Learn English – When is it OK to use foreign words and phrases in everyday English?


I think that every learner of a foreign language has to decide at a certain point whether they are going imitate native speakers, so as to be mistaken for something they are not, or to retain something of their own character and nationality.

If you are reading something about food, you might see a complete phrase or sentence in a foreign language appear without explanation. I am thinking particularly of Italian. It used to be common practice at one time for menus to be printed in French.

To answer this question, I would like you to include some good examples, possible in speech as well as in written English.

Best Answer

Déjà vu! I think I touched on this in a comment I made earlier today. When is it okay to use a "foreign phrase?" When the listener or reader will be able to figure out what you're talking about.

Some foreign words and phrases become so commonplace that these terms end up with their own entries in the English dictionaries. At that point, they've become adopted into the English language, so one could argue that they're not even "foreign" phrases any more, just acceptable English words with roots in some other original language. Some ad hoc examples would include aloha, hors d'oeuvres, pièce de résistance, and deus ex machina – I could ramble on ad infitinum.

But even words that haven't made that jump in the dictionary will be heard from time to time, especially when it's very basic language that's widely understood. It's not all that uncommon, e.g., to hear English natives use friendly greetings like "¿Cómo estás?" or "Hasta mañana," even when neither person knows more than a handful of Spanish words.