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Tour In France – do you need to know the language?


Perhaps you may have heard the typical stories about how people in France are reluctant to speak to you in English when you visit their country.  Many people then wonder whether they will be able to get by in Paris or France without any knowledge of French.


You do not need to learn to speak the language fluently, but learning a few common phrases helps.  Making the effort to speak in French will often elicit the response that you need and get you the information that you want. If you make a request for directions, and then apologies that you do not speak French, you are more than likely to get help in English, if the person speaks the language.

Younger French people are more likely to have learnt English in school, so they will also be more able to assist you in English.  Do take note that the local people are going about their daily business and not everyone will be able to help you, especially if they are in a hurry or had a bad day today.  People in the service sector will generally be trained to speak in English, and will provide service in English if they are aware that this is your native language.

Arm yourself with basic French before you go

It is true that, for example, the ordinary Swede will not expect you to learn a few Swedish phrases just for a short trip, but you will feel that French in general do expect you to know a bit of their language.  This is partly due to historical cultural differences, and the French are particularly proud of their language.  Do not be intimidated.  Carrying a pleasant attitude will definitely help to warm up relations, and being nice to the person you are speaking to encourages the other to be equally nice as well.


French people from outside of Paris have a reputation for being warmer than Parisians, and this is not peculiar to France — big city residents everywhere around the world are usually more aloof than their country cousins anyhow.  With the daily rush for trains or strain in traffic, stressful jobs and office politics, you can almost expect Parisians to behave more coldly than someone from a village in Provence.  There will of course be exceptions to the case, but do expect reasonable city-folk behaviour from city-folk.


Buying a simple French phrases book will allow you to pick up useful words that you are likely to come in handy.  Popular ones from Berlitz or at the back of travel guide books can help you to get by.  Or do a search on the trusty Internet and take them down.  Some useful ones are appended below.

Common phrases to get by

English French
Yes Oui
No Non
Do you speak English Parlez-vous Anglais (pronounce ANG-lay)
I don’t speak French Je ne parle pas Française
Thank you Merci
Please S’il Vous Plaît
Very well, thank you Trés bien, merci
Hello Bonjour
Good Evening Bon Soir
Never Jamais
I’m thirsty J’ai soif
Railway Station Gare
Museum Musée


If you want to make the most of your time, then you can join a guided tour in a language familiar to you.  After having gained an overview of the attractions, you can then venture out on your own and retrace the steps without the need to constantly ask for directions.  If you are travelling alone, get to know some of the fellow travelers you meet along the way.  Chances are, some of them may be fluent speakers of the language, and you may be able to travel together with them, especially to out of the way places which are not well-marked on the guides.

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