Why do French people always answer me in English (and what can I do about it)?

If you’re learning French and you’re trying it out on a Real Life French Person, you may have found that they sometimes respond in English.

The horror!

But what does it all mean? Are they being rude, polite, helpful, or are they showing off?

I had language teacher Camille from French Today in the studio to answer all my questions about it.

Have a listen here and subscribe wherever you find podcasts for more like this.

Camille has written pretty extensively on this topic before too, find out more about how to make French people speak French right here.

We also spoke a fair bit about numbers, here are Camille’s articles on that.

  1. How To Best Learn French Numbers (with Audio Exercises)
  2. Learn French Numbers 0 to 19 (with Audio Exercises)
  3. Learn French Numbers 20 to 59 (with Audio Exercises)
  4. Learn French Numbers 60 to 99 (with Audio Exercises)
  5. Learn French Numbers Above 100 (with Audio Exercises)
  6. Learn Large French Numbers (with Audio Exercises)
  7. How to tell the time in French – (with audio)

If you want to learn French with Camille’s method, find the audiobooks here.

If you want to hear more from Camille on The Earful Tower podcast, she’s a super regular guest, here are all her appearances.

And lastly, don’t forget to watch my talk show at the Australian Ambassador’s residence. Here’s the link (and you might just see Camille in the crowd!)

5 thoughts on “Why do French people always answer me in English (and what can I do about it)?

  1. I am delighted to have discovered this site. I loved your discussion about why French people shatter us by replying to our French in English. I am an Australian (pen-name “Frank O’Phile”, a.k.a. “the Other Kid from Kogarah”), did doctoral studies here 1964-1968, married a French woman and became a French citizen. I’m 82, and have lived here for the last forty years ! I still have a recognizably foreign accent (which may be why some people imagine I would prefer to speak in English – although when I speak in French they are invariably “bluffés” (un faux-ami … ) by my mastery of their language – including l’argot – become my own (Sorry, you’ll have to scroll down quite a long way to read the rest.)

    . I spent my professional life lecturing and publishing in French, and in fact rarely get to speak English (I do have a blog – blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com – with an international readership and therefore written in English). Occasionally, rarely in fact, in speaking in French I slip and mispronounce a word (although I never make beginners’ mistakes like confusing “desert” and “dessert” (!). I say this because I am going to have the hide to offer some advice to Camille, whose English is close to perfect. She – like myself – speaks her second language so faultlessly that no one would dare to correct her. I am going to dare to take that risk. Camille, you have just one fault to correct : mastering the tonic accent. Here are three examples I picked up in your conversation with Oliver : “e – VENT” ; “con-SID-er” ; and “be-GIN-ner”. I hope you don’t mind my lapsing into professorial mode.

    Frank O’Meara


  2. Hi! Loved this episode! It’s a tricky conundrum, n’est ce pas?
    I feel like if you are able to, starting an exchange in French is still the polite thing to do, would you agree?
    I am travelling to Québec in Canada soon, and hope to practice some French. However as a bilingual area I’m sure I will manage just fine in English. I’d still like to use a few little phrases as much as I can, even if the poor overworked waiter has no time for my mangled French 😉

  3. Hi Oliver! I just finished listening to this episode and wanted to let you know that the movie you refer to is “Paris, Je T’aime” and the actor is the marvelous Margo Martindale and it was directed by the American director Alexander Payne. It’s one of my favorite segments from that film and it ends with a beautiful speech (paraphrased): “…and that is when I fell in love with Paris and I felt Paris fall in love with me.” Thanks to your podcast discount I’m now back to practicing French with Camille through her terrific lessons!

    1. Yes! My favorite Paris movie not least because Steve Buscemi plays the worlds unhappiest tourist and Wes Craven directs a segment set in a cemetary that turns out to be a touching love story! Plus the bits where the actors try to pronounce je t’aime…

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