Do you actually speak English?

If the conversation with someone is leading absolutely nowhere, it’s tempting to pop the question “do you actually speak english?”.  Let’s look at some of the answers…

I have never experienced someone in India proactively telling me they don’t speak English. When that obviously was the case, it has been identified amazingly far into the conversation.


Answer: “No”

I had a discussion with the employer in an electrical shop. It started when I asked if he was 100% sure the bulbs inside the 20 boxes I bought actually had the same color as indicated outside the boxes. He clearly confirmed this, with a big YES. I opened a random box with the picture of a blue bulb. The bulb Inside was a red one. After discussing that fact for a while, without much result – I asked if he actually understood English. He firmly answered “NO”.
So, that was the right time to find someone who did.


Answer: “A little”

This practically means “no”, so it should be handled as if the answer was “no”. Depending on how critical the situation is.


Answer: “Yes, I actually do”

If you are well into a discussion with someone and still find it necessary to ask “Do you actually speak English?” – and the answer you get is “yes”, then my advice is to take a timeout. Have a chai and re-try later.


Topping the list is without doubt this one…

Answer: “I don’t know”

When my mother asked the priest in our local temple if he spoke English, he replied: “I don’t know”. What a fantastic answer. How could he know, if he had never tried? I love the answer. I will never forget it.