We British are well-known for our failure to speak any other language except English. My late mother-in-law was once asked if she would like to move with us to France. In the end we did not make the move. When confronted by the prospect of having to speak French she replied that it was their problem so they need to speak English. This amusing incident concerning an elderly lady is symptomatic of the British attitude to speaking a foreign language. 

Typically us Brits abroad, when confronted with a language barrier, resort to shouting loudly and slowly in English on the assumption this will resolve the problem. It merely makes our continental friends even more confused. In a supermarket in Brittany a British tourist complete with beer belly and Union Jack printed shorts approached the checkout assistant and shouted “Bubble”. Completely bemused, the checkout lady looked around for help. Failing to get the response he required he again shouted even louder “Bubble”. Fortunately my wife next in the queue used her feminine intuition to decode this crude demand. He was asking for chewing gum. Helping the shop assistant to deal with this, the necessary item was delivered to him. We as a nation can be so embarrassing abroad. On our honeymoon in a hotel in Italy we were enjoying a breakfast when an English family entered the dining room. As they entered the cry went up from the mother. “Etty ave you got the tea bags”. With their own cereal pack and tea bags they had brought their little Britain with them. 

When making the effort to speak French on holiday, you scrabble together a sentence in French then fail to understand the reply. Very often the situation becomes a bit like “Allo Allo”. You speak poor French to your host. Wanting to show willing, they reply in English. In most cases their grasp of English is excellent.

With the internet in English other languages clearly suffer. Thus English dominates transactions across the world. My German friends all speak excellent English, putting me to shame with my very limited grasp of their native tongue. I can converse in French to some degree but my conversation is frequently punctuated by my wife standing behind me reminding me of my frequent grammatical errors. A real classic error on her part has caused laughter in our family for many years. In the Auvergne coming back down from a very hot climb up a mountain into a village she told a man in French that we had been covered in elephants. She meant flies but confused the French for flies and elephants. He saw the funny side of this conversation as it probably confirmed what he already thought of the English and their failure to speak any other language. It would be a real shame if the world was totally taken over by English speaking. Lyrical Italian and speedy Spanish plus romantic French are beautiful languages. I once was the best man to a Welsh friend. The mother of the bride spent the night before the big day schooling me in the Welsh language so that my best man speech was in her native tongue. I suspect that the several beers I drank as the evening developed loosen by tongue and brain to the extent that cometh the hour I did manage a few garbled sentences to her satisfaction at the wedding reception. Conversing in Froglais at least is us non-linguistic Brits making an effort.