Usually everyone agrees that speaking at least a little of the local language is good for showing some respect and I totally agree. I have also had a few situations in which I speaking the local language had been not a good option.
In found in France speaking just a couple of words makes most of the locals think you speak French. One time after asking for directions, a man seemed quite eager to help and threw a barrage of French language at me. I couldn't really get a word in but when I finally did, I had to respond (with my tail between my legs) with "Umm do you speak English?". He huffed, puffed and rolled his eyes as he pointed and simply said "That way".
In Indonesia, I got right into the local language. I found picking up bits and pieces was quite easy so I tried to learn as much as I could. I got really cocky one day and asked a woman how much something costs in Indonesian as if I do it all the time and she responded in Indonesian. The problem was I made the mistake of only learning numbers 1-10 and since everything in Indonesia costs in the thousands I had to respond with (again tail between my legs) "Umm how much?"
In Iceland, everyone I spoke to spoke very good english. When in a foreign language speaking country whos citizens usually speak English like a lot of European countries, I always believe its still polite to ask if they speak english (even in english if you dont know how to say it in the local language). The problem in Iceland is, because everyone speaks such good english, it seems they take it as an insult if you ask. After asking over a dozen people if they spoke English, I more often than not got a a response of "Yes of course". In fact a couple of them gave me shrugged shoulders as if to say "What are you stupid? Of course I do". So after that I just started of saying what I wanted in English. None of them gave me a strange look or seemed like they had to think about their response, they just did it as if it were a totally normal thing.
When I first moved to Germany, my German kind of sucked. I found asking something in German would usually elict a reply in English. At first, I went with it and spoke in English. Since I was there to learn the language, after a while I realised that speaking English didn't help my learning so I kept speaking German after their English response. That helped and I learned a lot quicker.
I currently live in Brazil where English on the streets is pretty thin. Obviously the way I look identifies me a Gringo straight away but at least if I have a bit of Portuguese to back myslef up. In fact I have found bargaining for a touristy souvenir is much better in Portuguese. In English they will screw you for as much as they can. In Portuguese at least I can say something like "C'mon man I live here, I dont earn much, help me out" They will usually knock a bit off the price. Not as much as for a local but still better than nothing.
There are sometimes where you have no choice in speaking the local language. Belarus has had to be the hardest country I've travelled around because of the language. Out of all the time I was there, literally no more than 3 or 4 people spoke at least a few words, the rest, not a word. The biggest problem is that Russian is a very difficult language to pick up on a whim and impossible to read unless you know the cyrillic alphabet. I found frantically pointing and speaking English doesn't help. As it turns out, loud slow dum English (Yes c'mon we've all done it) actually doesn't sound like Russian! So picking up any words possible is essential even if it means reading directly from a phrase book like a big fat tourist (yes I had to do it several times). The good thing was that all the Belarussians were very patient and willing to help in any way possible with a big smile.
Has anyone been to one of those places where English is basically non-existant?? I dont mean for an hour or so, I mean an entire trip for days and days on end. Which road did you take, the loud slow English or did you buckle down with local language?