Three main reasons why they answer you in English when you want to practice a new language abroad

Hello, everyone! / ¡Hola a todos!/ Olá a todos!/ Oi, gente!/ Bonjour à tous!

I must say I’m so excited to see you here! I can’t be grateful enough!

So, you can’t wait to try your newly-acquired language skills abroad. And why do they speak English back to you? Here are three main reasons:

First things first, if any language course promises you to be fluent in 3 or 4 months, they are not telling you the truth. However, you will, in 3 months, have the confidence to get by in a foreign country and impress the locals. Do they appreciate it? Yes! And I will tell you more (because I know what you are going to say 😊!). Just before I start, we know that in a country like France, you will have more opportunities to practice your French, since the French, as a nation, are very protective of their native language (and aren’t they right?). However, you may be wondering why in some Spanish speaking countries, for example, they may answer you in English, even if English is not your first language!

¡Muchas gracias! Merci! Obrigado/a!

Well, then…the reasons they start speaking English back to you in restaurants and bars, etc. are basically:

Reason number one: they may try it if they want to practise English with a tourist, but it doesn’t mean they will persist; it depends on you. They may also be a little nervous about speaking a different language, so try a deal with some language swap. If you are a beginner, a little Spanish here (or your target language), and a little English there may go a long way towards your learning, your sense of achievement and your self-esteem! Of course, don’t try it in bustling places. One piece of advice, have your breakfast sometimes at a local, instead of your hotel.

Reason number 2: Just maybe, you give up too quickly. Why? Because you judge yourself. You think your language skills suck, so you give up. They may speak more English than you can speak their language, but they want to sell you something. Your only motivation should be your interest in their language and culture. Besides, showing off your new skills to friends and family around you will be pretty cool, right? 😉

As you know, you only learn to speak a language by speaking it. I know it may sound obvious, but in practice, you may gulp with a little fear when it comes to it. But think, it’s not your first language! You are only showing them some respect by trying it. Ask them to slow down if they are speaking too fast (‘un poco más despacio’ or ‘um poco mais devagar, por favor’ ‘parlez lentement, s’il vous plait’).

Actually, you slow down too! Just relax and enjoy it! And re-think the reasons you are visiting their country for. Or give it ‘some tweaks.’ Fun in the sunshine? That’s ok, but you will see that country with a different pair of eyes, just because you could say a few words in their language, believe me. It’s empowering…it’s rewarding! Have fun in the process; you are not sitting for an exam!

Reason number 3– You are choosing overly touristic places to eat and drink! You know you’re in for the tourist trap by paying more and dealing with people who are not even locals and don’t even care about the country’s culture. You know them well, come on! For example, choose more local places where you don’t read the word tapas at the door. No authentic Spanish restaurant will display the word tapas at the door. They will make sure to showcase which tapas they have, because that’s what locals want!

Hey, you don’t have to go too far to find a local. Some very near the centre can be a good middle-ground between a local and a tourist’s bar, with good prices and great service, especially if you try to speak the language.

Now, last but not least: I have mentioned the 3 main reasons why you may miss the opportunities to practise your language skills abroad (disclaimer- not that prescriptive!), but a good reason to learn a new language is what you may have heard as a brain booster!

There has been evidence that learning a new language may give your brain a good workout. No, you won’t turn into Einstein and never forget a thing again (I’m sure that even Einstein was forgetful to trivialities), but your ability to focus will definitely improve. Ok, you can stick to crossword puzzles, if it’s your comfort zone, but it’s only so much they can do. Learning a language can be a lot more fun, challenging and certainly more useful!

It’s your call now. What are you waiting for? Above all, give yourself time to learn before your next trip. Time is confidence- because confidence comes with time!

Do you want to know eight tips for remembering vocabulary? Click here.

Rosane Yates

Understand. Communicate. Connect!


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