Had an incredible unforgettable trip to Paris, but nearly every waiter spoke English to me!

No sooner than the words “Je voudrais un…” were out of my mouth the waiters would immediately switch to English. I guess they have work to do, and don’t want to listen to me stumble through their beautiful language!

I’ve spent much of the past year just reading and have done very little speaking and it shows. I understand everything I read, most of what I hear, but have almost no speaking ability. I had better success in bookshops where I was able to ask simple questions, and I met a few people who encouraged me to speak French even though they knew I was struggling to find the words.

I loved Paris more than I ever thought I would. A very exciting city, and I can’t even begin to tell you how motivating it is to go to the country of your target language. I am determined to go back and make those waiters take my order in French!


I too have had a similar experience happen to me but with German but definitely don’t get discouraged! In my view, a lot of the hard lifting is on the reading / listening front and so you are already well along the way there. Speaking is just another skill you have to tackle. The way I view it, a lot of it just comes down to putting in some time and getting use to expressing your thoughts. Sine you already have the vocabulary down, you should accelerate quite a bit when you start to ramp up. Also, something I noticed is that writing really helps your speaking in that you are working on expressing yourself but in a different context.

Keep at it!!


I’ve had the same issue in Germany as well. My gf would just tell them them that I’m practicing and they would go back to speaking German with me (she’s German). I think if you’re just doing the typical ordering thing, or inquiring about things on the menu then I’m sure they don’t mind. They probably just think they are making things easier for you by speaking English!

It also probably depends on where you go in the country. In major cities I’m guessing they tend to hire young people that probably typically know English anyway and it’s helpful because there are probably a lot of people coming through that have English as a common language. If you venture away from the big cities you will probably find less people that will try to speak English to you. In Germany, in the smaller towns, and in the north I didn’t find people jumping into English to “save” me.


Definitely this ^^. The further away you go from “tourist” areas and the further out the better luck you will probably have.

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Lol, this is why I really have to force myself to improve my French, even though I live in Montreal. But granted, here there are maybe ~ 2 million people who speak English (about 1/2 million as mother tongue).
I had the same experience in Paris last summer, hadn’t been there in 30 years, and believe me 30 years ago waiters and hotel clerks were definitely not replying in English, no one was really. But yeah Paris, “every square inch of that city is sacred to someone” Alan Furst. . . and the baguette omg!!

This comes up so often that I think we should start approaching the issue from another perspective and declare a new motto in language learning: Leave big city waiters out of your language pursuits.

They probably got hired for their English skills in the first place. They’re taking hundreds of orders in English every week, so they get pretty good and fast at it. They’re there to serve food and not to provide language practice.

And most importantly: You don’t learn a language to talk to waiters. How much time do you spend talking to waiters in your home town? It probably amounts to less than 10 minutes a week.

You can have plenty of opportunities to practice a language when you visit a country if you seek them out by going to Meetups, taking only native language tours at tourists sites etc.

Give yourself permission to talk to waiters and hotel personnel in English and don’t challenge them to talk to you in French – instead, challenge yourself to put yourself in situations where English is simply not an option.

For example, I mentioned Meetups. Prior to going, you can look for Meetups that have nothing to do with language exchange, but deal with other interests. For example, a book lovers meetup, or a networking meetup of local people in your field of work etc. These are way better opportunities to really use a language.


Most waiters in Paris speak English, and they are often in a hurry to get the orders placed and don’t take the time to “practice” with customers. You can’t take it personally. I had the same thing happen while touring in Normandy. The young man behind the counter was very excited to speak English to me. Later on that trip, I took a taxi from our gite outside Tours to the Chateau Chenonceau. The taxi driver spoke no English and the ride was about 50 minutes. I was timid at first, but soon we began talking about many different subjects (with my simplified French). She later told me that I was the first American ever in her taxi. At that point I learned that I could survive in France on the limited French I had acquired. I was at about an A2 level then. It was a huge confidence builder! At this point I hadn’t yet tried Lingq. I had tried Memrise, Duolingo, and Busuu and they were all OK, but I needed something to take me beyond the basics.

We recently returned to Paris in October and my French was definitely improved. I asked a lady at the Louvre for help (the room I needed to get into was closed) and approached her. I first told her that my French was poor, and then asked her for assistance. She smiled and told me that my French was perfect and helped me. At La Sainte Chappelle I bought some souvenirs including a book in English. The clerk asked me, in French, if I was aware the book was in English (made my day!), and I explained that it was for my mother.

My French has skyrocketed (for me) since then thanks to Lingq - which I started in February. We are planning a trip in May and renting a car to drive from Bordeaux to Lyon to see our French friends. I am excited to be able to speak with them with my improved French. I am sure that, once I’m immersed again, it will just come out as it has in the past. My goal is to break into “Advanced 1” by May (currently “Intermediate 2”) I usually spend at least 2 hours a day on here, so that shouldn’t be an issue. My biggest issue is being able to spend the time to speak French since my one French friend in the area moved back home (seeing her in May).

So keep on acquiring French and maybe spend some time outside of Paris where the pace is slower. Or, you can try speaking to the hotel desk person (if they’re nice and somewhat bored - which is often the case). Paris is amazing, and so is the rest of France!


In Martinique, I would look for interesting shops with no customers, and walk in and start a conversation with the clerk. I told them I was not buying today, but they were thrilled when I asked about the products in French.


A joke… normal english speaking tourist “Our trip was so great, everybody we met spoke english!”
Language learner “oh man, I’m so disappointed, everybody I met wanted to speak english with me!”


You are right about the waiters. They were friendly but I got the impression they were too busy to be anybody’s French tutor.

I did speak to a lot of people around the city. I went to a lot of bookshops and talked about different books with people. At one point because of the weather I had really chapped lips and dry skin so I went into a pharmacist to ask for lip balm and hand cream, not normally part of an A2 vocabulary! I found myself spontaneously using words I’d never spoken before, but had read many times thanks to LingQ!

I have similar goals to you, and I think I’ll be B2 or better at speaking by the end of the year.


You are so lucky to live in the UK where you have better access to France. For me, it is a 6 hour flight just to get there. My goal is to live in France for 6-8 months and tour the area (including Switzerland, Germany, Italy, etc…) Thanks to friends who live in Northern England, we have been able to tour most of the England and Scotland. I toured Ireland with my parents in 1987. When I retire (hopefully in a few years) I want to travel much more.

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