How do the French react to foreigners speaking French?

From my limited experienced, I found the reactions significantly different depending on where I was. Mon francais n’est pas superbe, but it’s not bad either. During my one month in France, I spent two weeks in Paris on two separate occasions (at the beginning and at the end of my trip). Otherwise, I was either in Calais, Caen, Aix-En-Provence, or Marseille. I feel that my answer will have understandable reasoning.

In Paris I got two reactions: complete ignorance, or a half-hearted smile. Now, this wasn’t what I received after going 2–3 minutes into a conversation, this was immediately after “Bo

From my limited experienced, I found the reactions significantly different depending on where I was. Mon francais n’est pas superbe, but it’s not bad either. During my one month in France, I spent two weeks in Paris on two separate occasions (at the beginning and at the end of my trip). Otherwise, I was either in Calais, Caen, Aix-En-Provence, or Marseille. I feel that my answer will have understandable reasoning.

In Paris I got two reactions: complete ignorance, or a half-hearted smile. Now, this wasn’t what I received after going 2–3 minutes into a conversation, this was immediately after “Bonjour! Comment ca va?”. Most of the time, the forced smile would appear on their face, and they would reply with “I’m good, how are you?”. It totally kills the vibe, and I lose out on an attempt to practice my French! However, I do have to lightly sympathize with the Parisians, as they probably receive broken, accent-laden french from foreigners all day. I bet most of these times, the visitors are unable to speak or understand anything more than what I had written above, and the conversation is switched to English eventually. I’m not saying these encounters were overly negative, but I would have appreciated the chance to speak a bit more. On the second visit to Paris, I had even resorted to asking a few shop owners if I could practice my French with them - they were not entirely pleased, but went along with it anyways.

In every other part of France I experienced the exact opposite reaction. As soon as I said “Bonjour! Comment ca va” with my funny North Western accent the locals seemed overjoyed at the fact that I was attempting to communicate with them in their own language. I was lost after crossing the English channel, and a couple who only spoke french drove my girlfriend and I to the train station at Frethun. We ended up spending about an hour with each other. In Aix-en-Provence, I got lost while searching for our Air BnB. I walked into a shop and asked if “je pourrai utiliser un telephone?” not only did a man let me use his phone, but he walked my girlfriend and I to the house of the Air BnB.

Anyways, that’s my personal experience with using french in France from a tourist’s perspective. I am happy for those of you who had better experiences in the same place, and I am sad for those of you who didn’t.

I have spoken French at an advanced level for over 20 years, and regularly travel to France to visit family. Additionally, I live in New York City, where my non-French family is involved in the Francophile community. Because of this, I have had various, continuous experiences as an American communicating with the French in their native tongue. The one thing that I can say with certainty in regards to the French reaction to foreigners speaking French is that there exists a universal tendency to assess a non-native’s French-speaking ability within two minutes. If, as a foreigner, you can pass th

I have spoken French at an advanced level for over 20 years, and regularly travel to France to visit family. Additionally, I live in New York City, where my non-French family is involved in the Francophile community. Because of this, I have had various, continuous experiences as an American communicating with the French in their native tongue. The one thing that I can say with certainty in regards to the French reaction to foreigners speaking French is that there exists a universal tendency to assess a non-native’s French-speaking ability within two minutes. If, as a foreigner, you can pass this still-unknown-to-me standard, you will get a relaxed smile and perhaps even a grateful “bien” in return. After that point, you are permanently classified as a French-speaker and will always expected to converse in French. The second scenario that might occur is that you will test out your French with a native, fall short of this mysterious standard and immediately be nudged over to an English-speaking conversation. Even if you do continue speaking French, the native will continue replying to you in English, hoping that you will eventually take the hint. The French are very proud of their language and have a very low tolerance for people butchering it, something that you will even see amongst their own countrymen. Do not take any personal offence to a French person replying to you in English if you begin a conversation in French; simply practice your conjugations and try again another day. While they will certainly always appreciate any earnest effort to learn their language, they will not allow you into their French-speaking kingdom until you can pass their standard. Be prepared, though, to never let your French slip if you ever do meet this mysterious French-speaking benchmark; the label is permanent one that your French friends and acquaintances will refuse to relinquish.

In my personal experience, there is a wide range of reactions depending upon

  1. The age of the French person listening (e.g., is the person under 30? Over 60?)
  2. The region/location in France (Paris, a crowded city where people are in a hurry, or rural Provence, where people have more time?)
  3. The level of French being spoken by the person
  4. (And take this for what it’s worth) The race/ethnicity of the person speaking.

We lived in Paris for a few years, and I come (originally) from Canada. Hence the “French” I learnt as a kid is to say the least, different from what is spoken in the big city, It’s not neces

In my personal experience, there is a wide range of reactions depending upon

  1. The age of the French person listening (e.g., is the person under 30? Over 60?)
  2. The region/location in France (Paris, a crowded city where people are in a hurry, or rural Provence, where people have more time?)
  3. The level of French being spoken by the person
  4. (And take this for what it’s worth) The race/ethnicity of the person speaking.

We lived in Paris for a few years, and I come (originally) from Canada. Hence the “French” I learnt as a kid is to say the least, different from what is spoken in the big city, It’s not necessarily “rudeness,” but Parisians are often in a hurry, and want to complete transactions and move on. They also are more accustomed to travellers randomly stopping them in public places to ask how to get to certain locations, or for help to take a picture or order food. Reponses to imperfect French are more likely to be a sort of “hurry up” correction or quick switch to English - even if English is not the speaker’s native language.

Outside Paris, people just seem to me to be more patient, and are not nearly so quick to correct mistakes, noticeably react to oddly pronounced words, or give a curt “comment”. I suspect that this is true not just of the French, but of any people in rural vs. urban settings when confronted with a foreigner speaking their language imperfectly.

I’ve also seen that younger people, who are just more comfortable in foreign language (notably, command of English is, IMHO, better than those who are older. They more readily just reply in English (again presuming that the speaker speaks English) when they encounter a non-native French speaker.

I (a bit reluctantly) add point four. It’s my own personal experience as someone who is pretty much Anglo-Saxon in his origins, but whose wife is Asian, and whose son is (obviously) mixed-race. When we arrived in France, pretty much the only words my wife could speak in French were “menu” and “restaurant.” She struggled for the time in classes and with local people with whom we became friends to learn, and could communicate in French after some time. It was my experience that people were far more accommodating for her than they were for me. Perhaps it’s because she was a woman, or perhaps because expectations were different. But nonetheless, I feel the reactions were different for her and for me. And this goes true for others I knew personally.

For context, and to be fair, I am now back in the US - living in San Francisco. Like Paris, it’s a city that draws tourists from all over, including many French people. From time to time, I encounter French tourists who try to use English. Some of them speak English pretty well, and I always answer them in English. It’s obvious that they do not speak English at a level of native fluency, and even the best English speaker who is French in mother tongue pronounces English words oddly, and is prone to use odd choices of words (in this thread, in fact, a French responder wrote “we have interiorized that foreigners speak English”, which contains a pretty obvious and tortured corruption of English.)

At other times, I get a question from a French tourist who plainly is struggling - badly - to ask for information in English. Just a few weeks ago, two young visitors asked me, hesitatingly, “Um…vhere is it can be found les ippies?”

I asked them, in English, if they could repeat the question, and the second go-round was not an improvement.

So, I asked them, in French, what it was that they were trying to say.

They were looking for Haight-Ashbury, where “hippies” could be found.

It was just easier for both of us to question/answer in French.

I suppose it might be considered “rude” for me to switch so quickly by someone sensitive to this topic, but I suspect that this is the sort of thing that French people encounter, and why they quickly switch to a language that both people can actually understand.

I am French. But after 1 year of travel in South East Asia I like to prank my fellow french travelers.

So my prank is this : I meet this girl, we are presenting ourselves in English and I just had the intuition she is french. Call it divination or accent spotting, it's been easy for me.

So I ask her where she is from and booom ! French girl ! Then before she has the chance to return the question I just burst : “oh really ? I know a few words of french !!”. And I do my best imitation of an English/whatever accent saying something like “bon voyage” or “bienvenue”.

She -and everyone I tried this wit

I am French. But after 1 year of travel in South East Asia I like to prank my fellow french travelers.

So my prank is this : I meet this girl, we are presenting ourselves in English and I just had the intuition she is french. Call it divination or accent spotting, it's been easy for me.

So I ask her where she is from and booom ! French girl ! Then before she has the chance to return the question I just burst : “oh really ? I know a few words of french !!”. And I do my best imitation of an English/whatever accent saying something like “bon voyage” or “bienvenue”.

She -and everyone I tried this with- is always pleased and telling me how good my french is (en thoug i now and she nows it's not good). Then after a few sentences more I laughingly say “Yeah, I know, i'm french!”. Haha. Love this prank for the good laugh it always gives us.

My point for your question is, I never have been received badly by any french traveler when I was “trying to speak their language”. And I know from experience that in France everybody is keen to gently correct you or at least try to understand what you are saying. Elders will maybe try to guess what is wrong with you before understanding that it is not your mother's language.

My mother which is having guests in her Airbnb in Provence is ok with English but she ALWAYS appreciate when someone is making an effort to speak French.

And we KNOW our language is complicated, it's full of non-pronouncing letters and irregularities, a lot of us (including me) are doing many mistakes daily. So if you make a mistake ? Thank you so much for trying :)

And if you don't make a mistake ? Well congratulations first ! And welcome to the never ending hours of discussions after meals (feel free to skip by “taking a walk” or “going for a cigarette” in the garden when it begins to be overwhelming).

Oh, forget Paris. Parisians are known to be incredibly stressed by this big surrounding of too many people so they are rude and can be very impolite. Everywhere else you will almost every time find someone kind enough to not laugh at your accent.

When I was (much) younger, I have been asked for directions by a Gentleman looking for who-knows-what in Nice, French Riviera, France. His French was atrocious, and I as politely as possible proposed him to switch toward English. He agreed, but from his facial expression while I was explaining, mimicking and gesturing (you know, mediterranean way) I gathered that he weren't as happy with my English than I was...I hope he still found his way.

This was just a small introduction to explain that, while we French feel genuinely happy and flattered when a stranger talks to us in our dear language, we

When I was (much) younger, I have been asked for directions by a Gentleman looking for who-knows-what in Nice, French Riviera, France. His French was atrocious, and I as politely as possible proposed him to switch toward English. He agreed, but from his facial expression while I was explaining, mimicking and gesturing (you know, mediterranean way) I gathered that he weren't as happy with my English than I was...I hope he still found his way.

This was just a small introduction to explain that, while we French feel genuinely happy and flattered when a stranger talks to us in our dear language, we are still eager to show (-off...) our command of English, because, you know, it is unpleasant to always hear that :
- When someone speaks two languages, they are bilingual
- When someone speaks three languages, they are trilingual
- When someone speaks one language, they are French
And what is even more unpleasant is the feeling that it is true to a certain extent...

So this is the reason why I would try to prove to my interlocutor that my English is not nonexistent. But I sure feel honoured that he learned a bit of French. This will earn him much more attention, care and smiles. I know people who would just look at you and coldly repeat "je ne comprends pas" (I don't understand) if you ask them something in English, Spanish, German etc., who would gladly try and dust their own English from school years if you at least try to communicate in French. From my experience, the kind of pidgin that ensues is quite delicious but surprisingly efficient.

Pretty well.

There is something that some foreigners may be surprised with, though. French people tend to not be overwhelming with compliments. This is because there are many foreigners living in France and it is assumed that they should speak well enough to show evidence of their will to integrate French society.

Therefore, you may have been spending years suffering on learning conjugation or other delicacies unique to French (spelling, formal or slang French, irony and all the other things that make French learners hardcore masochists - believe me, I used to be a learner of French myself too,

Pretty well.

There is something that some foreigners may be surprised with, though. French people tend to not be overwhelming with compliments. This is because there are many foreigners living in France and it is assumed that they should speak well enough to show evidence of their will to integrate French society.

Therefore, you may have been spending years suffering on learning conjugation or other delicacies unique to French (spelling, formal or slang French, irony and all the other things that make French learners hardcore masochists - believe me, I used to be a learner of French myself too, just like any native speaker). But since people in France have undergone the same difficulties learning their own language, or although we have been experiencing that, we tend to not always recognize to their unique value the immense efforts made by a lot of foreigners to speak French well.

One more thing. Maybe (I hope so) education has changed since the time I was myself in school (almost twenty years ago, now). If not, then I'd say that the learning of French is a torture for many kids. All these rules that don't make sense and all these letters that no one pronounces but that you must absolutely write with the appropriate accent on top of it for some of them. It's excruciating for many kids who didn't ask to be treated like that. And honestly, as long as our leaders will not make a drastic decision to simplify all this, chances are it's going to be like that for many more decades.

But because of this, French people tend to become automatic correcting machines when they hear a mispronounced word or a misconjugated verb (he typical example being when someone doesn't use the subjunctive when expected, like former president Sarkozy has done a few times). When a foreigner makes those kinds of mistakes, he correction serves only as a way to help the person improve so it should not be taken offensively even though you may get interrupted while speaking because of that.

When a native speaker makes those kinds of mistakes, the reaction is generally either amused (when it's a football player, for instance) or horrified (when it's a chief of state) because they are expected to exemplify the use of the language.

French people tend to take for granted that foreigners learn to speak their language. First of all, it used to be a very widespread language in the world. Second, it seems to be Latin trait, as Italians or Spaniards have similar attitudes. So they are unlikely to make compliments, and may even correct you. Even in the most unexpected places, they will find it natural to find someone who speaks French. You may find it self-righteous, but anyway, that’s how they are.

But if you know some idioms and slang they don’t expect to hear from foreigners, go ahead. It will make them laugh and you will win

French people tend to take for granted that foreigners learn to speak their language. First of all, it used to be a very widespread language in the world. Second, it seems to be Latin trait, as Italians or Spaniards have similar attitudes. So they are unlikely to make compliments, and may even correct you. Even in the most unexpected places, they will find it natural to find someone who speaks French. You may find it self-righteous, but anyway, that’s how they are.

But if you know some idioms and slang they don’t expect to hear from foreigners, go ahead. It will make them laugh and you will win a mark. They won’t mind you having an accent, on the opposite, they may often find it charming. Foreign born celebrities such as Jane Birkin (English), Romy Schneider (German), Dalida (Italian) have been cherished by the French public for their “petit accent”.

Not unlike the English, the French are used to hear their language come out in all sorts of accents. Remember there are several accents within France, and there is the Swiss, the Belgian, the Québécois, the Caribbean. Millions of Africans are fluent in French from childhood, and yet retain accents. Not all native French speakers speak the same French.

Sure, it’s a difficult language, and an investment to learn. Anyway, you should definitely try to learn some things in French before you come to France, even if you can’t go far with it. It will make a difference. Since English is getting more widespread, you will manage somehow, and even people who know only French might try to communicate anyway, if they find you “sympathique”.

And in case you have some fluency, then…foncez! The French tend to respect bold people, so don’t be shy.

I always try to speak as much of the native language as possible when I visit a foreign country (and have studied French, German and Spanish at various times- but most recently over 25 years ago).

Being Irish is often helpful (particularly in France) as in general we do make an effort to speak French, while many other nationalities, in general, do not.

My last trip to Paris will forever be in my memory (for numerous reasons, including a visit Notre Dame)- but especially because of a meal out on our last day in Chartier in Opera. We were staying close by- and a little bit dubious about going ther

I always try to speak as much of the native language as possible when I visit a foreign country (and have studied French, German and Spanish at various times- but most recently over 25 years ago).

Being Irish is often helpful (particularly in France) as in general we do make an effort to speak French, while many other nationalities, in general, do not.

My last trip to Paris will forever be in my memory (for numerous reasons, including a visit Notre Dame)- but especially because of a meal out on our last day in Chartier in Opera. We were staying close by- and a little bit dubious about going there for dinner, given its rather interesting reputation- but decided to queue along with the other tourists and were, eventually, shown our table.

To say the atmosphere in there is lively- doesn’t give the place justice- one of the charms of the place is the manner in which the staff hurdle abuse at tourists in French and German- normally safe in the knowledge that the tourists haven’t a vague foggy notion of what is being said around them.

I don’t know whether it was the fact that I was tired, or what- but I decided to give as good as I got- in both French and German- my wife was appalled and thought we’d be thrown out- but on the contrary- and to the amazement of many other tourists- we were treated like celebrities, the staff couldn’t have been nicer- and we were subbed drinks for the evening too. My German is Alsace German- which is similar to the German that some of the staff speak- and my French, well lets put it this way- as a kid I made the most of the fact that I had a heavy goods driving license and drove in France for a time- so my French while imperfect, was certainly colourful.

That, unfortunately, was 11–12 years ago. So much has changed for us all since- and poor Paris has suffered several indignities since then. I now have a 9 and a 10 year old- and I’m going to gently encourage them to expand their language repertoires - the fact that they’re going to school through Irish rather than English- is actually extremely helpful in this regard- our sentence structures and tenses (and many words) are the same as in French, rather than English).

In short- many of us have had mixed experiences in France- and indeed elsewhere- but a little bit of effort more often than not- and not expecting people to speak English- goes a long way. You don’t have to be fluent- you just have to make an effort- and nine times out of ten- you’ll get a free French lesson from whomever you’re dealing with, they’ll correct your grammar- or teach you a few colloquialisms. Note: be careful with the colloquialisms if you’re a truck driver- they may not be suitable in more polite society :-)

A century ago, even half a century in some regions, most french people were still speaking local dialects. As a consequence being able to speak correctly french has been a marker of your ability to integrate into modern world and upper society, and failing to do that, as a french citizen, is rather seen as a major weakness regarding other intellectual capacities.

So, on a day-to-day basis, French are much less tolerant with smalltalk than Americans, for example, who had always to cope with immigrants not very fluent in english.

On top of that, french language is pretty difficult to speak 100% co

A century ago, even half a century in some regions, most french people were still speaking local dialects. As a consequence being able to speak correctly french has been a marker of your ability to integrate into modern world and upper society, and failing to do that, as a french citizen, is rather seen as a major weakness regarding other intellectual capacities.

So, on a day-to-day basis, French are much less tolerant with smalltalk than Americans, for example, who had always to cope with immigrants not very fluent in english.

On top of that, french language is pretty difficult to speak 100% correctly if it is not your native tongue, and most foreigners speak worse than a 5-year child.

So as a foreigner, you’ll be usually spotted as a non native speaker in 5 seconds. So while the french will be surprised you took the pain to learn french, and indeed flattered, deep inside your average french level will become an annoyance.

So it comes to their own level in english. If they speak it better than you do french, which is normally the case if they are young and educated, they will prefer to speak english, even if they might not say so, out of politeness. If they don’t, which is quite likely if they are old or uneducated, they will be happy you take the pain of speaking french.

Now, if you speak fluently french , but with a foreign accent, don’t be bothered. We love that.

In the 70's, the French had a reputation for being harsh, often rude, to Americans who did not speak French. So, before a trip to Paris, I dutifully studied the Living Language tapes of 25 or so useful phrases.

Our first day in Paris, at a tiny café, we ordered roast duck. The waiter responded that there was no more. I wasn't sure I understood and asked in incorrect French if that's what he meant. He gently corrected my sentence, and when I repeated it as he had said it, he smiled in approval. I made another selection, (mis)pronouncing it without the final "s," which of course is never pronounc

In the 70's, the French had a reputation for being harsh, often rude, to Americans who did not speak French. So, before a trip to Paris, I dutifully studied the Living Language tapes of 25 or so useful phrases.

Our first day in Paris, at a tiny café, we ordered roast duck. The waiter responded that there was no more. I wasn't sure I understood and asked in incorrect French if that's what he meant. He gently corrected my sentence, and when I repeated it as he had said it, he smiled in approval. I made another selection, (mis)pronouncing it without the final "s," which of course is never pronounced in French, except when it is. The waiter pronounced the dish correctly, and waited for me to repeat it. And smiled approvingly when I did, like a father teaching a small child. Because of his gentle, patient attitude, learning French in that moment became possible, rather than "too hard."

I have been to France and Québec many, many times since then, and my French is categorically better now. But only once in 40 years have I ever met a French speaker who responded unkindly to an honest effort. Our waiter's gentle response to my efforts was extraordinary, but by no means an exception.

I have been to France 25–30 times. I studied for a summer at the Sorbonne. I lived in Paris for the better part of a year. I never spoke French well, but at one point, I read it well enough that my dissertation was a translation of a French document (a fairly basic one, TBH).

I have traveled to a variety of other countries. In a couple of cases, I tried to learn the language beyond a few basic phrases. I was cursed. I could always find someone who spoke English well enough to help me. In the middle of some small town in China, I’d speak to the one person in the place who spoke English. They alw

I have been to France 25–30 times. I studied for a summer at the Sorbonne. I lived in Paris for the better part of a year. I never spoke French well, but at one point, I read it well enough that my dissertation was a translation of a French document (a fairly basic one, TBH).

I have traveled to a variety of other countries. In a couple of cases, I tried to learn the language beyond a few basic phrases. I was cursed. I could always find someone who spoke English well enough to help me. In the middle of some small town in China, I’d speak to the one person in the place who spoke English. They always thought it was cute that I tried to say something in their languages then they’d insist I speak English with them.

One of the first times I went to France, our neighbor invited me over for a drink. He was outraged that I spoke no French. He was rude and insulting about it. Two months later, when I knew all of 20 phrases, we ran into each other at a party. He was very impressed that I’d tried to learn the language, then insisted that I speak English with him (he spoke it very well, this second time, revealing that he’d lived for 20 years in the U.S.).

By an large, I’d say that if you try to speak French (especially if it is bad—if your French is pretty good or if you are planning on staying, they’ll make you speak it), they’ll put you out of your (their) misery and speak English (or whatever) with you (if they can). If you don’t even make an effort, they’ll refuse to help you out, even if they speak English (or your native language).