Do They Speak English in France: Guide From a Frenchie 2023 - On the Road Diary (2023)

If you are planning a trip to France but don’t speak french, you must wonder… Do they speak English in France? The generic answer would be that most French people understand basic English sentences.

You must know that the language spoken in France is French. However, unlike other neighboring countries like Switzerland or Belgium, it is the only official language of the country.

As a French girl, I am aware that we are not known as the best English speakers in Europe. Indeed, English is not widely spoken in France, but the level varies according to region and age.

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There are tons of reasons to visit France, such as the Colorado Provencal or the stunning parks in Paris, but the English level of the French population is not one of them.

In general, international hotspots boast a higher number of English speakers. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the level of English you can expect in France.

How many people in France speak english?

According to a report of Euromonitor International for the British Council, 38,6 million French people out of 65 million have a reasonable competency in english.

It means 57,25% of the population should be able to understand and speak basic English.

The democratization of the English language in France started in the 60s, when globalization began to take off, with the United States playing an important role.

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English lessons became more important at primary school in 1998. It is therefore understandable that the youth speak much better English than previous generations.

There are also great disparities in levels between regions, depending on the local population’s exposure to English, globalization and tourism. Let’s have a deeper look into it.

Do french people speak english: answers location by location

This is obviously not a “yes” or “no” question as English speaking in France completely varies from one region to another. Big cities are much more exposed to tourism and therefore, to English speakers. So, where do people in France speak English?

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Do they speak English in Paris?

Paris, the capital of France, is the city that has the most good English speakers in France.

60.28% of Parisians have at least a conversational level.

Why do people speak English in Paris more than in other areas? We can explain it for several reasons.

The first one is that it is the 7th most visited city in the world in 2023 according to the Mastercard’s Global Destinations City Index.

Paris should be the first or second most visited city in 2024 as that is the place the next Olympic Games will take place.

Its world location is also super close to England, Londoners can reach it within 2 hours by the Eurostar.

Last but not least, Paris is a hotspot for international students. It attracts many expats who want to live the romantic and buzzing Parisian life.

🥐 If you want to discover the city off the beaten path, here are 50+ non touristy things to do in Paris. 🗼

English speaking bars in Paris

Most bartenders speak decent English in Paris and you should not worry about not speaking French.

However, if you want to go to special English speaking bars in Paris, we love the Irish bar Patrick’s – Le Ballon Vert. It’s located near Bastille, in the 11th district.

You can also have a drink with English speaking staff at the Highlanders in Saint-Germain, Harry’s New York Bar in Opera or The Mazet in the latin district.

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English speaking hotels in Paris

All hotel receptionists should speak English in Paris as they have international customers every day.

We especially recommend the Hôtel Paris Bastille Boutet MGallery if you want to live the fancy Parisian life in the most lively-but-still-authentic neighborhood in Paris.

Hôtel 31 Paris Tour Eiffel is also a great hotel to be close to the most famous landmarks of the city and country!

Languages spoken in Paris

There is no traditional language in Paris, but there are many expats or international communities. In addition to speaking French, some people speak English, Arabic, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese…

Do they speak English in the south of France?

The population living in the south of France is not so good in English in general, but you should not worry about language barriers there.

While people in rural areas may not be so conversational in English, those working in the tourism industry in more popular tourist areas are likely to be able to speak it pretty well or fluently.

The areas that have the best english speaking community are the Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the French Riviera and the Luberon.

English speaking in the Luberon

In the Luberon, you can visit the stunning Gorges du Verdon, which is home to a beautiful blue river in the middle of the mountains in the French Alps.

Not far from there, you can set foot in the Colorado Provencal, a former red ocher mine, and Gordes, a famous tourist village where you won’t struggle to find English speaking locals.

English speaking in the French Riviera

The French Riviera, also called Côte d’Azur, is the east Mediterranean coast of France. It is known for its incredible weather, crystal clear coves and luxurious hotels and resorts.

The international Film Festival of Cannes in the French Riviera attracts people from all around the world. One thing is for sure, every person in the tourism industry over there has a decent level in English.

English speaking in Bordeaux

Wine lovers, this is when you should take notes! The Nouvelle-Aquitaine is one of the world’s most celebrated winemaking regions.

You can visit Bordeaux and explore the region that is also home to some stunningly beautiful vineyard landscapes.

Visitors can sample some of the finest wines and cuisine in the wineries of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. For those looking to learn more about winemaking, there are plenty of English-speaking guided tours available.

Languages spoken in the south of France

In the region of Bordeaux, they have a traditional dialect called the “gascon”. In a small part of the south west, around Perpignan, a few people speak the Spanish language of “catalan”.

To name a few others, some people in the south of France speak the “languedocien” and “provencal”.

Do they speak English in the north of France?

Even though the north of the country is closer to the United-Kingdom, there is not much difference between the levels of English in the north and in the south of France.

Indeed, there is a whole sea between them! French people living in the north part of the country are not so good at speaking English.

However, you should have a bit more success in the tourist regions of Alsace, Brittany and Lille.

English speaking in Alsace

Alsace must be the most visited region in the north of France. International tourists come to Alsace all year-round. Locals have a basic English level but are very welcoming.

There are many picturesque traditional villages with canals, like Strasbourg and Colmar to visit.

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It is especially buzzing at Christmas time as this is a hotspot for Christmas markets.

The region is also very nice and easy to visit for English speakers. From exploring its breathtaking castles to tasting the traditional flammekueche, you will have a wonderful time in the north east of France.

English speaking in Brittany

Brittany is the most visited region in the west north of France. It is located at the western end of France, along the Atlantic Ocean.

It has a beautiful coastline, an ancient archaeological site in Carnac, but also an extremely strong culture that has conquered the whole world.

Did you know crepes, salted butter and cider, among other delicious things, are from Brittany?

However, the English language has not conquered Brittany. You can of course find English speakers here, but don’t expect everyone you meet to speak English.

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English speaking in Lille

Last but not least, let’s talk about the English level in Lille. The city has an interesting location as it is next to three big capitals: Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

The international train lines of Eurostar and Thalys also stop at Lille, so you could expect the city to speak English. Well, we can say a lot of people there have indeed a decent level in English.

Another thing that helps is that it has a big student community, and English is much more spoken by young people.

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Languages spoken in the north of France

There are many regional dialects in France, that are mostly only used by old people nowadays.

To name a few, in the very north, they speak the “Chti”. You might have heard of it if you watched the movie “Bienvenue chez les Chtis”, or “Welcome to the Sticks” in English.

Brittany also has its own language: the “Breton”. The most famous word is “Kenavo” for “goodbye”. People in Alsace speak the “Alsacien”, a former german dialect as the region is very close to Germany.

Who speaks the best English in France?

This is a generality, but you can expect people in their twenties living in big cities, such as Paris or Lille, to have a great level in English.

They learned it at school, watch American tv shows, listen to British and American music artists and usually have more opportunities to travel.

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On the other side, the older generation living in the countryside did not always have language lessons at school and never truly needed it in their lives.

Learn basic French: most used french words and expressions

When you visit a new country, it’s always recommended to learn a few basic greetings and expressions as a sign of respect for the locals. France should be no exception!

Here are the most used French expressions and words you can use when traveling to France.

How to say hello in French?

The most common way to say “hello” is “bonjour”. You can use it at any time of the day, for anyone. There are a few other ways to greet someone; you can say “bonsoir” when it is late or “salut” to someone you are familiar with.

How to say goodbye in French?

To say “goodbye” in French, you just say “au revoir”. You can also use “salut” to someone you know well, as it is a pretty familiar way of speaking.

How to say thank you in French?

Thank you” in French is “merci”, and “thank you very much” is “merci beaucoup”. People will usually answer “de rien”, or “le plaisir est pour moi” if you are at a fancy restaurant. It means “my pleasure”.

How to say please in French?

To ask for something in France, you must add “s’il vous plaît” at the end of your sentence.

How to say sorry in French?

If you run into someone for instance, or need someone to move from the subway’s door so you can exit, you can say “pardon”.

How to say have a good day in French?

That is a very cool expression to learn to be friendly with locals. In french “have a good day” is “bonne journée”.

How to say do you speak English in French?

Before engaging in a conversation, you should first ask if the person in front of you speaks English. To do so, you can say “vous parlez Anglais?”.

How to book a hotel room in French?

In order to book a hotel room in France, you can call the hotel or go directly there and say “avez-vous une chambre d’hôtel pour 2 personnes ce soir?”. If you are not 2 people and do not want the room for tonight, you need to change the sentence a bit.

If you already booked the room and just want to check-in, you can say “nous avons une réservation pour ce soir au nom de [your surname]”.

How to order food in French?

This is something you will have to do at some point during your trip: ordering food! First, if you don’t have a reservation at the restaurant, you can ask “avez-vous une table pour X personnes s’il vous plaît ?”.

Then, you can ask for the menu “peut-on avoir le menu s’il vous plaît ?”. Once you’ve chosen your dish, you can start your sentence with “je vais prendre…” and end it with the name of the dish.

How to ask for directions in French?

Last but not least, knowing how to ask for directions and understand the answer in French can be quite useful. You can ask “Savez-vous où est…”. Then, the person will say “tout droit” for “straight”, “à gauche” for “left”, “à droite” for “right”.

Is it rude to speak English in France?

No, it is certainly not rude to speak English in France. It is all about the way you ask for things. Don’t just assume that any French person you run into must speak English.

As in all other countries where English is not widely spoken, you should try to start your conversation with the local way to say hello (Bonjour in French), and ask if they speak English.

Speak slowly, smile and there is absolutely no reason for the person in front of you to get pissed.

Actually, a lot of times, French people who speak English fluently will get excited to see someone they can speak English with!

I typically get excited to speak English and will switch the conversation to English automatically, even if the person is trying to speak French (sorry).

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Why do French people struggle with English?

It is no secret that French people struggle to learn and speak english. Why?

First, English classes became really important at school in 1998. It means that most people above 50 years old did not have a good English program at school, if not at all.

Most kids and adults watch tv shows with not only French subtitles, but also French voices replacing the original voices. It doesn’t help to get familiar with the English language.

French people are also proud of their identity, language and culture. We have a way to pronounce words that is very different from the English language.

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For instance, French people don’t put too much intonation on certain words in sentences. That is one of the reasons French people speaking English have such a strong accent.

To remedy this, French people could start learning English as early as kindergarten. They could also watch TV shows in the original language with French subtitles, among other things.

Moving to France without speaking French: is it doable?

Living in France there without speaking French or visiting for holidays are two very different things. Moving there for studies or for a job are also quite different.

It is extremely hard to find a job in France without speaking English, even in Paris. As stated earlier, English is not widely spoken in France.

You can ask for directions as a tourist, but there are not many companies that accept foreigners who don’t have a work efficiency level in French.

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If you want to move to France for studies in a big city or for a short period of time, you should be fine even if you don’t speak French.

Studies in France are also much cheaper than in the United-States for instance, and there are good exchange programs. Try to live in a big city, such as Paris, Lyon, Lille or Bordeaux and life will be easier.

However, you should try to learn a bit of French if you want to be integrated and fit in.

Even if your French friends speak English fluently, they will often switch to French without noticing if you are the only non-french speaker in the room.

Admin life will also be super difficult if you don’t speak French, because it is already difficult to understand when you speak French.

Last but not least, it is an important factor if you wish to get a French resident card.

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How to visit France without speaking French?

To visit France without speaking French and still make it super easy, here are all the things you can do.

Download the Google Translate application

Are you aware of the wonders you can do with the Google Translate application? There are many awesome features that will make your life abroad much easier.

One of them is the translation via camera option. You can take a picture of anything you want in French (a restaurant menu, hotel or activity indications…) and the app will translate every word on the picture. Pretty life-changing, right?

The other one is the feature “voice to text”. When you don’t understand something, ask the person to say it again and record them. Google Translate will automatically translate what the person said.

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Take a French language course

The good old ways still work! You can learn a bit of French by taking a few French lessons before your trip or move in the country.

Download a language learning application

Now, a more modern way of learning a language! There are many applications that help you learn a language through exercises and lessons.

By far the best is Lingoda. They offer group or private lessons with native French-speaking teachers. If you don’t miss a class, you get all your money back!

That is the absolute best way to get motivated to learn the language.

Book English-speaking guided tours

Wherever you go in tourist areas in France, you will be able to find English-speaking guided tours. It could be useful to visit the Châteaux de La Loire and understand their history, or do wine tasting in Bordeaux for instance.

Do They Speak English in France: final thoughts

So, do they speak English in France? Some do, some don’t!

Although the official language of France is French, most locals understand basic English and it is more commonly spoken in big cities or tourist areas.

People in their twenties living in big cities tend to have the best English-speaking proficiency in France.

With a mix of a few French expressions and a smile, you should be able to go anywhere though. Most French people will be very happy to help you out for directions or share a drink.

To keep traveling even if your pockets are empty, here are 22+ ways to travel for free:

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