"I'm learning German. Please speak to me in German!"

Have you experienced this? You’ve been learning German for a while and decide to go to Germany to try out your new knowledge. You arrive and proudly say something in German ………

….. and they answer in English!

If you are a beginner you may appreciate it, but if your German is actually quite good, you want to get the chance to use it and NOT speak English! But a lot of German faces light up when they hear your accent and are looking forward to practise their English. In touristy areas the requirement for shop assistants, hotel and restaurant staff etc  often is the ability to speak English and many of them love using their knowledge – but so do you!

So, what can you do about it?

You could try and find a resort in Germany or Austria where they don’t speak English, like tiny villages away from tourism or in the eastern parts of Germany where the older generation learned Russian as their foreign language and not English (which, of course, is gradually changing, as they now  all learn English as a foreign language).

If, however, you want to see all those touristy things and go to those places where most people reply to you in English, you have three options:

  1. You resign and speak English (and feel very frustrated)
  2. You keep on telling those people to please not speak English with you. You may have to say that quite often which could also be frustrating.
  3. You print out my little card (and maybe laminate it) and hold it in front of their faces. It stops you from having to say it over and over again and the surprise may be enough for them to actually do as they are told 😉
Ich lerne Deutsch. Bitte sprechen Sie Deutsch mit mir! Click To Tweet

Ich lerne Deutsch. Bitte sprechen Sie Deutsch mit mir.

Let me know how you get on …


13 Responses

  1. This happens to me a lot when I’m in Germany. I find it really rude because my German is pretty good, better than most German people’s English. After a few years of being polite and resorting to just taking the easy option and speaking English I thought to myself, no, I have put a lot of effort into learning German and decided to try a few things. The first was to say that I was Welsh and didn’t understand English – that worked but it confused a lot of Germans and was basically a lie. Now I just repeat ‘auf Deutsch bitte’ until they get the message. This feels (and maybe is) rude but they are being rude in the first place.

    1. It may sound rude, but I think it’s the only way. British people (amongst others) have such a bad reputation for speaking a foreign language and Germans know that, but when somebody makes the effort they should reply accordingly!
      BTW, I love your website and am thrilled to bits that there are primary schools where German is the foreign language!

      1. Thanks Angelika. There are very few primary schools where German is the foreign language but I hope my website will help to change that. I don’t have any hits on the website yet but I hope it will become a helpful resource for German teachers and learners

  2. Have you ever simply continued speaking German without saying anything about the other person speaking English?

    The worst that could happen is that the whole conversation involves you speaking German and the German speaking English. But, the German person may switch to German after a few rounds.

    This is obviously not perfect, but can be the path of least resistance. There is absolutely no reason to go with #1.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I can only speak about the experience of my students and what other people have told me. They all find it really hard to continue speaking German while the other person is speaking English. So many do resign and also speak English, knowing that it’s not a solution. By just reminding them with a sign, rather than keep on telling them ‘Bitte sprechen Sie Deutsch’, (and therefore interrupting the conversation) they hopefully get to a decent conversation quicker rather than later.

  3. Ich finde diese Idee mit den Kärtchen total super! 😀

    Meine Schüler beschweren sich auch öfters darüber, dass die Deutschen einfach nicht Deutsch mit ihnen sprechen wollen…

    Ich denke, diese Kärtchen sind eine freundliche Art, den Deutschen seine Wünsche mitzuteilen.
    Ich denke, in solchen Situationen ist es wichtig, Empathie und Verständnis für den Gegenüber zu haben. Ich habe einen Artikel darüber geschrieben:

  4. I’ve just returned from 10 days in Germany (Wiesbaden and Koblenz) and this exact thing happened to me twice, it’s SO frustrating. The first occasion was in a coffee shop, they asked me something I did grasp straightaway as I was staring a raspberry cheesecake at the time, annoyingly the person was not even a native speaker themselves but they continued speaking to me in English whilst I spoke German back, I left feeling quite angry. The second time I did exactly what Sean says funnily enough “Sorry, ich komme aus Wales, ich spreche nur Walesisch…..bore da”. This caused brief confusion but had the desired effect.

    1. Well done for sticking to German even if the others spoke in English – not easy!
      I guess, the person in the cafe was probably very grateful to speak English because their German wasn’t too good yet. Maybe we need to add some text to the back of the card. If “Ich lerne Deutsch …” doesn’t work, we turn it over and they can read “Ich verstehe kein Englisch” or similar.

  5. Yes I have the same experience when speaking French in France and persist to talk in French despite the replies in English! It’s annoying and is due to reputation as you say. Sometimes it’s because the other person won’t wait when you struggle to recall a word or formulate what you wish to say, at other times they simply want to practise their English. I have come to an arrangement with some people in France where we talk in the 2 languages and it works 😀

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