One of the toughest parts about learning a language in Toronto is language etiquette.
For example, you’re learning French.
One day you’re waiting for a TTC streetcar. Someone approaches you and asks, in English, but with what you hear is a heavy French accent,
“What time does the next street car come?”
You think: This is my chance!
But you’re not sure what the polite way is to ask the person whether they speak French.
You say: “I think that the next streetcar will be here in five minutes.” And then you muster up the courage to enquire about his or her French accent.
In your mind you may, naturally, be thinking: what if this person has been living in Toronto longer than I have been alive, or, for a huge chunk of his or her life? Will I insult them by probing about the accent? These are legitimate and important questions.
Based on my experience acquired over the years there are two good ways to approach a situation like this.
(1) Anticipate: Carry your French textbook/French dictionary/French cue cards visibly in your hands so people can see you are indeed learning French. Let the French speakers see your props and engage you! He or she might say:
“Oh! You’re learning Français. Peut-être je peux vous assister et pratiquer avec vous.”
(2) The other option is much more difficult: With complete deference, earnestness and sincerity you can tell the person that you thought you may have heard a French accent, and share with them that it is your dream to be able to converse in the beautiful language.