Wondering if people in France speak English? Read on for my answer and helpful tips!
If you’re planning a trip to France, you might be worried about how to communicate with the locals. Will you be able to get around? How hard is it to visit France without knowing French? Are the French people going to be rude to you when you don’t know their language?
And as someone who has traveled to France 7 times, I definitely have some experience with communicating with French people!
I’ve heard friends, family members, and even strangers express these fears many times over the years. So let’s talk about what you need to know about knowing French before heading off to one of my favorite countries in the world.
Now, in full disclosure… I actually do speak French. And I speak it pretty well.
I have not always spoken as well as I do now, and I’ve visited many times when my French language skills were severely lacking, or when I just felt like I didn’t have the vocabulary for a certain type of conversation. I’ve also visited with friends and family who don’t speak French and observed their experience and interactions.
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So, Do French People Speak English?
The short answer is: yes, they do, and oftentimes they can speak it very well.
Official statistics will tell you that only 30% speak English very well, and that can be even less in rural areas.
However, my overwhelming experience has been that the French people you will come into contact with as a tourist are going to speak English.
French kids study English earlier and more frequently in their schools, and there can be many opportunities for French young adults to use English. Younger generations tend to know more English than the older generations, though this is not a hard and fast rule.
In particular, I have never come across anyone in customer service or tourism (e.g. hotels, museums) that does not speak English.
Do note that the more you move into rural areas and the farther you get from “typical” tourist sites and destinations, the higher the likelihood is that someone will not speak English.
Occasionally I have the opposite problem…
I absolutely love speaking French and am always super excited to speak it when I go to France. Now, I’m not fluent, but I do speak very well. Sometimes I get grammar mixed up and sometimes I don’t catch what the other person is saying. And in these situations, I sometimes have the problem of French people not speaking French with me!
For example, in Aix-en-Provence, my husband and I went out to dinner at a small, local restaurant. I communicated with the server in French and ordered our food. Then, as we were waiting for our food to come out, my husband and I chatted in English.
Once the server heard us talking in English, he switched and started talking to us only in English. I was like Nooooo, I still want to do French! 😅
Other times, if I’ve not caught what someone is saying, they’ve just immediately switched into English (even if I just needed something repeated). While sometimes this is frustrating because I just want to speak French, I really think it’s just them trying to be helpful!
What French People Don’t Like
By and large, France is a country that values politeness and respect. So, walking up to someone and just immediately talking in English, assuming that they know it, without any kind of polite greeting, is a faux pas.
Some Guidelines for Being Respectful and Polite
So while you can FOR SURE take a vacation to France and know that many French people will speak English, French people really appreciate and will be much more favorably inclined towards you if you follow some basic guidelines.
(The links in the next four points all take you to short Youtube clips about how to pronounce the word or phrase.)
➡️First and VERY IMPORTANTLY, it’s much more polite to ask “Do you speak English” than just starting to speak English to someone. You can do this in French: Parlez-vous anglais? or even in English.
➡️Second, whenever you go into a shop or bakery, greet the workers. You always, always say hello, “Bonjour“, when arriving, and goodbye, “Au Revoir“, when leaving. You can also say “Bonne journée,” when leaving.
➡️Fourth, If you need to get past someone on the metro or you accidentally bump into someone on the street, it’s polite to say “pardon” or if you need to get someone’s attention, you can say “excusez-moi.”
Of course, there are plenty of other really helpful phrases to learn as a tourist, but I think that the language of politeness is one of the most essential things to know and use. If you learn anything, learn these words.
No time or desire to learn and remember these phrases? Doing them in English is your second best option!
Okay, Maybe They Can Speak English, But Will French People Be Rude to Me?
I mean, maybe! But not because French people are rude, but because some people are rude.
Generally speaking, French people are less warm and outwardly friendly to people on the street. They tend to be a little more aloof and a little more reserved around strangers. French people don’t tend to just smile at people on the street or make small talk with strangers around them.
But just outright rude? For the population in general, not in my experience.
The #1 Most Effective Way to Learn a Little Bit of French Before Your Vacation
While the above guidelines are a great start, even better would be to learn a few French phrases! The effort to use a little bit of French and not immediately assume that everyone can speak English is very appreciated by French people.
While watching YouTube videos or using an app like DuoLingo or Babble can be great ways to learn a little bit of French, speaking one-on-one with an actual French person is one of the best ways you can learn and actually remember the language.
To do this, I highly recommend italki, an online platform that faciliates one-on-one lessons through video calls. I’ve used this service extensively and loved it.
italki has thousands of teachers in over 150 languages, and you can find your ideal teacher through a variety of filters, like where their home country is, what type of lesson you are wanting, or price of the teacher.
The price is extremely affordable, especially considering you’re getting a one-on-one lesson personalized exactly for your wants and needs.
Even just a couple of sessions with an italki teacher can help you have a good base of tourist phrases for your French holiday!
Sign up with my code and purchase $20 in credits, and you’ll receive an additional $10 of credits for free!
What to Do When Someone Doesn’t Speak French, or if You Need to Read Something in French
When we’re in countries where the locals don’t speak English and we don’t speak the local language (for example, anywhere in South America), we have relied heavily on Google Translate.
There are several features that can make life SO MUCH EASIER if you can’t communicate with the locals or read the language.
Note: I recommend downloading the actual Google Translate app, and not using it in your browser. The app always loaded much faster than the website in the browser does.
Voice to Text
The Google Translate app has a good voice to text feature where someone can speak into the microphone and the translation appears as text on the screen. We’ve used this a few times and it’s been very helpful.
Translation via Camera
For this feature, you open up your camera in the Google Translate app and point it at whatever chunk of text you need translating. The translation will appear right over the original text on your screen.
We use this all the time for translating information placards in museums, looking at food labels in grocery stores, or reading restaurant menus.
Type It In and Pass it Around
And of course, you can do the old “type out your question and pass it to the local, who types in their answer and passes it back” thing. We’ve done that a bunch too!
Final Thoughts on Whether People in France Speak English
So, the main takeaways from this article are:
- Most likely the vast majority (if not all) of the people you come in contact with on your French vacation will speak English
- Using some polite language, and asking if they speak English before just starting to talk, goes a long way
- Use italki to learn and practice some basic tourist phrases before you go.
- Have a fanastic vacation!
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