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The natives won't speak to me in their language!

16 Aug 2011
Two men talking on the street
Photo by polandeze on Flikr.

Speaking your target language with native speakers is the ultimate goal of most learners. But what should you do if the people you meet only want to practice your native language?

You're not the only one having this problem! How can you get native speakers to stop speaking Engilsh (or your language) and practice their language with you?

Read more for some tips!

Begin every relationship in your target language

Once a relationship is established in one language, it's extremely hard to change it. Only at the beginning is it really flexible.

For example, I have several friends who are native speakers of Russian. I met some of them before I started learning Russian so our friendships were established in English. Later, it was nearly impossible to "translate" our relationship from English to Russian!

But I met others after I was already pretty good at Russian, so we began the relationship mostly in Russian. Now speaking English with them seems weird and almost silly!

Be confident

Even if you're struggling a bit, act like you are having a great time speaking the target language. If you look like you are suffering, people will switch to English (or whatever your native language is) because they think they are helping you.

So, smile really big and confidently declare every sentence even if it is riddled with obvious errors! :-)

I personally had this problem the first two times I was in Poland. I was trying really hard to do grammar mathematics in head. This looked very painful -- and it was!

Just ask!

If someone switchs to your language, tell them about your problem (in their language!) and ask them to speak your target language. They'll understand.

If it's someone at party and you know you'll be talking for a long time, offer to switch languages in 30 minutes. But speak in your target language first! Odds are, once you're used to speaking it together, you won't actually be able to switch. ;-)

Find a language exchange partner

As I wrote previously, a language exchange is where you meet with a native speaker of your target language, who is also learning your native language. Then you can practice both languages, one at a time. It's also a great way to make new friends!

If all else fails, have some fun!

If you've tried everything and you just can't seem to interact with natives in your target language, it's time for some fun. If they keep trying to speak to you in English, just pretend you don't know what they're talking about! Look confused or make up your own gibberish language. ;-)

NOTE: I've never personally tried this. :-) If you do, let me know how it goes!

The opposite problem

This problem happens more when you're at a beginner level. Eventually, I started having the problem in reverse!

For example: when we were living in Poland and my family came to visit us, we went out to eat a lot in Old Town. All the waiters in Old Town speak good English and even some German, Russian, etc. They would start out speaking to everyone in English but when they found out that I spoke Polish, they would start relaying every communication through me in Polish!

It was very annoying. :-)

How do YOU get native speakers to speak with you in their language? Is it more difficult with with some nationalities? Write a comment below!

Anonymous's picture

Good advice, I too have had this problem in Poland, but once you get to a high enough level, it stops becoming too much of a problem. I pretty much follow the advice you have given above.

One of my major major annoyances is when speaking to someone in Polish who barely knows any English, maybe a few basic words, and they insist are trying to translate everything I have just said back into English/Tarzan language, e.g.

Me: Chcesz kawę?
Them: You want coffees, YES!

I found the problem is mainly with men, women don't seem to do this. The problem also gets much worse after a few beers :P. I just put it down to wanting to show off, and people have told me not to worry too much about it. Also, I can actually understand women more as the ones I know don't use "k*rwa" in every sentence. Also, I avoid people who like to show you that they can swear in English (and that's it).

I've always been scared to try the "Nie mówię po angielsku, jestem klingonem" approach, as knowing my luck the person would speak Klingon. I have heard this works though, but if you forge a relationship with that person they won't be too happy that you lied to them.

Posted by: Tony (not verified) | Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - 01:37
David Snopek's picture

Wow, I've never had anyone repeat back what I said in English! That definitely sounds annoying. :-) But I have talked with people who want to show off how much English profanity they know. ;-)

Thanks for sharing your experiences!


Posted by: David Snopek | Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - 15:37
Anonymous's picture

Witam! W Polsce nakręcono baaardzo dobry film, który dosłownie wgniata w fotel. 25 sierpnia wyjdzie na DVD. Myślę, że powinieneś go zobaczyć. Jest podobny do "Requiem for a dream". Jego tytuł to "Sala samobójców" Więcej info

Posted by: a nie po wiem (not verified) | Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 11:40
David Snopek's picture


Dziękuję bardzo za polecenie i linka. Kiedy najpierw był opublikowany, bardzo spodobał mi się film "Requiem for a dream" razem z innymi podobnymi filmami (np. "Kids"). Teraz takie filmy po prostu wydają mi się bardzo stresujące. :-)

Właśnie obejrzałem zwiastun "Sala samobójców" i trochę poczytałem o nim. Podoba mi się pomysł z stosunkiem między światem realnym i wirtualnym. Wygląda bardzo ciekawe!


Posted by: David Snopek | Friday, August 19, 2011 - 05:49
Anonymous's picture

David, I'm curious about one thing. When you were living in Poland, did you prefered to "iść na dwór" or rather "iść na pole"? :)

Posted by: Anonymous (not verified) | Friday, August 19, 2011 - 05:06
David Snopek's picture

I avoided the whole problem and said "iść na zewnątrz". :-) But the difference between these two phrases is a very popular topic in Kraków. Many students who are originally from outside of Kraków say "iść na dwór" and so the conversation begins.. ;-)


Posted by: David Snopek | Friday, August 19, 2011 - 05:37
Anonymous's picture

I've also heard version "iść na dworze" (with declination kto/co - dworze, kogo/czego - dworza, gdzie - na dworzu) - some people near Kutno use this version.

Polish has relatively small regional variations (thanks to post-war migrations I think), so IMHO it's good at least some of such differences are still in use.

Posted by: Anonymous (not verified) | Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 10:25
David Snopek's picture

I agree, I love such dialectual differences! They make language so much more interesting. There are many different dialects of English, even just here in the United States. I'm particularly fond of my own. :-)


Posted by: David Snopek | Wednesday, September 7, 2011 - 06:27
Anonymous's picture

Profesor Jerzy Bralczyk, polski językoznawca, w poniższym filmiku wyjaśnia, która forma jest poprawna: wyjść 'na dwór' czy 'na pole'?

Okazuje się, że "wyjść na pole" nie jest błędem; jest to regionalizm krakowski (i nie tylko krakowski, gdyż osobiście słyszałem również ten zwrot używany powszechnie np. na żywiecczyźnie), ale w czystym, standardowym języku polskim (języku literackim) obowiązuje forma "wyjść na dwór".

Poprawnie można więc powiedzieć: "Idę na dwór". Natomiast jeśli opisujemy, że coś się dzieje na zewnątrz budynku, mówimy, że coś się dzieje "na dworze" (np. 'Jurek gra właśnie w tenisa na dworze', ale nie "na dworzu"). Powiedzenie "Idę na dworze" również jest niepoprawne.

I hope this information will be useful, especially for advanced Polish learners, like you, David. :-)

Best regards,

Posted by: skorway (not verified) | Friday, February 3, 2012 - 15:00
David Snopek's picture

Dzięki, było bardzo interesujące. :-)


Posted by: David Snopek | Monday, February 6, 2012 - 09:12
Anonymous's picture

Nie rozumiem. Czy mógłbyś rozwinąć myśl ? Dlaczego "wyjść na pole" ? Mieszkam w Polsce, ale nigdy nie słyszałem żeby ktoś tak mówił. Pozdrawiam :)

Posted by: Anonymous (not verified) | Friday, August 19, 2011 - 11:03
Anonymous's picture

Przyjedź do Krakowa :) Wychodzenie "na pole" to małopolski regionalizm.

Posted by: Anonymous (not verified) | Friday, August 19, 2011 - 12:58
Anonymous's picture

Hey! Could you help her with Polish language?

Posted by: a girl (not verified) | Monday, August 22, 2011 - 10:45
David Snopek's picture

I'm not sure she needs my help. :-) She already speaks very quickly and comfortably, much more so than me. If she just learned a little more vocabulary she'd speak perfectly!

Thanks for the link, though! I'm surprised I haven't seen this before since its from back in 2009.


Posted by: David Snopek | Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 09:42
Anonymous's picture

This is a funny situation that a man who is from another place try to learn the language of the place where he lives now. All the people in that place will try to learn in his language rather than teaching him their language.

Posted by: brucewayne (not verified) | Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 04:51