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.