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Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

New York City, New...
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669 posts
22 reviews
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Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

I hate to be one of those hated tourists that expects everyone to speak my language, but I speak very little French. When I go into a cafe, or anywhere, what would be the most appropriate way to ask if someone speaks English? Would I greet them (of course) and ask them in French? Ask them in English? How can I appear the least boorish?

Thank you!

Perpignan, France
Level Contributor
7,306 posts
80 reviews
72 helpful votes
1. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

"How can I appear the least boorish?"

With a big smile, it is the best way.

You can say "parlez-vous anglais?".

Paris, France
Destination Expert
for Paris, Loire Valley
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30,458 posts
2 reviews
6 helpful votes
2. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

I have never really understood the pretense. If you do not speak French, what is really accomplished with asking a question in French if that is, in itself, all you know?

Isn't just more to the point to ask in English?

I like the big smile and an easy tone would be nice as well;

"Excuse me, do you speak English?"

Hayti, Missouri
Level Contributor
2,440 posts
53 reviews
97 helpful votes
3. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

Never forget to use "Bonjour" first, though, when approaching someone. I've learned that using just that little nicety is more likely to get you more respect than just approaching someone and asking "Parlez-vous anglais?"

I would think, however, that asking in English would just be outright rude, at least to the French. And it's such a simple phrase in French and shows that you've made at least SOME effort to respect the country and its language that you're currently a guest of.

Edited: 12 years ago
Paris, France
Destination Expert
for Paris
Level Contributor
6,870 posts
27 reviews
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4. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

"Parlez-vous anglais?" ("par-lay voo zawn-gleh")

If they answer in English, then they obviously speak it. If they answer in French, they probably don't. It is customary to greet the person with "Bonjour" (bawn-zhoor) before asking the question.

New York City, New...
Level Contributor
11,582 posts
575 reviews
327 helpful votes
5. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

I agree-- ask it in French. i don't think it is at all pretentious-- it is a sign of courtesy-- you have taken the time to learn the phrase "parlez-vous anglais?".

think about it-- if they do not speak english, why ask it in english? to me that is pretetnious-- americans assuming everyone understands "do you understand english".

Also agee- alwas say "bonjour" first and say it when entering a store, a bus, a hotels, etc

have fun!

6. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

This post was determined to be inappropriate by the Tripadvisor community and has been removed.

New York City, New...
Level Contributor
11,582 posts
575 reviews
327 helpful votes
7. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

ridicoulous? that is your view.

This forum is for people's opinions. I stated mine. you are free to disagree, but from the tone and language of your last post, it is obvious you and I have different views of courtesy

Hayti, Missouri
Level Contributor
2,440 posts
53 reviews
97 helpful votes
8. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

I agree that it is extremely pretentious to expect someone in a foreign country to understand anything you ask them in YOUR language and not theirs.

And really, what sort of sense would it make if someone from a foreign country came to you in the US and started speaking to you in a language you did not understand, even if they were just asking you if you spoke their language? How effective would that even be? Not very, I would think.

It really is common courtesy (and sense). When you are a guest in someone's home, you should act like it. This is why many Americans get a bad rap in foreign countries. We're very ethnocentric. We expect people to cater to us, even in their own countries. I find this very rude and try NOT to be that sort of traveler.

Edited: 12 years ago
Illinois
Level Contributor
23,159 posts
15 reviews
29 helpful votes
9. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

I try to ask in the language of the country I'm in. I do speak some French, but in Italy I got by with hello, goodbye, thank you, and do you speak English (in Italian) - I had "learned" some other phrases before I went but forgot them when trying to actually use them. I don't know that I would be able to answer "Do you speak Japanese?" if someone asked me in Japanese, as I wouldn't know what they said. I'd probably just have a blank look on my face, and then they would post on TA that all Americans are rude. ;-)

Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
39,933 posts
113 reviews
97 helpful votes
10. Re: Most appropriate, polite way to ask if speak English?

the whole point of learning a handful of phrases for ANY country you visit is to clearly communicate that you understand it is their country and that the defect in communication is yours -- it is a sign of respect just like saying Bon Jour before commencing any further interaction in France.

there is no 'he speaks French, she doesn't' -- there is 'he is fluent; she gets by; he has a few phrases' -- it is always better to have at least a few phrases. (although my attempts with a few phrases of Mandarin or Arabic were pretty much a bust -- the low was the 'I don't speak English' when I opened with Arabic in the souk. ) but anyone can learn the necessary minimum in French to glide into an interaction politely.

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