The new language war in France

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to France for me has been the fact that French people want to practice their English-speaking skills with me.  When they speak English pretty well, conversations often become a linguistic turf battle between them and me.  I did not move to France in order to speak English with French people.  I could count on one hand, and perhaps on two fingers, the number of occasions on which the French person’s English is better than my French, although I suppose that this is a very difficult think to judge.  For instance, the French person might find my accent, which is a light anglophone accent and not an American one, difficult to bear.  In any event, French “hauteur” has been transformed over the past 10-20 years with regard to the question of speaking English.  Now, it can be difficult for the anglophone to speak French in France, even when he wants to.  If one betrays the slightest hint of linguistic difficulty with one’s French, certain French interlocutors will take that as a cue to switch to speaking English.

After 3.5 years of living here, I still do not have a good way of addressing this problem, and I have as yet never directly insisted to anyone that he or she not speak English to me.  I hope to find a polite way of saying this and to be able to introduce this gambit into conversation at appropriate times.

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3 Responses

  1. Hey Ledocs,

    You could say that you want to improve your French and ask for the Francophone’s help by speaking to you in French. Or, if this is disingenuous, that you want to practice speaking French and it would be helpful if they speak said language with your.l Or, if this, too, is not quite right, that you enjoy speaking French and don’t get to do it as much as you would like, so could they help with this and speak French with you. In summary, you would first be stating what you want, in a polite and gentle way, and then appealing for help. Who could say no?

  2. Why don’t you just pretend that you are an incarnation of Robert Morley and scare them into speaking their mother tongue?

    What about pretending that you are mute and can only speak sign language or lip read in French?

    Tell them that you hip aches when you speak English.

    Tell them that you are still a fan of George Bush and they won’t know what language you are speaking as they beat a hasty retreat.

    Or you could get on with your life, count your blessings that you have problems like this and consider yourself lucky.

  3. ahha, I just reply to them in French, so we end up with this bizarre situation where I am speaking English accented French and they are speaking French accented English!

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