View Full Version : Speaking to locals in their language

9th Apr 2005, 07:10
Here's one for you world travelers.

I've been studying a particular language in my free time for the last seven years or so. I'm far from fluent but it's something for which I always make time.

So when I happen to pass through the country where this language is spoken I look forward to the opportunity to practice with the locals.

Now I'm not complaining but my company always puts us up in very nice hotels where the staff usually speaks excellent English--and of course their English is much better than my butchering of their language.

But sometimes when I initiate a conversation in their language they immediately respond in English.

How am I to take this? I'll admit it: It bothers me. It's like they're saying, "Don't even try."

Or maybe they just respond in English because they want to be sure I understand.

Or they themselves are eager to practice their English.

I don't know but it's frustrating me to the point where in fact I don't want to even try. Or at least I speak English in the hotel and when I'm out and about in town I try the local language again.

Anyone else experience this? Does it bother you? Am I being too touchy?

No, it's not France.;)

Loose rivets
9th Apr 2005, 07:28
Disguise yourself as a local a la Spike Milligan :cool:

9th Apr 2005, 07:33
if it was France, then they'd continue in French :p

That's a normal thing zerozero. They realise that you are struggling and that English would be easier for both sides. The only way to really practice is to go into town where they don't KNOW that you aren't a local person. Usually the locals really appreciate any effort you make about trying to speak their language.... at least you are trying! I know of a few people (from America and England) that have been living here in Germany for over 30 years and make no effort at all to learn the language!! I think that's down right rude (besides giving the Americans and British even more of a bad reputation).

So, don't worry about it... continue your efforts and don't let it get you down.


P.S. watching local television is very helpful for learning! It helped me.....

9th Apr 2005, 07:59
Why bother guessing?? You're never going to know the answer unless you actually ask why they are doing it. It's all very well trying to decide for yourself what their motives or reasons are but there is only one way you'll ever get to know.

9th Apr 2005, 08:58
Blue Diamond--Yeah of course! But I was only guessing because I think there are as many reasons as there are people. Some just want to practice *their* English and others just can't be bothered to put up with my stuttering.

So I guess that's not really the question. The question was, Should I be bothered by it, or, Is anyone else bothered by it?

I know. Who cares? Right?:hmm:

It's just frustrating as hell trying to get the grammar and pronunciation as best I can only to be *rebuffed* in my own language.

I was only looking for a little encouragement from someone who has experienced the same thing...and so, thanks to WestWind for providing that.

I do appreciate the TV (for a change) and have in fact formed a gross little habit of evesdropping too.:8

Evening Star
9th Apr 2005, 09:52

Do not worry about it. In a similar situation and assured that out of the 270 million who speak my third language, only 2 individuals can understand me :\ (have a second language from school, but would probably come up with the same numbers!). Asked myself the same questions as you and came to the conclusion that from the local perspective you compliment them by trying to speak their language, they then are glad of a chance to use their English on you. That their is English is better than your attempts in the local lingo is because English is the closest thing the world has to a world language (even if a good number chose to use your terrible 'American' spelling :hmm: ) and therefore first choice of second language for most of the world. For a native English speaker this is the dilemma of what language to learn, so we are terrible at everything. How many people in Fairbanks do you know who speak the language you are trying learn? Precisely. Keep doing what you are doing. Remember, the two sweetest things to hear in life are your own name and a foreigner speaking your language.:ok:

9th Apr 2005, 10:09
It's just frustrating as hell trying to get the grammar and pronunciation as best I can only to be *rebuffed* in my own language.
Sometimes you have to make it clear to people that you want them to help you with it. Mr. Diamond's family is Italian and they would never correct me even though I was aware I was saying some things incorrectly. They would always speak to me in English until I made it quite clear that I actually wanted to be corrected and that they were not being rude. (I didn't find out that they thought they were being rude until I asked them why they always replied in English to my Italian, then all became clear.)

Same thing with visits to France, when I finally asked people why they gave English replies to my questions in French ... some wanted to practice their English, others did not wish to appear rude for not quite understanding or for correcting me. The thing is, you won't know what those reasons are until you ask. Also, I did find that if you make a point of asking to be corrected, people seem quite pleased to become your "teacher."

Just persevere with it and let people know what you're trying to achieve.

9th Apr 2005, 13:15
BD is right. It can be very difficult to pick up all the local intonations and subtle meanings and sometimes the natives reply in your language to avoid any misunderstandings. However, you must persevere it can bring wonderful dividends. I arrived here over 12 years ago from the UK and can now speak perfect Western Australian! C'arn the Dockers!

Sailor Vee
9th Apr 2005, 13:22
No, it's not France.

Orstraileeya, by any chance?:E

Big Tudor
9th Apr 2005, 13:35

In my experience it is generally down to people wanting to practice speaking English, and to a certain extent be proud of the fact that they can. Done a bit of foreign travel in my time (places beyond Brighton) and I am constantly embarrassed by the fact that waiters, receptionists, bell boys, barman, etc, can converse quite freely with me in my language, yet more often than not I can't even bid them a good day in their own.
Learn to say "Can we speak in ****** please" in whatever language it is, and also learn "Please tell me if I am speaking incorrectly". You'll find they will normally respond positively, and will welcome the fact that you want to speak their language. It will also appeal to their national pride. :ok:

9th Apr 2005, 13:51
The reply and continuation of the conversation in English is done either for convenience or out of politeness without thought that you may prefer to use their language.

I always consider it polite to try as best I can to use the local language and provided that the person isn't in a rush or the conversation too important to risk a misunderstanding often ask for it to be continued in that language in order that I might learn.
As has been said most people are happy to oblige and quite enjoy it, possibly learning a little more themselves at the same time as often apparently fluent English speakers have areas they will be glad of an explanation on.
The fact that they speak good English only serves to make the mutual learning possible, it need not prevent it.
It's just a case of making your preference clear.

No better setting for an impromptu language lesson than a reasonably quiet bar where the staff have time on their hands, preferably attractive female ones as they tend to enhance the attention span nicely and inspire the learning of otherwise overlooked but potentially rewarding phrases. 'So how would I ask you......' :E

9th Apr 2005, 13:59
Yes ZZ I sometimes get the same problem. I think that they are very rude. If I feel confident then I answer back in in the local language. I suggest that you learn a few words of lots of laguages so that when they do this then you can answer in some really different tongue. I find Russian particularly useful in France. Never had this rudeness in Luxembourg. Most people speak at least three languages but respond in whatever you start in. It can be a giggle to say hello in Luxembourgois, ask something in French, continue in German and say thank you in English. They don't bat a eyelid and respond in whichever tongue you are using at the time.:D

9th Apr 2005, 14:47
On a trip to China (Shenzhen) last year, went for reflexology and a massage. Only one person in the whole establishment spoke English and I was the only "Gwai lo". Luckily I was with Hong Kong nationals who helped with the mandarin. Anyway, all was going well until I went for my massage and unbeknown to myself, agreed to have something I can only describe as complete torture. Left the place walking like Quasi-modo.

Now learning Mandarin, and more importantly how to say " ARRRRRGHHHHHHHH" :p

9th Apr 2005, 14:54
Thanks to everyone for the diplomatic responses. I feel recharged again and am looking forward to stuttering and stammering with that "attractive female behind the bar."

So nothing new there, anyway...

I'll be sure to keep all of these suggestions in the back of my mind, all of them except for 'Effortless' whose suggestions don't live up to his name.

Believe me, I have my hands full with just one new language. Russian? Forget about it.


Southern Scottie
9th Apr 2005, 15:12
Some years ago I spent a few days in Riyadh with BAe and asked one of their English managers who had worked in Saudi for many years whether he spoke any Arabic. 'Nope', was the reply, 'the Saudis don't like us to'.

That evening I went to dinner with another friend, this time an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force and asked him how he got on with the BAe people. 'They're OK, but they never try to speak to us in Arabic, which can be quite frustrating'.

It beats me.....:rolleyes:

9th Apr 2005, 15:30
I suspect it's a politeness and respect issue - a lot of nationals are flattered if you make the effort to address them in their own language, and they might simply be paying you the same courtesy, especially if you're a customer in a hotel. Their job is to make you feel comfortable and not out of your depth.

9th Apr 2005, 18:46

I'll be sure to keep all of these suggestions in the back of my mind, all of them except for 'Effortless' whose suggestions don't live up to his name.

Well they do really since I only suggested learning a few words like me. You may be trying too hard. :)

Morgan James
10th Apr 2005, 08:35
Usually people are very pleased to hear you have a go at speaking their language. As Big Tudor said, learn some phrase by heart to get across the fact that you want to practice and be corrected and things should be fine.