Ciao instead of hello – how to stop people from answering you in English

Language teacher Christine Konstantinidis offers a few tips for conversing in a language while learning.

Christine Konstantinidis is a language teacher, blogger and author of the recently released Sprachen Lernen – Tolle Tipps und Tricks (Learning Languages – Terrific Tips and Tricks). She bases her approach to teaching and learning on an excitement and passion for language itself. This keeps learners motivated over the long term, and helps them to enjoy the process of reaching their goals. Her German-language blog, Sprachlernen leicht gemacht (Language Learning Made Easy), is also written with this in mind. Find it (and practice your German) at

Do you know the feeling? You’ve been learning Italian for months, you go to Italy with tons of motivation and muster all your courage to start speaking the language – with the waiter, the market trader, the taxi driver, the hotel staff, etc… But what do you get? A reply in English.
So how do you react? Well, since you don’t want to offend or irritate anyone, you flash them a smile, continue the conversation in English and think to yourself: “I just need to improve my Italian, then they’ll speak to me in their own language.”
But in the back of your mind, you’re disappointed. Part of you wonders: “Why am I even learning Italian?”
Try not to become too frustrated – does that nice Italian taxi driver even know that you’re trying to learn and want to practice? He may well think he’s doing something nice by conversing in a language you’re more comfortable with.
So how can you get your overly helpful conversation partners to speak their native tongue? Try these tips:

  1. Don’t go to Lake Garda, try Abruzzo instead. English speakers tend to be much harder to find in smaller, less touristy towns and villages.
  2. Be stubborn. If someone answers you in English when you want to speak Italian, keep speaking Italian! Of course, this may not be a good idea if the person is stressed, but stubbornness generally pays off.
  3. If you have a flair for the dramatic, try acting as if you don’t understand any English. If nothing else, your travel companions are sure to enjoy the show!
  4. Be straight with them: tell the person you’re talking to that you are learning Italian. If you need to, write down important phrases and keep them in your wallet or purse to show your conversation partner. You’ll likely get a lot of positive feedback from this method.
  5. If the person you’re speaking to answers in English, ask them how they would have answered in Italian. They’ll almost certainly be glad to help you with this. Even if your questions are answered in English at first, you’re sure to learn something new.

And what if your conversation partner really doesn’t want to speak Italian with you? You thank them kindly and find someone else! You’ll soon discover that most people are very sympathetic and willing to help you learn.
One final tip: have courage!