What To Say In Paris…To Just Get By

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Like a lot of folks growing up in the states, I didn’t learn a practical second language that I could use on a day to day basis. Speaking with friends from Europe, its second nature to know three or more languages. For all intents, they can’t graduate without being able to speak a third language.

So way back in the day on our first trip to Paris, we picked up a little phrase that works great to break the ice, let the other person know you are trying, and will quickly get you to a common place with the other person.

Most, if not all international hotels speak English, so if you don’t want to use this phrase there, you really don’t have to. But I still do. Where it comes in handy is when you visit local restaurants, especially where the menu is entirely in french. For example, one time we went to Atelier Joël Robuchon Paris in Saint Germain

Atelier Joël Robuchon Paris Saint Germain

After using one simple phrase, the waiter offered to read the entire menu to Mrs. Weekly Flyer in what was probably his second or third language, English.

Atelier Joël Robuchon Paris Saint Germain Restuarant Bar

The menu was entirely and French and neither Mrs. Weekly Flyer or I spoke a lick of French, except this simple phrase.

What To Say In Paris

We use this simple phrase to break the ice when we aren’t in a familiar place in Paris. To listen how it sounds when spoken, click here and then click “say it” if it doesn’t load automatically.

Je ne parl pas français, parlez vous anglais s’il vous plaît

The literal translation means:

I don’t speak French. Do you speak English please. 

This won’t work everywhere, but every time I’ve used it, I get a common response…”but of course!”

Have you ever used this or another common phrase to bridge the gap in another language?

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About The Weekly Flyer

The Weekly Flyer writes about travel from a business traveler perspective. He travels the world every week accumulating points and miles along the way.

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  1. The single most important word to know in any country is “toilet” Emphasize the last syllable. Toy-LET

    That seems to be understand in France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and their related countries where variants of those languages are spoken. (Brazil, Argentina, etc.) At least it has for us. No clue on Japanese or Chinese, though.

  2. Learning some phrases while in another country is always a good way to navigate in some way another culture. If you are going to make a suggestion like this to your readers though, it should be correct. In your example, “Je ne parl pas français, parlez vous anglais s’il vous plaît”, the verb in the first clause is misspelled and the second clause is not grammatically correct. Literal translations rarely work well, but your English is non standard as well. Would you really say, “I don’t speak French. Do you speak English please.”? I am not sure if you started with French or started with English, but all I can say is, it’s not helpful to pass along something like this. The whole point of attempting to speak in another language is to have some engagement. You can try simple phrases like greetings and pleasantries like “please” and “thank you”. But to have the whole goal of your French be to ask someone to speak your language strikes me as both culturally insensitive and naive. It is not like most people will not recognize that your native language is English.

  3. ne vous inquiétez pas. That is the absolutely best phrase to know. I only use it to display an affinity with service folks and I try to always use it in a sincere gesture of friendship………

  4. Well said, smittytabb. Speak French with minor grammatical error still pleases them more than no French knowledge because they love to see you try. Lots of people complain the French understand English but refuse to speak it but I do not have such problem. I try French and ask them to speak slowly because I speak limited French, though I can understand written language more than spoken French. I love to be fluent in French someday but it will require living in France for at least a decade.

  5. Making an effort is always appreciated. I speak limited French and always find that after I attempt to communicate in French and if it doesn’t go well, the person will switch to English.

    The most important is to show to the local person that you don’t automatically presume they will speak English. Once in Rome, I was trying to get directions and a nice lady tried Italian, noticed I spoke none, attempted some broken English, and we eventually settled on French!

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