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Pardon me, what's your preference: Spanish? Creole? Portuguese?

It's a question many non-native English speakers with noticeable accents hear every day in professional and social situations in South Florida whenever they try to find common ground through our common language, English.

For bilingual residents and workers, whether to speak English or to revert to someone's native tongue presents a daily linguistic minefield to navigate. The considerate course of action can sometimes be tres complicated.

Does the bilingual speaker communicate in the person's native language and risk hurting his or her feelings? Or do they try to follow along the person's rough English?

Local language experts and residents differ on what the proper social etiquette should be during these awkward moments.

Some instructors say that letting people speak their accented or broken English helps improve their skills.

"Be patient, and let them work through it," advises Victoria Navarrete, an instructor and administrator at the Intensive English Language Institute at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where she encourages students to speak as much English as they can.

"I want them to have their opportunity. I want them to grow. There is a sense of accomplishment when you can communicate something to another person, and you gain confidence. If I change to that person's native language, they are not going to have the confidence to start in English with the next person."

Navarrete knows that experience well. A native English speaker, she learned Spanish as a second language in junior high. When she lived in Mexico in 2002, she wanted people to speak to her in Spanish.

Her mantra: No English, por favor, and that helped her master Spanish.

"Almost no one spoke to me in English," she recalls. "I always wanted the opportunity to learn what I needed to say in Spanish. I know how frustrating it can be and how rewarding it can be when you are able to communicate in a language that is not your first."

Instructors know that practice makes perfect when it comes to speaking English, but that can sometimes be difficult in South Florida. In Broward, 37 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home, while in Palm Beach county, that figure is 27 percent, according to recent Census figures.

"We live in a bilingual place, but it's hard for the people who want to improve their English," says Lisa Jeffery, who runs the Speech and Accent Academy in Miami and leads Accent Reduction Miami, a free monthly meetup group where people can hone their English-speaking skills. The group has 554 members from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties.

She launched the group after hearing people complain that others would speak to them in Spanish, Portuguese or Russian once they heard their accented English.

"They say to me, 'I can't find anyone to practice English with,' " Jeffery adds.

Her advice for people who meet someone speaking in an accent or struggling to find the right words in English: "Ask them their preference."

But in what language?

"The question should be asked in the language the person is speaking. Or, well, I wish it happened that way," Jeffery says. "My preference is to help them speak English. They don't know if they are going to accent-reduction classes or trying to practice English. I think people may be doing it out of kindness to speak to them in Spanish when they see them struggling in English."

Knowing when to set aside your native tongue or to speak English is a sensitive issue many South Floridians agree to disagree on.

Some people, such as Aventura's Franz Pfeiffer, who works in retail, fear stereotyping by using Spanish to engage customers who have accented English.