The Etiquette of Speaking a Foreign Language: 5 Do’s and Don’ts

The Etiquette of Speaking a Foreign Language 5 Do's and Don'ts

When it comes to learning a new language, there are all kinds of habits and social norms associated with specific languages. Speaking a new language isn’t just about learning the words and putting them together in a sentence. It takes a lot of practice and attention to cultural standards to get to the point of being fluent and being able to communicate with others in the language. English language speakers are unfortunately part of a society that does not encourage advanced second language learning in their schooling system, something that many other countries do have set in place. It’s important to understand that as American’s, we come from a slightly greater place of ignorance about other cultures and languages than other places do. We must tread lightly and make sure we understand what to do and what not to do when speaking or learning a foreign language. Check out these six tips to get started.

Avoid Swear Words And Insults

The first thing to remember is to avoid insulting language such as insults or inappropriate phrases. If you look up pendejo meaning, you will quickly understand that unknown words or potentially insulting phrases can easily be looked up and avoided. However, if you are taking a class or learning from an application it is unlikely that they will emphasize insults like pendejo, so it’s unlikely you’ll have to look anything like that up unless you discover a word that you cannot find a clear definition of. In general, familiarize yourself enough with phrases and words to avoid in the language you’re learning or speaking.

Practice With Native Speakers

The best way to get familiar with a language is to speak it with native speakers. This will be difficult at first, but with practice you will start to pick up on phrases and be able to engage in casual conversation with others in the foreign language of your choice. If you wanted to learn British English or you’re practicing your British English language skills then English with Lucy is the right one for you. Practicing in an isolated environment by yourself is not the best way to learn common turns of phrase. Plus, you won’t get the experience of just how fast others talk in their native language. This is another thing that American English speakers take for granted. We do it too, we just don’t notice because most of us don’t speak foreign languages.

Don’t Be Exclusive

When learning a new language, it’s important to make sure you are aware of who you’re speaking it around. In general, it’s considered rude to speak a foreign language with someone in front of others who don’t speak the language. However, with this piece of etiquette it’s important to remember again that we’re living in America where a vast percentage of the population doesn’t speak english. So following logic, it’s rude for Americans to speak English in front of second language speakers of the language. Food for thought.

Understand The Formalities of The Language

Different languages have different formalities and in many latin languages, there are gendered variants for masculine and feminine depending on the context that you’re referencing and object or action. All language learning applications will cover these variants, so there’s no need to go searching high and low for masculine and feminine verbs, you’ll learn the appropriate terms in time. Additionally, be aware of formalities when it comes to age and status. Some languages, like Japanese, take these things very seriously and you risk insulting the people you’re speaking with if you remain ignorant on how to address someone older than you, someone your own age, or someone of significant stature in a community.

Treat Luxury With Suspicion

These days, many of the people who travel and have access to quality education when it comes to language learning are wealthy. This isn’t always the case, but it’s important to treat advice from Americans with significant financial stature with suspicion. The reason for this is that with wealth comes privilege which can act as blinder to the actuality of social norms and respectful communication in a language. Make sure you get your information from locals or those who have a deep understanding of a country’s culture, wealthy communities or not.


Learning a foreign language can be a difficult task, especially the older we get. The best piece of advice for learning to speak a foreign language fluently is to start by visiting an actual space where you can learn about the ins, outs, and social norms of a language. An advice column is only going to give you so much to work with, and this should be treated as a general guide to help curb expectations before embarking on this journey. As english speaking americans, we need to be careful how we present ourselves, especially if we come from a place of financial security that others may not be able to enjoy.

The Etiquette of Speaking a Foreign Language: 5 Do’s and Don’ts

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