I've oft experienced (and heard stories about) conversation participants switching to English when noting some lack of fluidity in the target language. In a similar vein, I've heard anecdotally of speakers switching to English upon even noting an accent. I believe this is in part to attempt to make the conversation smoother or to assuage the discomfort of fumbling in the target language, but it is undesirable when learning a language.

Clearly one mechanism for persisting in the language is to reiterate the desire to practice, but I've found that occasionally it'll still drift back to English.

What else have you found to be helpful to overcome this?

  • 3
    Keep in mind that the other person may not have many opportunities to speak English with native English speakers in their country, so of course there would be interest in taking the opportunity.
    – user3169
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 21:20
  • I appreciate the edits to the title, but I don't think they added any clarity. In fact, they added a lot of ambiguity. Perhaps this title should be changed, but lets make sure any edit is an improvement.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 20:01
  • @Flimzy is that better?
    – Ooker
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


First, let them speak English when they switch - but keep speaking the language you're learning confidently. They may switch back to the other language, once they realize you are happy using that language (after all, they may have started speaking English for your benefit, not their own). Other times they may continue to speak English, and you'll have a bilingual conversation - but that's really no problem. The most important thing here is to keep your nerve, and not switch to English just because the other person does. But if you've made up your mind to keep speaking the target language, it becomes easier.

Second, try to talk more with people who aren't used to speaking English. They'll often be glad to realize they don't have to speak English - though this depends a lot on what country you're in.

  • Good advice in general, though I've run into (anecdotal) problems with this when someone turned out to be a native English speaker, and was miffed that I didn't switch to English with them.
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 0:16

Allow them to speak English but assist them in translating the English phrase(s) into the language you are trying to learn. This will allow the people you are studying with to learn a bit more about the new language and give you a quick refresher of some of its vocabulary.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to withhold themselves or even yourself from speaking a more familiar language as you do not know how to make the conversation smooth. People can falter and switch to their more experienced languages instead, switching back and forth but try to remember what you couldn't say at that time and try to learn how you can.

Of course, you could also try avoiding them altogether or speaking with someone who is experienced or has that language as his native tongue.


Assuming you can already understand and express yourself confidently in L2, directly but politely asking the native L2 speaker in L2 to speak L2 could help. I have only tried this once in Spanish and another time in Mandarin, both times successfully. More often, just speaking the language is enough to win over the native speaker. At least in restaurants, getting language practice for the price of your meal is seldom an issue. It also helps if you put yourself in a situation where L2 speakers are the majority, such as at an ethnic church.

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