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By Beausoleil

Posted Mon, Jun 12, 2017 | France | Comments