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How to convince natives to speak to you in their language

| 60 comments | Category: learning languages, positive mentality

chatSome people may be surprised to hear that even when living in the country that speaks the language you want to learn, it can still be very hard to convince someone to actually speak it to you! Presuming you can read this blog you have been cursed with being a native (or fluent) in a language that so many people want to practise: English. It can be even more frustrating when you finally come across a native speaker when not in their country, but are dismissed with them answering immediately in English. Defeated, you continue talking in English, they win…

Surely they should be grateful? You’ve put all of that time into learning their language and may have even moved to their country. They should be helping you and encouraging you!! Well, not necessarily. From their perspective it may be much more interesting practising English, or maintaining a comfortable smooth conversation if they already speak English well. It’s just not interesting or fun helping you speak their language if they feel your level isn’t good enough. But there are ways to convince them!

Easiest way – just ask

It’s amazing how quickly some of us give up; it’s easier for us to speak English and the other person may quite like speaking English, so English can just seem like the logical choice. A lot of these people are used to meeting English speakers not interested in learning their language, so they may just presume that you prefer to speak English and speak to you in your own language. They aren’t insulting your language level, they may actually be thinking that they are doing you a favour.

If you actually say “Do you mind if we speak in your language? I’d really like to practise” (saying it in the language in question of course) you would be surprised how often this works. You rarely have to actually do more than this – people in many countries are quite glad that you aren’t a typical traveller convinced that English is the only way to communicate, and they may be surprised that you want to speak their language and ask why – and the conversing begins! :) There are so many nice people in the world, and simply asking them is all you really need most of the time. In fact, in a lot of countries/cultures, this question isn’t even necessary. I don’t remember ever having to convince a Brazilian to speak Portuguese with me for example. I was “warned” that the Czechs may not be so helpful, but up to now most of those that I have asked directly to help me have obliged.

But with much more commonly learned languages, they’ve already heard it all before and may not be interested in hearing their language “butchered”. I felt this a lot when learning French in Paris for example, since I found them to be very proud of their ‘beautiful’ language; in Paris some people can almost make you feel unworthy of speaking it (luckily this has not been my experience in the rest of France). Then again if their English is perfect (or if they think it is) they may feel like showing it off. What’s even more frustrating, is when they find your attempts simply amusing. They may have other good reasons, but if they answer you back in English after you asked nicely, there are still ways to convince them!

Make helping you more personal

So if simply asking hasn’t worked, it’s time to make listening to you more interesting! This is especially important when your level is much lower. So, tell them passionately why you would like to practise (once again in their language). This can appeal to their human nature and make it much more personal and have them more interested in helping you. After occasionally getting answered in English here in Prague, I tell them about my 3-month mission. Mine is such a ridiculous story (fluent in Czech in 3 months?!?) that at worst, it holds their attention a little longer. At best it convinces them that maybe I am worth helping. Tell them that you are trying to discover your roots, or how you’ve always dreamed of one day speaking their language, etc.

Keeping the conversation in that language

Presuming this, or simply asking, has worked, you now have their attention for a moment; time to keep it! It can feel frustrating when they may smirk at your ‘cute’ attempts and your mistakes, or even worse – look impatient as you are struggling to form sentences. This is where I like to spice things up a bit to get people’s attention away from how “bad” my spoken level may be.

This is definitely not for everyone, but I dramatise my conversations a lot. Instead of an “um..” pause, and as well as conversational connectors, I like to add dramatic pauses looking intently at them just before very important information so that I can gather my thoughts and form the next sentence in my mind (And THEN he said something that would change my life forever……..). Change the tone of your voice and your facial expressions and be generally more expressive. Being more dramatic means that even when you are talking about something usually dull, and struggling to find the words to say it, they can still be made curious to hear more!

Everything about your body language should make it more interesting; speak confidently, open up your arms and use them to draw what you are saying. Many countries are much more expressive with their bodies than English speaking cultures, so even if your foreign language is perfect it can still seem uninteresting to converse with you compared to a local. Even when not in these countries I still use my whole upper body to tell a story. Always have a smile on your face to show that you are enjoying this conversation; any awkwardness you may create is less due to mistakes in your grammar and more due to how uncomfortable you are projecting yourself to others and making them feel the same way. On the other hand, a positive attitude is also contagious!

Usual social rules apply; talking about yourself too much may not be so interesting to the listener, so ask them about themselves and expand on common interests. It’s important to be aware that many cultures don’t talk about themselves and their achievements as much as we do in the English speaking world. I’ve seen foreign language speakers want to leave a conversation with many Americans for example, not because of their language level but because they won’t shut up about themselves (I was also guilty of this!) Conversation should involve the other person as much as possible to keep their interest, but if you see they are genuinely curious to hear your stories, then feel free to keep talking!

If you feel annoyed that they are finding your mistakes amusing then just remember that it’s not a bad thing. Since they are already in a laughing mood try to tell them a funny story! Then it will make you both feel good if they laugh! If you take it too seriously in the early stages then you won’t have fun and neither will the other person; this can stress you out and make you feel like you aren’t ready yet. You should try to enjoy yourself and forget about if your level is good enough and just have a fun conversation.

Are they still insisting on English? Time for a compromise!

There are some people that really, really do not want to give in and will insist on speaking English with you. In my early stages of travelling, I have unfortunately had some “friends” who disappeared as soon as I insisted on speaking their language. Some of them may have very good reasons, but (when you are living in the country) there are those that are simply using you for free English lessons. I see this too often; English speakers abroad that are very popular with locals and convinced that it’s due to their amazing personality, whereas a couple of these friends are actually there because in a lot of places it’s expensive to get English lessons, so why not practise for free! (I’m as guilty as anyone of doing this, but in the reverse direction). Sorry to sound so cynical, but I have seen this a lot! English is the path to a better career in many countries, so free English lessons are gold. If you give in during the early stages, it may be very hard to convince these people to suddenly stop speaking English with you.

It is important to stand your ground and keep on answering back in their language (in casual social situations). After a couple of times they may get the picture (sometimes it’s a battle of personalities; who should win? The more motivated one or the one who speaks “better” in their learned language?) but if they don’t give in then it’s time for a compromise!

Since they want to practise their English and you want to practise your foreign language, why not do both? When I was on too tight a budget to afford private or group lessons, I did tandems (exchanges) with foreigners. 30 minutes speaking English in exchange for 30 minutes speaking their language, with the other person correcting and helping when their language is being spoken. It’s free and both people get something out of it. If someone is flexible enough you can even take this to the next level and have your end of the conversation entirely in the foreign language and their end entirely in English the whole time. Too many people put emphasis on understanding, but in this way you are focussed entirely on actually speaking the language and not worried about understanding it; it gives you a mini-break and lets you relax each time the other person speaks. It can be confusing at first having a bilingual conversation, but it’s fun and both people win!

A definite solution

Of course, the easiest way to have someone speak and teach you their language is to pay them :P If you are already willing to spend money on expensive CD courses or expensive group classes, then that money would be much better spent by getting 10-15 private lessons from a native. In early stages someone with teaching experience would be ideal to explain why things are said certain ways, but from intermediate on you can do it with any native that remembers to correct you, since it’s just having a normal conversation. EVEN in the early stages, you should insist that most of the class is in the foreign language. From lower intermediate level up, no English should be used.

Most tips I’ll be giving on this site focus on learning a language for free, and avoiding the usual age-old and inefficient academic method, but I have found private lessons great to help me reach the point to be able to converse with people naturally, as someone patiently explains my mistakes to me. Tandems are a great alternative for those on a tighter budget. Living in the country itself makes it very easy to find tandems with the amount of people interested in learning English, and if you are in an English speaking country then try putting advertisements in the local university to get the attention of exchange students. There are many more ways to meet up with foreigners that I’ll talk about another time.

These are just a few things that I’ve tried over the last few years. I’m sure there are other methods – if you have any suggestions, do share how you have convinced locals to help you, in the comments below :) I will try any good suggestions myself! Don’t forget to retweet this, stumbleupon it or share it on facebook if you think other’s may benefit from this advice!! :D In my next post, on Friday, I’ll be giving a summary of the first month of my 3-month fluency mission!

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  • jmfayard

    Some people may be surprised to hear that even when living in the country that speaks the language you want to learn, it can still be very hard to convince someone to actually speak it to you!

    ça sent le vécu !

    C’est vrai que c’est un détail pratique qu’on n’aborde jamais à l’école mais qui est tout à fait essentiel.
    Je me souviens notamment d’un épisode très précis, à peu près un an après mon arrivée en Allemagne. A cette époque, je parlais déjà allemand – avec un accent “amusant” – mais pas encore anglais, j’entrais dans une JugendHerberge (auberge de jeunesse), je parlais au gérant en allemand. Celui-ci commençait par me répondre en allemand, puis s’avise tout d’un coup que je suis étranger … et HOP, il cesse de parler dans la langue que j’avais envie de pratiquer pour parler dans une langue dont je n’entravais pas le traitre mot

    How frustrating ;-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      ça m’est arrivé à moi aussi tellement de fois…. même s’il s’agit d’anglais que je parle bien, c’est toujours frustrant !

      • Claire

        ça m’est arrivé aussi! J’ai vécu 7 mois en France (je vous réponds en francais pour m’entraîner, en fait je suis anglaise) et tout le monde voulait me parler en anglais à tel point qu’ils l’ont fait même si j’étais avec des marocains ou bien des allemands – comme c’était inpoli! Je parlais plus en français avec des anglais!

        • Shane

          c’est pareil avec moi. je suis en France pour faire un master…et…étant américain, tout le monde veut me parler en anglais. En plus, comme je suis dans un programme de master… j’e dois vivre avec d’autres américains qui font partie du programme. Mon niveau de français souffre!!! aghhh help! est-ce qui’il y a quelqu’un qui peut me donner des idées/conseils?! Merci

          • Patk

            A première vue ton niveau de français ne souffre pas tant.
            C’est un peu mesquin, mais si on te parle anglais, tu pourrais répondre avec un accent inspiré de Deliverance (et le plus vite possible) ; ensuite tu répètes en français tranquillement : tu as une chance qu’ils n’insistent pas trop pour converser en anglais.
            Sinon, en s’éloignant de Jouy-en-Josas ou Toussus-le-Noble et en rencontrant des non-étudiants – par exemple si tu prends quelques vacances à Arnac-la-Poste ou Ayguatébia-Talau – tu devrais croiser plus de non-anglophones.

            (Sorry for non-French-speakers here, I take it that these people expect answers in French).

          • http://yourlifeamp.com Your Life Amp

            Mon français n’est pas très bon. Je vis en Australie, mais j’apprends lentement :) J’aime essayer de lire et comprends un peu.

            Excellent article Benny. I have not had problems finding French people who are all to happy to help me learn! I find simply asking is the best way.

            If you do find people who are only interested in practicing their English, that is fair game, and I find the bilingual conversations are the best way to go, especially when your vocabulary and command of the language is limited.

          • Nicolas Perrault

            Simple! Dites que vous ne parlez que le hongrois et qu’à moins qu’ils ne veuillent pratiquer le leur, le français prévaudra.

  • jmfayard

    Some people may be surprised to hear that even when living in the country that speaks the language you want to learn, it can still be very hard to convince someone to actually speak it to you!

    ça sent le vécu !

    C’est vrai que c’est un détail pratique qu’on n’aborde jamais à l’école mais qui est tout à fait essentiel.
    Je me souviens notamment d’un épisode très précis, à peu près un an après mon arrivée en Allemagne. A cette époque, je parlais déjà allemand – avec un accent “amusant” – mais pas encore anglais, j’entrais dans une JugendHerberge (auberge de jeunesse), je parlais au gérant en allemand. Celui-ci commençait par me répondre en allemand, puis s’avise tout d’un coup que je suis étranger … et HOP, il cesse de parler dans la langue que j’avais envie de pratiquer pour parler dans une langue dont je n’entravais pas le traitre mot

    How frustrating ;-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      ça m’est arrivé à moi aussi tellement de fois…. même s’il s’agit d’anglais que je parle bien, c’est toujours frustrant !

      • Claire

        ça m’est arrivé aussi! J’ai vécu 7 mois en France (je vous réponds en francais pour m’entraîner, en fait je suis anglaise) et tout le monde voulait me parler en anglais à tel point qu’ils l’ont fait même si j’étais avec des marocains ou bien des allemands – comme c’était inpoli! Je parlais plus en français avec des anglais!

        • Shane

          c’est pareil avec moi. je suis en France pour faire un master…et…étant américain, tout le monde veut me parler en anglais. En plus, comme je suis dans un programme de master… j’e dois vivre avec d’autres américains qui font partie du programme. Mon niveau de français souffre!!! aghhh help! est-ce qui’il y a quelqu’un qui peut me donner des idées/conseils?! Merci

          • Patk

            A première vue ton niveau de français ne souffre pas tant.
            C’est un peu mesquin, mais si on te parle anglais, tu pourrais répondre avec un accent inspiré de Deliverance (et le plus vite possible) ; ensuite tu répètes en français tranquillement : tu as une chance qu’ils n’insistent pas trop pour converser en anglais.
            Sinon, en s’éloignant de Jouy-en-Josas ou Toussus-le-Noble et en rencontrant des non-étudiants – par exemple si tu prends quelques vacances à Arnac-la-Poste ou Ayguatébia-Talau – tu devrais croiser plus de non-anglophones.

            (Sorry for non-French-speakers here, I take it that these people expect answers in French).

  • http://lastfm.com/user/tomoe1986 Piotrek

    Hey there!
    I found you on facebook and after reading a couple of your posts I decided to comment on one of them :)
    First of all, you seem to be very talented as far as learning foreign languages is concerned (even though you clearly think you are not).
    Last week I got my BA degree in English Philology with linguistics as my major. I used to learn some Italian, Spanish and French, but due to lack of time I had to give it up. I also learned German in college, but it was a complete disaster… I cannot utter a simple sentence in that language after 3 years. Can you believe that? Whatever…
    As for your post…
    I agree with what you wrote 100%. I was in England (back in 2005) and some people’s comments were really rude and nasty. I made a lot of mistakes and I wasn’t fluent for sure. During a conversation with a native speaker, we couldn’t switch into Polish for obvious reasons so it really got me down to see people laughing at my accent and the way I formed sentences. It was excrutiating! Now I’m fluent and sometimes people think I’m a native speaker myself haha
    I purchased a self-study book of Hungarian language last month. This language does not resemble any other language that I know and it’s extremely challenging to learn it. However, I met people who studied Hungarian Philology and they were really disappointed by the way they were treated when trying to use the language in Hungary. All of the native speakers automatically switched into English. One of the girls literally begged one Hungarian man to speak with him in his language and all he did was laugh. This is what puts me off learning Hungarian. If I learn it, I want to practice it . I hope I will find someone who will guide me through my Hungarian experience though.
    Good luck with your Czech! Try Polish! It is one of the most difficult languages in the world, along with Chinese and Hungarian :) I promise I’ll help you if you decide to learn Polish :)
    Take care,
    Piotrek.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Hi Piotrek!! Thanks for the compliments and for the interesting comment :)
      Just a reminder for those who think that I’m “very talented” – I took German in school for 5 years (even more than you!!), worked very hard at it, but still never did well in exams. I went to Germany and could barely string a sentence together. And worst of all? German is the only language I’ve really “studied”… and I don’t even speak it! It’s not in my list of spoken languages on the left… I’ll change this some day, but this goes to show that I have no natural advantage over anyone else. I’ve just slowly learned that anyone can learn a language, if they put their mind to it :)
      Where were you in England? Whenever people decide to travel to learn a language, I always recommend against going to large capital cities. London is one of the worst places to learn English for example; too many other foreigners to talk your language with, and too many impatient people sick of foreigners. In other towns and cities in England (not sure which ones to recommend) people may be more curious to meet foreigners! I spent a while in Paris to learn French and it was extremely difficult. But once I moved to Toulouse (in the south), everyone was so much nicer and helpful!
      Even so, one has to apply the methods I talked about above :P
      Don’t worry, I am definitely considering learning Polish :) I don’t believe in statements like “one of the most difficult languages in the world”. These claims are nothing more than discouragement, which should be ignored. In fact, even a native will have to admit that my job will be much much easier after I’ve learned Czech ;)
      Looking forward to more of your comments!

      • http://lastfm.com/user/tomoe1986 Piotrek

        I was in a small town called Dorchester in the south of England.
        The only people I could practice my English with were actually foreigners :)
        As for Polish, I guess it will be quite easy to learn it since it belongs to the same language subgroup as Czech (Western Slavonic). However, Polish grammar is a lot more complicated than Czech and I don’t say it to discourage you! However, judging by the fact that you know most of Romance languages which are similar to one another, you should find it easy to learn other Slavonic languages such as Russian, Croat or Bulgarian :) Good luck!

  • http://lastfm.com/user/tomoe1986 Piotrek

    Hey there!
    I found you on facebook and after reading a couple of your posts I decided to comment on one of them :)
    First of all, you seem to be very talented as far as learning foreign languages is concerned (even though you clearly think you are not).
    Last week I got my BA degree in English Philology with linguistics as my major. I used to learn some Italian, Spanish and French, but due to lack of time I had to give it up. I also learned German in college, but it was a complete disaster… I cannot utter a simple sentence in that language after 3 years. Can you believe that? Whatever…
    As for your post…
    I agree with what you wrote 100%. I was in England (back in 2005) and some people’s comments were really rude and nasty. I made a lot of mistakes and I wasn’t fluent for sure. During a conversation with a native speaker, we couldn’t switch into Polish for obvious reasons so it really got me down to see people laughing at my accent and the way I formed sentences. It was excrutiating! Now I’m fluent and sometimes people think I’m a native speaker myself haha
    I purchased a self-study book of Hungarian language last month. This language does not resemble any other language that I know and it’s extremely challenging to learn it. However, I met people who studied Hungarian Philology and they were really disappointed by the way they were treated when trying to use the language in Hungary. All of the native speakers automatically switched into English. One of the girls literally begged one Hungarian man to speak with him in his language and all he did was laugh. This is what puts me off learning Hungarian. If I learn it, I want to practice it . I hope I will find someone who will guide me through my Hungarian experience though.
    Good luck with your Czech! Try Polish! It is one of the most difficult languages in the world, along with Chinese and Hungarian :) I promise I’ll help you if you decide to learn Polish :)
    Take care,
    Piotrek.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Hi Piotrek!! Thanks for the compliments and for the interesting comment :)
      Just a reminder for those who think that I’m “very talented” – I took German in school for 5 years (even more than you!!), worked very hard at it, but still never did well in exams. I went to Germany and could barely string a sentence together. And worst of all? German is the only language I’ve really “studied”… and I don’t even speak it! It’s not in my list of spoken languages on the left… I’ll change this some day, but this goes to show that I have no natural advantage over anyone else. I’ve just slowly learned that anyone can learn a language, if they put their mind to it :)
      Where were you in England? Whenever people decide to travel to learn a language, I always recommend against going to large capital cities. London is one of the worst places to learn English for example; too many other foreigners to talk your language with, and too many impatient people sick of foreigners. In other towns and cities in England (not sure which ones to recommend) people may be more curious to meet foreigners! I spent a while in Paris to learn French and it was extremely difficult. But once I moved to Toulouse (in the south), everyone was so much nicer and helpful!
      Even so, one has to apply the methods I talked about above :P
      Don’t worry, I am definitely considering learning Polish :) I don’t believe in statements like “one of the most difficult languages in the world”. These claims are nothing more than discouragement, which should be ignored. In fact, even a native will have to admit that my job will be much much easier after I’ve learned Czech ;)
      Looking forward to more of your comments!

      • http://lastfm.com/user/tomoe1986 Piotrek

        I was in a small town called Dorchester in the south of England.
        The only people I could practice my English with were actually foreigners :)
        As for Polish, I guess it will be quite easy to learn it since it belongs to the same language subgroup as Czech (Western Slavonic). However, Polish grammar is a lot more complicated than Czech and I don’t say it to discourage you! However, judging by the fact that you know most of Romance languages which are similar to one another, you should find it easy to learn other Slavonic languages such as Russian, Croat or Bulgarian :) Good luck!

  • Tom

    My mluvíme rádi Česky, ale je pravda, že když cítím, angličtina bude jednodušší, často do ni automaticky přejdu. Ale kdybys mi řekl, že chceš procvičovat Češtinu, jsme rázem zpět. I když je pravda, že bys mě tím dost překvapil :)

    Just in case here is someone who is not fluent in Czech yet.
    We like to speak in Czech and personally – if i feel English is an easier option, I usually swich. However if you asked me to speak in Czech – I’d gladly did so. Even if I have to admit, I’d be surprised :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks for the confirmation Tom!! ;) All someone has to do is ask :D

  • Tom

    My mluvíme rádi Česky, ale je pravda, že když cítím, angličtina bude jednodušší, často do ni automaticky přejdu. Ale kdybys mi řekl, že chceš procvičovat Češtinu, jsme rázem zpět. I když je pravda, že bys mě tím dost překvapil :)

    Just in case here is someone who is not fluent in Czech yet.
    We like to speak in Czech and personally – if i feel English is an easier option, I usually swich. However if you asked me to speak in Czech – I’d gladly did so. Even if I have to admit, I’d be surprised :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks for the confirmation Tom!! ;) All someone has to do is ask :D

  • Lana

    Hi Benny,
    great blog. I agree with you (and many other frustrated learners here) that sometimes it’s impossible to practice – I stopped counting how many times I was dismissed with “Oh, how cute, you want to speak Czech”.
    Here’s my suggestion (I’ve been doing it for the last 3 months, and it really helped me) – one can volunteer in a local old people’s house for a few hours per week. Most seniors here know German and/or Russian, but no English, so there’s no danger of them switching to the dreaded “language of the world”. They are very grateful for your time and attention, they love to chat, and their Czech is clearer and slower then what you hear on streets.
    Another idea – approach free-roaming “babushkas” on streets, in parks and on public transport. They can be very suspicious and hostile, so don’t do it if you’re easily intimidated. But once you break the ice, the amount of free Czech conversation you can squeeze out of them really worth the trouble.
    Finally, for those of you with limited time, try talking to supermarket stuff. Ask for something (ex: “I need to – how do you call it in Czech – a smelly liquid that cleans toilets. Do you have cheaper one? How do I use it” etc). They are getting paid for helping you, so – once again – try and ignore the annoyed looks.
    If I read in the news that some blond foreigner was arrested for harassing older women on streets of Vinohrady, I’d know that you used my advices :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks for those suggestions Lana!! :)
      I’ve got a couple more “hands-on” suggestions too along the same lines that I’ll be sharing in posts later!
      I’ll look out for you on the news :P

  • Lana

    Hi Benny,
    great blog. I agree with you (and many other frustrated learners here) that sometimes it’s impossible to practice – I stopped counting how many times I was dismissed with “Oh, how cute, you want to speak Czech”.
    Here’s my suggestion (I’ve been doing it for the last 3 months, and it really helped me) – one can volunteer in a local old people’s house for a few hours per week. Most seniors here know German and/or Russian, but no English, so there’s no danger of them switching to the dreaded “language of the world”. They are very grateful for your time and attention, they love to chat, and their Czech is clearer and slower then what you hear on streets.
    Another idea – approach free-roaming “babushkas” on streets, in parks and on public transport. They can be very suspicious and hostile, so don’t do it if you’re easily intimidated. But once you break the ice, the amount of free Czech conversation you can squeeze out of them really worth the trouble.
    Finally, for those of you with limited time, try talking to supermarket stuff. Ask for something (ex: “I need to – how do you call it in Czech – a smelly liquid that cleans toilets. Do you have cheaper one? How do I use it” etc). They are getting paid for helping you, so – once again – try and ignore the annoyed looks.
    If I read in the news that some blond foreigner was arrested for harassing older women on streets of Vinohrady, I’d know that you used my advices :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks for those suggestions Lana!! :)
      I’ve got a couple more “hands-on” suggestions too along the same lines that I’ll be sharing in posts later!
      I’ll look out for you on the news :P

  • Matt

    Hi Benny,

    I’ve been continuing to follow your blog, passively, from the jungles of Borneo for the past few weeks. I was interested by your comments on private tutors. Have you used a Czech tutor? When I move to Czech Republic in a year’s time I plan to take an intensive 2 week (group) course in Prague, and follow this up with 2-3 private lessons per week. I’d be interested if you or any other readers have suggestions for either a good intensive course or tutor.

    Thanks,
    Matthew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      I have been using a private tutor, as suggested above ;) It’s been very helpful to get me to improve my level quickly. I haven’t done this in other languages, because I sincerely believe that self-study mixed with actively practising it all we really need! But with my unique short time limit I decided to give myself that extra boost ;) I enjoy the classes and it gives me something solid to work my studies towards rather than random conversations. Note that my classes are ONLY in Czech. My teacher speaks good English, but we only spoke English on the phone and in the first class.

      I think your intensive course followed by private lessons is absolutely PERFECT! :) Too many people do “intensive summers” or something along those lines and they waste their time. But 2 weeks is short enough of a time to actually stay focussed and all of you in the group will need to learn the same thing at first. I normally don’t like academic approaches, but a short-term one could turn out to be useful! I’m quite curious now to hear how it goes for you next year :)

      Once the course finishes then your private lessons will be great as you may be ready to start speaking by yourself and your teacher will help you with that; at that stage group courses really don’t help as each person can’t get the focus they need now that they are actually ready to speak the language.

      To find my teacher I just walked around some cafés until I saw an ad posted up on the wall. You can make one yourself or just get one online at a site like expats.cz. There’s no hurry though; your private teacher may be able to recommend someone. It’s very easy to get a teacher here. You can “shop around” and just do one lesson with several teachers and decide which one is best. Go directly to a person, and NOT through an agency or professional school. They will be much more expensive because of the commission involved, and you aren’t necessarily guaranteed that they would be better than someone who advertises by themselves.
      Just make sure that the price is fair, considering you’ll be doing that long-term.
      All the best!! :)

  • Matt

    Hi Benny,

    I’ve been continuing to follow your blog, passively, from the jungles of Borneo for the past few weeks. I was interested by your comments on private tutors. Have you used a Czech tutor? When I move to Czech Republic in a year’s time I plan to take an intensive 2 week (group) course in Prague, and follow this up with 2-3 private lessons per week. I’d be interested if you or any other readers have suggestions for either a good intensive course or tutor.

    Thanks,
    Matthew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      I have been using a private tutor, as suggested above ;) It’s been very helpful to get me to improve my level quickly. I haven’t done this in other languages, because I sincerely believe that self-study mixed with actively practising it all we really need! But with my unique short time limit I decided to give myself that extra boost ;) I enjoy the classes and it gives me something solid to work my studies towards rather than random conversations. Note that my classes are ONLY in Czech. My teacher speaks good English, but we only spoke English on the phone and in the first class.

      I think your intensive course followed by private lessons is absolutely PERFECT! :) Too many people do “intensive summers” or something along those lines and they waste their time. But 2 weeks is short enough of a time to actually stay focussed and all of you in the group will need to learn the same thing at first. I normally don’t like academic approaches, but a short-term one could turn out to be useful! I’m quite curious now to hear how it goes for you next year :)

      Once the course finishes then your private lessons will be great as you may be ready to start speaking by yourself and your teacher will help you with that; at that stage group courses really don’t help as each person can’t get the focus they need now that they are actually ready to speak the language.

      To find my teacher I just walked around some cafés until I saw an ad posted up on the wall. You can make one yourself or just get one online at a site like expats.cz. There’s no hurry though; your private teacher may be able to recommend someone. It’s very easy to get a teacher here. You can “shop around” and just do one lesson with several teachers and decide which one is best. Go directly to a person, and NOT through an agency or professional school. They will be much more expensive because of the commission involved, and you aren’t necessarily guaranteed that they would be better than someone who advertises by themselves.
      Just make sure that the price is fair, considering you’ll be doing that long-term.
      All the best!! :)

  • Ornum Gnorts

    One can, of course, always say to someone, in thier own language, that one doesn’t speak Eglish. That is the course I take, for example, in Poland. The Poles, like all other people, wiil say, if asked, that they would be very happy to have others learn their language, but their behavior generally belies that statement.

    As for the French: they were intolerable when I was living in France in 1961 and they proudly remain so in 2009. The only solution with the French is to speak to them in Hungarian or Finish or Esperanto when they speak to one in English. They will then become hautily annoyed (who cares) but will be forced to deal with one in French. The question however, is why one would want to learn the dying language of a people who drag behind them, like a cultural anchor, a greatness that hasn’t been current in 250 years. As we all know, the most prominent sign of a vibrant language is its ceaseless change, and the French do everything posslble to ensure that French does not meet that criterion.

    • Funzdi

      I wonder if you are talking about the same country.
      Where I live, the average level in English is so abysmal – including in 3-star hotels – that most people will be relieved if you happen to speak some French. Except maybe if your prosody is too different, in which case they will think that you are still speaking in English (I’m not kidding) and will give you their best deer-in-the-headlights look.

      It is true though that we are a bit spoilt: we are not accustomed to hearing broken French, given that although many foreigners live here, most of them speak French flawlessly.

  • Ornum Gnorts

    One can, of course, always say to someone, in thier own language, that one doesn’t speak Eglish. That is the course I take, for example, in Poland. The Poles, like all other people, wiil say, if asked, that they would be very happy to have others learn their language, but their behavior generally belies that statement.

    As for the French: they were intolerable when I was living in France in 1961 and they proudly remain so in 2009. The only solution with the French is to speak to them in Hungarian or Finish or Esperanto when they speak to one in English. They will then become hautily annoyed (who cares) but will be forced to deal with one in French. The question however, is why one would want to learn the dying language of a people who drag behind them, like a cultural anchor, a greatness that hasn’t been current in 250 years. As we all know, the most prominent sign of a vibrant language is its ceaseless change, and the French do everything posslble to ensure that French does not meet that criterion.

    • Funzdi

      I wonder if you are talking about the same country.
      Where I live, the average level in English is so abysmal – including in 3-star hotels – that most people will be relieved if you happen to speak some French. Except maybe if your prosody is too different, in which case they will think that you are still speaking in English (I’m not kidding) and will give you their best deer-in-the-headlights look.

      It is true though that we are a bit spoilt: we are not accustomed to hearing broken French, given that although many foreigners live here, most of them speak French flawlessly.

  • http://robbiewilliamsandme.blogspot.com Ekaterina

    This post made me laugh, – very well written!
    I had this problem in the Netherlands when I tried to learn Dutch. I used another tip there. I simply said (in Dutch) that I didn’t speak any English, or I started to speak French when Dutch people were replying to me in English.
    My mother is even better in this. She also struggled wth her Dutch colleagues when she tried to speak Dutch to them, and she asked for a pound each time when someone would start speaking English to her.
    That’s the reverse tactic of being paid, instead of paying to learn the language…
    I will send my mom to your site, – she will love it!
    .-= Ekaterina´s last blog ..Friends when you travel. How to make new ones? =-.

  • http://robbiewilliamsandme.blogspot.com/ Ekaterina

    This post made me laugh, – very well written!
    I had this problem in the Netherlands when I tried to learn Dutch. I used another tip there. I simply said (in Dutch) that I didn’t speak any English, or I started to speak French when Dutch people were replying to me in English.
    My mother is even better in this. She also struggled wth her Dutch colleagues when she tried to speak Dutch to them, and she asked for a pound each time when someone would start speaking English to her.
    That’s the reverse tactic of being paid, instead of paying to learn the language…
    I will send my mom to your site, – she will love it!
    .-= Ekaterina´s last blog ..Friends when you travel. How to make new ones? =-.

  • http://quirkynomad.blogspot.com/ Quirky Nomad

    I just found this awesome post and will definitely check out the rest of the blog. I’m currently doing something similar; I came to Hungary to learn Hungarian, and fortunately I’m not having the same problem Piotrek described. People are really surprised that I know their language (even though my Hungarian is very basic) and really appreciate it! In the rare occasions where people respond to me in English, I do something that wasn’t covered in your post: I pretend I don’t speak English! I feel very silly doing it, but it works! Of course, that’s only possible with casual interactions with strangers, but it helps. By the way, I’m Brazilian, so let me know if you ever want to chat in Portuguese. :)
    .-= Quirky Nomad´s last blog ..18th Budapest International Wine Festival =-.

  • http://quirkynomad.blogspot.com/ Quirky Nomad

    I just found this awesome post and will definitely check out the rest of the blog. I’m currently doing something similar; I came to Hungary to learn Hungarian, and fortunately I’m not having the same problem Piotrek described. People are really surprised that I know their language (even though my Hungarian is very basic) and really appreciate it! In the rare occasions where people respond to me in English, I do something that wasn’t covered in your post: I pretend I don’t speak English! I feel very silly doing it, but it works! Of course, that’s only possible with casual interactions with strangers, but it helps. By the way, I’m Brazilian, so let me know if you ever want to chat in Portuguese. :)
    .-= Quirky Nomad´s last blog ..18th Budapest International Wine Festival =-.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

    @Katia I’m sure mum and I would get along! ;) I have to admit that I’ve tried the “I don’t speak English” route; even being from Ireland I’ve “exaggerated” how well I speak Irish Gaelic compared to English and given the irrelevant fact that Irish Gaelic is actually the official language of Ireland (since it is). I only do this in emergency situations though, usually just asking nicely works ;) But since I was an English teacher for a long time I also feel like charging people when they insist on English…

    @QuirkyN
    Glad you found my blog and you can already see that others can help you with your Hungarian ;) As I said, I regularly claim not to speak English. Probably should have mentioned it in this post! May come back to it later!
    Thanks for the Portuguese offer, but I’ll have plenty of in-person practise for the next 3 months…

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

    @Katia I’m sure mum and I would get along! ;) I have to admit that I’ve tried the “I don’t speak English” route; even being from Ireland I’ve “exaggerated” how well I speak Irish Gaelic compared to English and given the irrelevant fact that Irish Gaelic is actually the official language of Ireland (since it is). I only do this in emergency situations though, usually just asking nicely works ;) But since I was an English teacher for a long time I also feel like charging people when they insist on English…

    @QuirkyN
    Glad you found my blog and you can already see that others can help you with your Hungarian ;) As I said, I regularly claim not to speak English. Probably should have mentioned it in this post! May come back to it later!
    Thanks for the Portuguese offer, but I’ll have plenty of in-person practise for the next 3 months…

  • Mario

    Hi Benny! I've been reading your site for some time and like it a lot. After reading these stories I remember that in France I asked something to the receptionist in French and she answered in English even though she couldn't say much. I am Mexican so I really don't know why she did it, it was clear that she was having a hard time trying to say just some words in a language she didn't feel comfortable with. However I also remember having been asked something in English (also in France) by another receptionist. The guy was doing an effort but I understood little other than “room”. I told him I spoke French and he was immediately delighted! Besides, people were very kind to me in the streets whenever I needed some help :)

  • softwater

    Good luck. One thing you'll have to watch out for is that written Thai is based on Central Thai, but in the south words and tones can be pronounced differently from Central Thai. Also, even in Central Thai, some words are pronounced with a different tone in speech from the one given in writing. For example, the pronoun for he/she is written as เขา (khao – rising tone), but is usually pronounced with a high tone เค้า (khao – high tone).

    If the words before the brackets like this อย่างนี่ (yahng-nee – low + high tone = 'like this) come out as asci garble, you 'll need to download and install thai fonts on your computer. Worth doing, if you haven't done it already.

    Good luck

  • http://blog.easylanguages.com/ Kate

    Hey Benny! I’ve subscribed to your emails, and found a link to this article through one of them – really good tips! I’m currently working in Brussels and trying to improve my French, but because I’m working (even with a mainly Francophone staff), it’s sometimes difficult to try to get corrected when you’re focusing on just communication – often it invariably ends up with me getting flustered/worried the other person is getting frustrated and I trail of into english…. I’m making more of an effort now, and also trying to give lovely smiles to my work colleagues when they have time to correct me (normally when we’re outside the office)!

    … I have to say though, I’m also supplementing this with French evening classes, because I know that there at least the French teacher will correct me, particularly if it’s a mistake they feel I should ‘know better’ than to make!

    I’m linking you into a post I’ve made about ‘language hurdles’ – I really like the attitude you take in general on this blog, that you can make so much more progress if you just ‘profite du temps’ and stay focused. Awesome.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I’m not interested in the contradiction. If they say it’s unfair I tell them that I was the one who went to all the trouble to move my life across the world to learn their language. ;)
    If someone in your home country is not willing to help you then move on to the next one. Contradiction be damned – if I want to learn a foreign language, someone else’s interest in a boring one like English isn’t going to get in my way ;)
    I meet plenty of 12-35 year olds who will be happy to let me speak their language with them once I genuinely try. If you aren’t trying hard enough then only the old will help you simply because they don’t want to or don’t need to (for professional reasons) learn English.
    Sometimes it’s a battle of wits, but if you truly want to learn the language you’ll always win in the end :) They’ll find an army of lazy English speakers they can practice with elsewhere.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Best of luck!!

  • Jeff Winchell

    If you have a little patience, continue to speak in the language you want. This will usually get the other person to switch to it too.

    For two years I ran a cafe for English speakers in a mid-size German city. About half the customers were non-native English speakers (and if you know the German culture, the reticence to speak imperfectly causes many to speak little to know English if they can get away with it).

    The point of this place was to encourage English speaking. So even with the native English speakers, particularly the regulars – they would sometimes slip into German (or some other non-English language) and I would just keep talking English until they switched back.

    With the non-native speakers, I also kept speaking English and they would eventually get the courage to start speaking English.

    So I don’t think you need to be particularly persuasive – just persistent.

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    I guess this is a universal problem.  (I thought it was just Japan.)  One solution that works well is to get out of big cities and out with the country folk, who generally speak less English.  That introduces another issue, however, in that instead of having intellectual conversations with college-educated people, you end up talking about soil conditions and harvesting.  But as long as your down with crop rotation, you’ll be fine.

    • Randy

      You think talking to people that are not city folk is less interesting? You can have a lot of interesting conversations with people that do not live in the city, you get to learn stuff that is not found in a book…

  • http://thecrossculturalconnector.com/ amsall

    In my country (Senegal, the Land of “Teranga” or “Hospitality”, in my native “Wolof”), there’s a saying: “hospitality means: speak to your guest in his/her own language”, which means people will insist on speaking to you in English, as much as possible! Anyway, awesome post. I’ve tweeted it, “scooped” it,  and even “pinterested” it :-) 

  • http://www.wanderlusting.info Dayna and Kurt

    Great tips.  I found many of these things to be true when I traveled Europe and tried to engage people while learning the language in that particular country.

  • colin

    I’ve noticed that I usually will get the English response when, say, ordering food or coffee. Nothing to be done about that.

    Having a non-native who doesn’t speak English in your group, I’ve found, is a good way to keep the conversation in the language you’re trying to learn. I had a particularly comic encounter with a drunk man from Libya who was buying drinks for myself and two Germans while loudly tormenting the entire coffeeshop. Since he didn’t speak English, the conversation stayed in German.Another thing that can risk switching the language to English is when you’re not sure you’ve understood something involving a practical matter and have to ask if you’ve understood correctly. Best thing to do (if you can’t ask in the language you’re learning) is to ask someone privately, which keeps the conversation of the group in the language you’re learning.

  • Halina Ostankowicz-Bazan

    Do speakers of diverse languages hypothesize and understand the world in a
    different way?
    This is my question to the world: what do you think?
    Halina

  • keira-n

    This happens in Japan… even if I want to practice my Japanese, people
    will likely speak to me in English. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve
    lived there for years and still have people speaking English to them,
    even when it is clear they’re fluent.

    I have a pretty easy
    solution. I’ll just say “I can’t speak English” (in Japanese), and they
    really have no way to communicate other than Japanese (It’s actually a
    bit annoying that they automatically assume a foreigner will speak
    English). For some this might not work, because you’ll likely be asked
    what language you do speak, but I’m native Hungarian and even though my
    English is a lot better than my Hungarian (I went to high school in an
    English-speaking country), when you aren’t likely to meet a person again
    this is a good way to converse. If you do make friends with a person, I
    don’t think explaining the situation later will cause all that much
    trouble…

    In any case, asking them to speak in Japanese should work.

  • http://www.zarachiron.com/ Zara Chiron

    Another great piece!

    I have had the experience of a “friend” disappearing because I insisted that we speak French and she (a Polish girl) apparently wanted to practice her English….should have gone to England instead.

    I never had the occasion to experience the Parisian snobbery of foreigners attempting to speak French but I lived in Lyon which was a totally different ballgame. Most Lyonnais do not know how to speak English. So although they still had this attitude of wanting to practice the 5 words they knew, in the end it would get old and my broken French would dominate.

    In Spain, I am in Andalusia, so its easier to find people who do not speak any English and I am avoiding the few who do like the plague! …except in purposeful language exchange situations.

    I think if you find good natured people who don’t mind being kind enough to tolerate your awkwardness in their language for a little while – then that is best situation.

    • Laura

      Hello, I come from Andalusia,Spain. I’ve been living for ten months in Caen, Lower-Normandy and I have quite a good command of French. Still in Normandy, I’ve experienced that tendency in people to answer in English as if they were anxious to practice their usually scarce English. I don’t blame them but I don’t see the point in speaking English with French. At the end I decided tjat a solution would be to tell that I didn’t understand English and it worked, maybe because I’m not anglophone, it wouldn’t be easily believable if it’s actually your native language.

      • http://www.zarachiron.com/ Zara Chiron

        :) Estoy contenta que su plan funcione! En España, digo a la gente siempre que no hablo ni ingle ni francés ni nada! Pero desafortunadamente, hay algunas personas que siguen a hablarme en ingles! Pesar de ellos Voy a seguir a insistir que no hablo ingles!!! Porque estoy aquí en España para hablar español :) Me encanta Andalucía!!! Suerte con todo en Francia!

  • geometeer

    Find a slang expression that says you can handle the language. In Rio de Janeiro four decades ago I used “Dá pro gasto”, in French “Je me débrouille”, and so on. Most people will treat you as genuine speaker after that, even if you make mistakes.

  • Robert Jewell

    I lived in Egypt for a year, and I know first hand how to lose and gain friends quickly.

    I love Egyptians, but they can also be very difficult because their country is particularly oppressive, unforgiving and — difficult.

    Still, when I committed to only Egyptian Arabic, I lost a lot of “friends” who really just wanted free English lessons, and gained an infinite amount of Egyptians who didn’t give a damn about learning English and were just thrilled to be speaking in Arabic.

    This brought me to group discussions, which are extremely difficult, but always rewarding because of the difficult and because an Egyptian would always be happy to have a straight forward conversation with me, one on one.

    I am trying to learning Spanish in New York but have been having a difficult time– which may shock many of you.

    So far, Meetups have been the best resource for finding speaking tandems. Hopefully this leads into groups of spanish speaking friends who just want to speak with me in Spanish. Still, it’s very interesting the note the differences in cultures between Cairo and New York.

  • Neil Feder

    In the UAE and Saudi Arabia, people are simply not able to process that you are a Western, non-Muslim trying to speak to them in Arabic. They continue to answer you in English, saying that they can tell you are making grammar and pronunciation mistakes, or are speaking in the unnatural classical Arabic, so it will be easier to continue in English. Well of course I’m going to keep making those mistakes if you don’t try to help me, I explain! People usually don’t understand why I am living here learning Arabic, or flat out tell me it’s a “waste of time.” While the tips in the article are very useful, it just gets very exhausting trying to continue a conversation in Arabic…

  • Lecram Hernández

    Ésto es egoísmo puro y duro, nosotros, los que hablamos inglés les hablamos por que es la mejor manera de hacer que ustedes entiendan, si tú me dices: hey! hablemos español que quiero aprender, yo no tengo ningún problema en hablarte español, es más, me sentiría alagado de que alguien muestre interés por mi idioma.