Life around the world

Friday, 18 October, 2013 - 11:21

Speaking their language: Three common reactions to non-native speakers

by JessicaR

Having just moved to France, I have had varying levels of success with speaking the French language. I have noticed three main reactions when conversing with native speakers, and thought I would share them with other foreign language speakers in a similar position! My main piece of advice would be to pretend that people understand everything you are saying, and persevere. If all else fails, just be friendly; a smile is translatable every language.

1. Some people might be impatient with you.
People going about their daily tasks might have little patience for laboured conversation, and they might feel the need to talk to you like a wayward child. Don't be discouraged. Instead, just try and express yourself in a different way. One trick would be to learn a very impressive and articulate phrase in the foreign language to have ready to come back at them with, such as: “Thank you for repeating this in such a coherent manner in order to accommodate my substandard knowledge of your language.”

2. Others might look amused.
You could be met with an amused smile, which shouldn't be taken as mockery. Instead this is a sign that the person is acknowledging your situation and the possible need to be gentle with you. They are not laughing at your incapability (and if they are, ask them when it was that they last tried to make their own way in a different country) but are more likely charmed by your foreign accent and by your willingness to communicate with them and by your openness to a new culture.

3. Most people though, will be intrigued!
On recognizing a foreign accent, many people divert from the topics of conversation - advice about the bus times, drinks orders, and information about some enrolment or other - and onto genuinely curious questions about where you come from, what you are doing in the country and how you are finding it. This has been a really pleasant surprise. Although the scripts that you learn at school about asking for directions and ordering drinks are helpful, having the opportunity to answer questions from friendly native speakers is a much more interesting and spontaneous way to practice the language and make you feel truly part of a new culture.

Language level

How do people react to you when you speak English? 

English courses near you