Tactics for avoiding English

I mentioned on another recent thread that Benny-the-Irish-Polyglot is probably going to need a lot longer than 8 weeks to get into speaking Dutch - because 99.9% of Dutch folks will answer him in English whenever he tries to practise his Dutch! :-0

This is becoming a real problem for West European or North American learners of languages such as Dutch, Swedish, German, etc. The problem is most acute for English native speakers, but it doesn’t only apply to them. There is a Danish polyglot called “Iversen” who posts at the HTLAL forum - and even HE has said that he finds it almost impossible to get a reply in Dutch when he visits the Netherlands! (And his Dutch is already pretty good, judging by his Youtube videos…)

So what strategies are there to overcome this problem?

The owner of the HTLAL forum recommends resorting to subterfuge. His approach - apparently - is to pretend to be a Russian guy who doesn’t speak any English. I can see that this might work - if you have the balls to carry it off. But it has always struck me as a darned high risk tactic! What happens if you get called on it? What happens if someone starts coming at you in Russian? You would look like the mother of all fools! :-0

Any other ideas?

I can only speak form myself but I find this problem largely overblown. I have had no problems whatsoever speaking poor Norwegian in Norway from day one (pun intended), albeit as a German and not native English speaker. Norwegians (and Dutch I suppose) speak English rather well, but still even for them it is far from being as natural as speaking their own mother tongue. Also remember that there is a lot of national pride in Norway. Again, to say it in the Irish Polyglot’s very own words: no excuses!!

I agree, this is a complete myth. Living in The Hague for nearly five years I can’t ever recall a time when my very limited Dutch has elicited a response in English. Maybe it’s more likely to happen in Amsterdam, but I doubt to any great extent. Any effort to speak Dutch is appreciated here.

This is indeed a common problem, and it does not limit to English speakers. Cantonese learners in Hong Kong struggle to convince people to speak to them in Cantonese, no matter what ethic backgrounds they have. If you don’t look Chinese, you will get English back for sure.

This is a complex question, but I try to simplify the answer. I think ‘confidence’ is the key.

What a strange!
When I was young, I had been studying music in Paris. After 6 months,(si j’ai un bon mémoire) almost French folks talk to me only in French even if I don’t understand very well what they say. Maybe the difference between french folks and the other? Maybe every one respects Benny-the-Irish-Polyglot’s ability?

They sometimes was giving a salute to me in simple Japanese but not in English.

I think it is a matter of how limited the knowledge of the language is. I can speak from personal experience in Portugal that in most situations, real life situations, you need a minimum level or a) you do not understand what people are saying, b) you cannot say more than one sentence, your starting sentence.

It does take a little effort to reach a level where you can talk to strangers, even well meaning ones, in my view.

I’m not sure why you make such a big deal of this. I’ve never had that problem, whether it was with English, German, Spanish or Japanese (French is my first language).

There’s no need to use subterfuges; if I’m speaking a language and people reply in English, I just keep speaking that language. People will revert to it almost right away. My wife used the same strategy learning French in Montréal and she didn’t have a problem either. Even if you do encounter the odd person who insists on using English because they want to practice, out of all the people you’ll meet, you’ll still get your way most of the time.

(my comment above doesn’t apply if you can’t string a sentence together or if people can’t understand you or you can’t understand them)

I also think it depends whether you prioritize communication over language practice. Personally I feel weird sacrificing the former for the latter. If it flows better in English, I feel like I am being selfish if I try to push my less fluent foreign language.

The only issue is when to start. I will start to inflict my language on anyone I can if I have an opportunity and have enough words, even just enough to get into trouble.

But there is a starting point. It is not day one. I will also not deliberately set up an skype conversation when I am weak in the language, but I will try it out on strangers if the situation arises, even if the results are not that brilliant.

Guys, I should have made some things clearer here:

1.) I’m not referring here to countries like France or Italy, etc. I know that there is a different culture in Southern Europe as regards the national languages and the use thereof by foreigners. :wink:

2.) I’m not referring to learners who have a really poor spoken command of their target language. Obviously, if you can’t string two words together, then you can’t really complain if people use English.

But how about if your Dutch/Norwegian/German is actually okay (albeit not 100% perfect) yet they STILL insist on English?

I know from my own experience that this really can happen! Right up to the end of time living in Germany, I still used to run into people (admittedly only a minority) who would more or less insist on speaking English!

Now of course, if you live somewhere on a fairly long term basis, you can afford to be fairly relaxed about this. But if you’re only there for a limited time - à la Benny - then this reluctance on the part of locals can destroy your learning! :-0

It seems sad, but if I ever spent time in Norway to learn the language, I would have to consider assuming the persona of “Boris” up from Moscow. (I would, however, really hate myself for lying to people like this - and I would bitterly resent the fact that there is an attitude of mind among so many Norwegians which would make it necessary to do this…)

BTW I guess it’s kind of unfair to focus on Norwegians in particular! Danish, Dutch, Norwegians… These guys are ALL complete bastards when it comes to forcing English onto foregn learners…

“…foreign learners…”

(And of course, I know they’re not ALL bastards, but…)


it is really time you move to Oslo and find out for yourself, but be prepared to pay 10 Euros for a pack of cigarettes…

Ich habe doch vor 3 Jahren aufgehört, buddy!

In the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, I exaggerated a French accent, when speaking English (ok, I do speak French too, but someone who doesn’t could fake it) … as soon as they perceived that I could be a French speaker, they switched to Dutch and stuck with it all the time.

"His approach - apparently - is to pretend to be a Russian guy who doesn’t speak any English. I can see that this might work - if you have the balls to carry it off. But it has always struck me as a darned high risk tactic! "

  • high risk? in what way? unless the country is at war with russia or with russian impersonators shouldn’t be hard :slight_smile: Should be easy in my case since I speak russian and can pretend to not speak english if I ever visit a place like Japan and if they try to speak ingirisu with me I will just respond with russian and make gestures that I don’t understand. As for impersonation, I’ve had some fun times approaching random chicks in my city center speaking in english/asking for the time/etc pretending to be a foreigner- after they give the time or something in english I’d reply back in russian and that would illicit a laugh- fun hehe.


Of course, if you actually CAN speak Russian to a high level, then this is an excellent tactic to use! :wink:

(It would be risky for folks who don’t speak Russian, because they would have to live with the chance that the person would switch to Russian…and then…:-0 argh!?!)

Generally speaking I agree mostly with what alexandrec has said. So far I have never had any problem with people not wanting to talk in their local language to me if my language capabilities allowed me to have a decent conversation. Of course, you will run into some people who insist on speaking English to you (it happened to me in China a few times). I then, very politely, remind them that I’ve come from far away to study and speak their language and that I don’t mind speaking to foreigners in my language when they come to my country to study and practise but that I won’t speak English in China (unless it’s absolutely necessary). So far this has worked most of the times. There were a few guys that would stop the conversation and go on and look for somebody else to talk to. But to be honest I’ve ALWAYS had plenty of opportunities to speak the local language, also in China (even though most of my fellow students complained about always being talked to in English).
Here in Austria I’d say that the vast majority of the people will talk to you in German if they see that they can have a conversation with you. But even if you just say a few standard sentences ordering food etc. you are very unlikely to come across somebody who’ll insist on replying in English. I see it all the time, practically every day where I live and foreign tourists try to speak in German - they will get a response in German.

If you come across people who are eager to practise their English you might face some reluctance on their part to actually reply in their native language. I guess, in these cases it all boils down to whether that person has some courtesy or not. I simply consider it outright rude to talk to someone in English if he or she obviously wants to speak to me in German. To me this is a matter of respect. You find that kind of attitude also with skype language partners. Some just don’t understand what “exchange” means and if they don’t I just move on. I once had a Japanes guy who has been living in Germany for more than 10 years, so his German is really good. We met on sharedtalk and he actually had written in his profile that he wanted to do a language exchange. After I had talked to him for 40 minutes in German I asked him if we could talk in Japanese even for just 10 or 15 minutes and the guy simply said: No, I’m not interest in speaking Japanese, I already know it pretty well. Thinking of it now, it almost sounds funny but actually I think that guy was extremely rude. I then simply told him that I’m sorry but that I’m not a free tutor and that he might want to look up the meaning of the word “exchange” and then I logged off. I’d do similar things if someone tried to only speak to me in English while I’m making it very clear that I want (and am able) to talk to him or her in their native language. Again, this has worked for me in probably more than 90 % of the cases. I have never felt the need to try and pass myself off as speaking another language as my mother tongue and I would be rather reluctant to do so because of the possible consequences if people found out about it (and I don’t really think I could pull it off in any of my languages anyway).

It’s not always about their wanting to practise though. There are people in Japan who seem to be convinced that it is not physically possible for a for a foreigner to speak Japanese. I much preferred the French way of assuming everybody can, or at least should, speak the local language.

I took a French class here in Tokyo, and one of my classmates insisted on talking to me in English during the discussion time. I told him, in French, that I wasn’t there to speak English, and he said ‘but I prefer speaking English’. I have got no idea what was going through his tiny little mind.