French people never speak English. Or do they?

You dream of spending your summer on the French Riviera.

You already know all the places you want to visit and you already booked your hotel.

But you heard that French people never speak English.

It scares you.  But is it even true?

Do French people speak English?

French people speak English

A lot of people claim that French people do not speak English and that finding someone speaking decent English in France is mission impossible. Well, like many stereotypes, that’s simply not true.

According to the Eurobarometer report 2012, 39% of the French population speaks English. That includes people living in the countryside. Which means that in a big city like Paris or Bordeaux where there are a lot of tourists, the percentage of people speaking English is likely to be much higher.

How come it’s so hard to find someone who speaks English in France then?

In my experience, finding someone who speaks good English in a city like Paris really isn’t that hard.

The problem is that people always assume that the reason people don’t answer in English is they don’t speak English. Which isn’t necessarily true. Many factors can push someone to speak French rather than English (although they know you probably don’t speak French that well).

  • Fear
  • Pride
  • Laziness

Imagine you meet a French tourist in your country.
He obviously doesn’t speak English that well and you happen to know some basic French.
You could probably speak French with him and help him.
But wouldn’t you be afraid to speak French? A language you don’t speak fluently. What if you make mistakes?
If you are like most people, you certainly would be.

Or maybe you would feel irritated if a French tourist came to you and spoke French. He is in your country after all. Shouldn’t he make an effort and speak your language? You would have the right to be irritated.

Yet many tourists visiting France come and speak English directly (French people also tend to do that abroad).

As a French man, I find it really irritating. You are a foreigner, you don’t speak French, I get it. That’s totally okay.

But learning some basic vocabulary before visiting a country doesn’t hurt.
In fact it shows people you care about their culture, and it can make your time abroad much more enjoyable.
You won’t simply be seen as a tourist among millions of tourists.
You will be seen as someone with a genuine interest in the country. And people will have a desire to help you, and make your time in their country extraordinary.

So please, next time you go abroad, at least take the time to learn a few words. It takes 5 minutes and can considerably change the way people interact with you. A simple bonjour instead of hello can go a long way.

How was your experience in France? Was it hard for you to find English speakers?

Photo credit : tang90246 / 123RF Stock Photo

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Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn conversational French.