Do You Speak English: What You Should Say
Summary: Do You Speak English?
For many people learning to speak English is something they do to help them where they live. Maybe working in a hotel which has a lot of English-speaking guests. Maybe a taxidriver at an international airport who gets more customers by speaking English. Or maybe you work in a shop or provide a service in your country where you get a lot of English-speaking customers. No matter the reason you will get the question “Do you speak…English?” and if you're here listening to this podcast you will say yes 🙂 But what happens next?
Today's podcast looks at the scenarios you might encounter and some strategies on what you should do and what you should say when you get this question.
Audio Transcript: Do You Speak English: What You Should Say
Hi there and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. We are here to help you with your spoken English language – and we use a ‘Learn Through Listening’ method. So listen to this podcast a number of times, until you understand all the words. And then listen to it a few more times, to experience understanding English perfectly. This is really good for your learning!
Help Us Share This Article & You Can Download Immediately
Why did this change? We need you to help us tell people about this FREE English language lesson. If you share this article you help us and in return we charge you nothing to download the audio and a FULL lesson transcript.
So this week’s podcast - ‘Do you speak English?’ What do you say when someone asks you this question ‘Do you speak English?’?
What they mean of course by this question is not ‘Do you speak English regularly?’ or ‘Do you speak English often?’. No, they mean ‘Can you speak English?’ So have a think. What do you reply when someone asks ‘Do you speak English?’
Nobody can tell how good your English is until you start to speak
One of the fears that we all have as language learners, is that if we say that we can speak a language, then the person we’re talking to will assume that we have perfect understanding of the language – and then will speak to us very quickly, using words we don’t understand. And we’ll be thinking ‘Aahhh! I don’t understand!’ Or more accurately, we’re probably thinking that in whatever language is our native tongue! Je ne comprends pas. Ich verstehe nicht. No entiendo. 我不明白 Wo pu mingbai. أنا لا أفهم ana le afamo. So there’s my attempt to speak some different languages!
Anyway, I think that your answer to the question ‘Do you speak English?’ will depend upon what context, what situation you’re being asked that question in. If it’s a job interview – so a meeting to decide whether or not you will be offered employment – then probably you need to be quite careful. For many jobs, if English is not your first language, you may be asked to show evidence that you have passed certain tests in English language speaking. So the IELTS test is a common requirement – and often you need to be level B1 for certain jobs or for if you want to study in the UK. But for many other jobs in the UK, this level of English is not necessary and it is generally accepted that people who are learning English can do lots of jobs very well, with not much English. So even in that situation ‘Do you speak English?’ requires more than a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. There’s a need to think about what level of English is required.
Be clear about your English language abilities
Much more often, the question ‘Do you speak English?’ is asked in a social context. So if you’re learning, in order to show that you speak some English, but you’re not a native speaker, you might reply something like ‘Yes, I can speak a little bit of English’. Or you could say ‘Yes, I am learning English. How can I help you?’. It’s a really good idea to take these spontaneous opportunities to practise speaking the language. And often people enjoy either trying to speak a foreign language themselves or talking in their own language, to someone who is learning the language. People will recognise that you are not going to speak the language perfectly, but they’ll admire you for learning it!
So you may be in the street and someone asks ‘Do you speak English?’ because they want to ask for directions. They may be trying to find a place or they may be lost. I think that if you are an English language learner, it’s always good to take the opportunity to speak English whenever it comes. So in order to be prepared for the question ‘Do you speak English?’ in this context – and assuming that you aren’t also a visitor, assuming that you do know where to direct the person – perhaps it’s good to learn a few phrases about directions! ‘Turn right at the traffic lights’, ‘Go straight on at the roundabout’, ‘Oh that place is in the next street along from here’. Or even ‘Yes, I’m going there myself. Would you like me to take you?’
Start practicing your English in familiar place or situation
Usually when people are learning a language, it’s much easier to start practising in situations where it’s clear what sort of thing people are going to say – it’s a predictable conversation. So for example, if you go into a shop – this might be in a country whose native language is neither English nor your language. But you might want to use English as a common language. So in the shop, you might ask ‘Do you speak English?’ then if they say yes, you can do your buying in English. It’s really good to practise speaking English in bars and restaurants, because usually you know what the person is going to say, you know what they’re going to offer you. So it’s much easier. It’s also good practice at learning numbers – because sooner or later in the conversation, they’re going to tell you how much it is. ‘That’ll be twenty pounds’ or ‘That comes to three pounds fifty’ or ‘Do you want to pay by cash or by card?’ So that if we’re ready for these sorts of sentences, it means that the conversation is easier and it feels more like a success. ‘Do you speak English?’ ‘Well, yes I do!’.
Moving from speaking English in contexts which are predictable into speaking English more socially – well, that can be quite a big step. One of the things that Adept English can really help you with – using our ‘Listen and Learn method’ particularly – is to help you start to think in English and to understand English spontaneously. There may be a phase in your learning where if someone asks you ‘Do you speak English?’, the accurate answer might be ‘A little, but I can understand much more English than I can speak!’ If this is the stage you’re at, then don’t worry. It’s a good situation. Although speaking needs practice too – you are much, much further ahead if you have a good understanding. If you understand what the other person is saying, that’s half the conversation sorted out! Most English people will be patient if they realise that English is not your first language. And they will wait while you find the right words. But if you have the understanding – even if the words that you say are very simple, that’s still effective communication. That’s still an English conversation.
To an English person your accent does not matter
For English speakers, we do meet people sometimes for whom English is their second language – and we don’t realise, we can’t tell. Sometimes people speak English so well, that they sound just like an English person. This is often the case with those people who learn English from very early on in life. I’ve mentioned before how people from Scandinavian countries, from Germany and from Holland often speak really good English. But usually, an English person will know immediately if you have a foreign accent. It’s not something which you need to work hard to eliminate. You don’t need to get rid of your accent. We all have our own regional accents anyway. Accents are good – they’re part of your personality! So you don’t have to work hard at losing your accent completely. We like accents in the UK!
In the UK, most of us speak every day with people for whom English is not their first language. So we’re used to gauging, used to measuring very quickly and automatically not only ‘Do you speak English?’ but also ‘How much English do you speak?’ We’re so used to talking to people who’ve learned English as a second language, that we just automatically adjust if it becomes clear that we’re speaking too quickly or that a simpler level is needed. And for most English speakers, they would hate to be thought of as patronising a non-English speaker. ‘To patronise’ is a verb which means to ‘talk down to someone’ or ‘to talk to someone as if from a superior, a higher position’. So people adjust their level of English automatically, and this isn’t meant to be patronising – it’s just practical and polite! It’s seen as good manners to make that adjustment. And anyway, most English speakers, certainly in the UK do only speak English. We’re not great on the whole at speaking other languages. So the chances are, your English is going to be a whole lot better than our ability to speak your language! So who’s the clever one?!
So have a think about how you respond to the question ‘Do you speak English?’ Make sure that you keep expanding your understanding of English, especially by listening to Adept English podcasts. If you want to progress your English language learning more quickly – don’t forget to check out our courses on our website at adeptenglish.com. And remember, if someone asks you ‘Do you speak English?’ then make sure you treat it as an opportunity to practise speaking!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
PS: Understand more English than you can speak and you will stop translating
One of the most common scenarios for any new English language speaker is that moment when someone asks you “Do you speak English?” You know if you say “yes” you will get a big smile and a huge sigh of relief from the English speaker who has not bothered to learn your language.
I know it sounds mean but English speakers are not great at learning other people's languages. There is an expectation that people speak English. The good news is that you can use this to your advantage. Speaking English may help you get more customers, keep customers who speak English happy. Your English as a second language is valuable so keep up your listening practice and before you know it you will be speaking English fluently.
As always, if you don‘t like this article or you already know about wonder and wander there are many more articles on common English phrases to listen to here.
You can always find more interesting learn English articles here.