Picture this: you’re sitting at a restaurant in a small French town waiting for the server to come to take your order. You’re talking yourself up, rehearsing what you’re going to say in French so you get it just right, when the waiter walks up and asks in English: ‘Ready to order?’ Most language learners have been in this situation more than once, and know well that sinking feeling you get when you realize you’re not going to get to practise your target language because the other party insists on using English. This is, undoubtedly, one of the more frustrating aspects of learning a new language; you want to practise, but you can’t because everyone keeps talking to you in English! Don’t despair, we’re here to help you through this language conundrum with these sound tips on how to convince natives to speak to you in their language:
It’s human nature to want to take the path of least resistance, and oftentimes it just seems easier to give up and speak to someone in English rather than be a stickler about conversing in the local tongue. After all, the other person may speak better English than we do their language, or perhaps they enjoy talking in English, or maybe English just seems like a more logical choice in the moment. It’s important to remember that locals may be more accustomed to meeting English speakers who are not interested in the their language, so for many people it might come as a shock that you don’t actually want to talk English! A good way to let them know is to ask (in the target tongue, of course), ‘Do you mind if we speak your language? I really want to practise.’ You’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that this is all it takes to get someone talking to you in their native tongue! Even better, this can lead to questions about why you want to learn their language, and an entire conversation can grow from there.
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Don’t give up
Of course, you will always encounter a few people that will either disappear the moment you try speaking their native tongue to them, or insist again and again on speaking English with you. The latter situation is very common in countries where knowing how to speak English can lead to better opportunities and English lessons are very expensive. Yep, I hate to break it to you, but some people may be trying to use you for free English classes. There’s nothing wrong with this, after all you are trying to do something similar (but in reverse), so you can’t really be judgemental about a person seeking you out in order to exercise their English skills. However, it is important to stand your ground and keep answering back in the local language, even when they speak English to you. While it can be a bit awkward, it’s important to set boundaries, because if you give in once, I can guarantee you’ll be stuck chatting in English every single time you see them. Look at it as a battle to see who is more motivated to improve their language skills and do your best to win!
Best of both
If you don’t want to take a stand because you’re worried about losing friends or coming across as abrasive, why not compromise on the speaking front? If someone you know wants to practise their English, get together to do a tandem language exchange. Basically, use 30 minute time slots to speak either in English or their language. Correct them and offer them tips for improving their speaking skills so they’ll do the same for you! The great thing about tandem exchange is that you can improve your language abilities for free. It’s definitely a win-win for both parties involved if you stick to the 30-minute per language rule.
Take a class
The easiest way to have someone speak to you in another language is, obviously, to just pay for classes. Avoid spending money on online self-study courses or group classes and instead invest in a private tutor. Even 10 classes with a one-on-one language teacher will make a huge difference in your language learning, and will also make you loads more confident about approaching strangers to practise speaking in their language.
Do you have any tips for convincing natives to speak to you in their language? Share a few with us!