Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workplace?

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Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workplace?

Postby rylemdr » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:08 pm

Recently, a co-worker told me she felt I was being rude when I was conversing in my native tongue with another co-worker because she could not understand us.

The three of us were not engaged in a conversation in the first place when I started talking to this co-worker in a foreign language other than English.

I feel a great sense of relief when I am able to express myself when talking in my native tongue. Everything feels much more natural and the conversation is a lot more fluid when I don't have to think too much about my words.

I never do this when monolingual speakers are present and are participating in the conversation, but I feel I should be able to speak in my native language when it is a private conversation between two people without being considered rude.

What do you guys think?
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby The Wizard » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:17 pm

Never speak a foreign language where it can be overheard by others.
That is tbe best policy...
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby rob » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:23 pm

Yes (apparently i have to use 5 letters min to reply)

It just plain undermines the team dynamic.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby raisin mountaineer » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:24 pm

O.k., I'll bite. I think generally, if you're within hearing distance of other coworkers, it is respectful to speak English. If the third coworker walked in while you were having your conversation, and you briefly concluded it, that's no big deal, and she (I think it was a she?) should lighten up. But if (say) you were all three in the break room and you struck up a conversation with your other coworker in a language the third person couldn't understand, it does give the impression that you were cutting her out. That happens to me at my office, and I try not to take it personally, but it feels odd.

When it is a work discussion, and they speak their language in order to have a side conversation about the topic at hand, that feels weird to me. However, sometimes that's what happens, and I try to accept it as a cultural thing, even though the general discussion is not "cultural" in nature. Not that it should make a difference to this conversation, but the language is Navajo.

Reading your question makes me think I should re-think my discomfort; these coworkers are older, and it may be that it is a relief or a treat for them to speak their language. However, I'm just telling you how I feel-- it puts up a big "I don't want you in on this" message.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby camper » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:27 pm

I agree with The Wizard.
A private conversation in a public place isn't really private. Your co-worker is probably assuming that your private conversation is about her/him.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby gkaplan » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:31 pm

Never speak a foreign language where it can be overheard by others.
That is tbe best policy...


No, it isn't. The best policy is to not eavesdrop on conversations of others.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Gigihsu » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:33 pm

In my workplace, there is an unwritten rule that we can only speak English, although the majority of the members speak Chinese. It is about respecting your co-workers and building a team atmosphere. Outside the workplace, if we engage in personal activities together, we may speak whatever we want. If you want to participate in American workplace society, you will need to interact with everyone in the same way to the best of your abilities. Furthermore, you will never achieve a comfort-level speaking English if you do not use it as often as you can.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Kuota Rider » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:40 pm

Never speak a foreign language where it can be overheard by others.
That is tbe best policy...


+1

It will help avoid any mis-conceptions.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby nisiprius » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:56 pm

You have to deal with the situation as it is. There are no established rules of etiquette that would tell you who is "right" and who is wrong. Let's suppose the co-worker who complained is "wrong" by some rulebook. She still feels what she feels, and you still need to deal with the fact that she feels that way.

It's a balancing act, and you have to balance it.

As to the particular situation you describe, "you'd have to be there," and even then three people would see three different things. Rudeness is as rudeness does.

The essence of the situation is that it is rude to exclude someone from a conversation if it is a situation where general conversation is expected. I don't personally see why on earth you should need to hide or disguise the fact that your native language is not English. I don't see any reason why you need to allow eavesdropping, for example. If you are having a private discussion with a coworker and it's not in a semipublic area, I don't see why you shouldn't do whatever is most comfortable and most effective. But I am not your co-worker.

There are people who are xenophobic. That's a reality. In a corporate situation, sometimes the thing that's best for your career is to adopt a little "protective coloration." That's a reality, too. As my mother used to say, "you have to pick your battles."
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby frose2 » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:02 pm

I cannot agree. You are allowed to have private conversations in the workplace. They can take place in whatever language is best for the people involved. I remember in particular many lunches with a friend from my country in Silicon Valley in which we both spoke our native language. They took place in an employee cafeteria operated by one of America's largest technology companies. We would have been shocked if anyone had objected. Maybe that's just Silicon Valley, where you would doubtless in that time have heard Mandarin at another table in the cafeteria, and Cantonese at another, but still...
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Mudpuppy » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:06 pm

There are some situational conditions that might make excluding the co-worker from the possibility of joining the conversation rude, such as if all three of you were sitting at the same table or gathered around the coffee machine or in a small break room/area. But if you were in your workspace or the workspace of the other person who speaks your language and the co-worker was over in her workspace (or a similar situation where the co-worker would not be near enough to join the conversation), then I think she's the one being rude since that means she was trying to eavesdrop.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby sunspotzsz » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:07 pm

I think if your coworker is bothered, you should refrain from speaking your native language at work place.

I learned this when I was in graduate school, two of my best friends are from Iran and they would sometimes speak Farsi and I did not like that. So, although I am not a native english speaker, I always speak English whenever there is at least one in the group who doesn't speak our native language.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby livesoft » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:23 pm

I really think it depends on the situation.

I remember working in Europe. A group of us were all in the hall talking in a non-English language. As the group continued a lively discussion, folks drifted away until it was just two Americans talking to each other in a foreign language. After about 5 minutes, I said, "Hey, wait a minute. Why aren't we speaking English right now?" So we switched to English. Were we rude to ourselves? I don't think so.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language ?

Postby kontango » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:30 pm

I see no problem with speaking in a foreign language in the workplace. None. You said that she was not even part of the conversation, so why should she have an opinion?
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby englishgirl » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:05 am

It can feel like you're being excluded from the conversation sometimes, especially if it's in a general area such as a lunch room. And, if the people are laughing and joking, even more so, especially if the person has any sort of paranoia or self-esteem issues, and therefore wonders if you're laughing and joking about them.

I don't mind people speaking near me in a language I don't understand or only vaguely understand. But I have to say that I notice the good manners of one of my friends who always, without fail, switches to English as soon as there's an English speaking person nearby. Of course, she is, I think, more confident in English than some of my other friends, but it does stand out to me that she is considerate enough of other people's feelings to always do this. Or maybe she's been on the receiving end of being told she's being rude if she doesn't switch.

So, I'm going to go with it being not rude, but not considerate either.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby bob90245 » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:18 am

rylemdr wrote:Recently, a co-worker told me she felt I was being rude when I was conversing in my native tongue with another co-worker because she could not understand us.

... I feel I should be able to speak in my native language when it is a private conversation between two people without being considered rude.

What do you guys think?

I would agree you were not being rude simply engaging in a private conversation with one other person. This is all too common in my workplace.

Where it becomes rude is when you are in a group work area and everyone is focusing on the work at hand. In this situation, conversation should not be considered private and English should be spoken. Unfortunately, it is all too common in my workplace when all of a sudden "private conversations" spoken in a foreign language are heard by others in group work areas. And I do consider this rude.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Watty » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:25 am

From a pragmatic point of view speaking anything other than English probably isn't good for your career in many companies. It will be taken as an indication that your English isn't very good and may limit your promotion prospects in some positions.

I don't know what the right answer is but you need to be careful. My brother looks European but he speaks Japanese and Chinese. People assume that he doesn't because of his looks and he had overheard some very interesting comments.

There have also been situations where people thought that people were saying inappropriate things in a different language so they secretly recorded what was said. It was inappropriate and the people were fired.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby gabylon » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:47 am

You can even leave out the foreign language variable and still have this problem.

Two people are having a conversation in English in hushed voices while someone else is in the room.
Do they have the right to have a private conversation without the other person eavesdropping? Or are they being rude and should wait for another moment to have this conversation?
There is no single answer; it all depends on the actual circumstances as mentioned earlier in the thread.

My point is, language may not necessarily be the issue here.

To the OP, you may wish to talk this out with your coworker. For example, would she also have been upset if you were talking in English low enough for her not to hear?
On second thought, perhaps all it takes is asking her when she walks in if she wouldn't mind your talking in another language. If you feel awkward asking this, then you may have your answer right there (for that particular circumstance.)
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby newbie_Mo » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:49 am

I always speak English at work even with people from the same origin as me. I just think that when you are at a professional setting you should speak the official language (whatever that official language is at that particular setting). However, I do not have problem with people converse in their native language around me even if it is one that I don't understand. I understand that sometimes it makes them more comfortable and effective to get their point across.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby bru » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:50 am

rylemdr wrote:Recently, a co-worker told me she felt I was being rude when I was conversing in my native tongue with another co-worker because she could not understand us.

I am surprised she mentioned it.

I have been in the situation of hearing others conversing in their native language and even though I don't think they should be doing it I would never say so. I would probably be the one to somehow get in trouble.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby mhc » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:53 am

The only rule I would apply to this is what will be best for the business. Since the people are at work, they should do what they can to contribute to the success of the company. If speaking a foreign language causes problems with other employees, then don't do it. Do what you can to make the company successful. Your own success is tied to the success of the team.

Personally, I could care less what language people use when having personal conversations. It's personal. Many people are too thin skinned. Deal with the big issues, not the petty things.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Sidney » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:21 am

The Wizard wrote:Never speak a foreign language where it can be overheard by others.
That is tbe best policy...

This will definitely cut down on the crowds of Americans traveling abroad.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Bob's not my name » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:44 am

rylemdr wrote:I feel a great sense of relief when I am able to express myself when talking in my native tongue. Everything feels much more natural and the conversation is a lot more fluid when I don't have to think too much about my words.
Sounds like you need to work on your English. When I work in my second language for a stretch I become unaware which language I am speaking, so much so that when I am interpreting sometimes I do it backwards, speaking English to non-English speakers and my second language to English speakers.

So the best thing you can do for yourself is always speak English until you are as comfortable in it as your first language. If you don't, you're cheating yourself.

Also, it's rude. I've worked with speakers of many languages, and I can't remember a single instance in an English-speaking country of two co-workers speaking a language in front of me that I didn't speak.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby jebmke » Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:14 am

Bob's not my name wrote:
rylemdr wrote:I feel a great sense of relief when I am able to express myself when talking in my native tongue. Everything feels much more natural and the conversation is a lot more fluid when I don't have to think too much about my words.
Sounds like you need to work on your English. When I work in my second language for a stretch I become unaware which language I am speaking, so much so that when I am interpreting sometimes I do it backwards, speaking English to non-English speakers and my second language to English speakers.

So the best thing you can do for yourself is always speak English until you are as comfortable in it as your first language. If you don't, you're cheating yourself.

Also, it's rude. I've worked with speakers of many languages, and I can't remember a single instance in an English-speaking country of two co-workers speaking a language in front of me that I didn't speak.

I really have no idea but this must be a unique reaction by Americans. When I worked in Europe, it was very common for people to "revert" to their native language from time to time in mixed company. Normally, it would be in an open office environment where it wasn't intended that the rest of the people listen and comprehend the conversation. Since many others in the office might speak the other language, it was clear that it wasn't intended as an encryption mechanism, but more a mechanism to facilitate communication, particularly with respect to technical topics.

As a courtesy, if it occurred in a meeting environment, inevitably, one of the speakers would summarize in English for the benefit of those who did not speak the language. English was deemed the universal language, even for non-native English speakers. For example, if the Czech finance manager conducted a conversation with the Czech tax inspector, the finance manager would summarize in English for my benefit and for the benefit of his Italian boss.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby hicabob » Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:23 am

Kuota Rider wrote:
Never speak a foreign language where it can be overheard by others.
That is tbe best policy...


+1

It will help avoid any mis-conceptions.


+2 - my biz partner - who runs our little mfg operation - prohibits Vietnamese speaking when he is around - but they do have to make us all Vietnamese food :twisted: - drool!
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Bob's not my name » Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:39 am

jebmke wrote:this must be a unique reaction by Americans
I don't think so. When I worked overseas with other Americans we spoke the local language when among locals. Perhaps we're comparing apples and oranges: in your multilingual scenario, it sounds like either the Czechs didn't speak Italian, the Italian didn't speak Czech, and/or you didn't speak Czech. I know that sometimes even proficient non-native speakers can produce misunderstandings, and I've interpreted in such situations, when necessarily you may break into the second (non-common) language to clear something up.

In visitor scenarios multilingual conversations and interpretation are obviously normal. In an office scenario in which two non-visitor speakers are in close proximity to a third non-visitor (i.e., they're all resident "co-workers", as in the OP), speaking the common language is normal.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby dm200 » Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:44 am

While, generally speaking, I do not consider it rude for others to speak a language other than English in the workplace, the perception of a great many employees, employers, customers and others is very, very negative. Perception then becomes reality.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby jebmke » Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:51 am

Bob's not my name wrote:
jebmke wrote:this must be a unique reaction by Americans
I don't think so. When I worked overseas with other Americans we spoke the local language when among locals. Perhaps we're comparing apples and oranges: in your multilingual scenario, it sounds like either the Czechs didn't speak Italian, the Italian didn't speak Czech, and/or you didn't speak Czech. I know that sometimes even proficient non-native speakers can produce misunderstandings, and I've interpreted in such situations, when necessarily you may break into the second (non-common) language to clear something up.

In visitor scenarios multilingual conversations and interpretation are obviously normal. In an office scenario in which two non-visitor speakers are in close proximity to a third non-visitor (i.e., they're all resident "co-workers", as in the OP), speaking the common language is normal.

You could be right. I was all over Europe and with the exception of the UK and South Africa, rarely found myself in an environment that was not multi-language. It was also usually a technical (finance) setting where misunderstanding wasn't acceptable. My main office in Brussels was a mix of English speakers (me), plus native Czech, Russian, Finnish, Italian, Polish, French, Dutch and a sprinkling of others. English was the only common thread until you got out of Brussels. We couldn't even get by with the official French due to so many non-natives.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby porcupine » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:08 am

bru wrote:
rylemdr wrote:Recently, a co-worker told me she felt I was being rude when I was conversing in my native tongue with another co-worker because she could not understand us.

I am surprised she mentioned it.

I have been in the situation of hearing others conversing in their native language and even though I don't think they should be doing it I would never say so. I would probably be the one to somehow get in trouble.

+1, especially the italicized (italics added by me) part.

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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby cjking » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:37 am

As a child I was taught that it is generally rude to speak a language someone doesn't understand when in their company. I suppose "in company" means when they are close enough that it would be possible for them to hear and join in the conversation, if it were relevant to them. Since they can't know if the conversation is relevant when they don't understand the language, I guess proximity should be the only criterion. (Obviously the question of rudeness can only arise if there's a realistic choice; if you don't speak the common language well enough then you don't have a choice. Someone else may have to translate/explain in that case.)
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Bob's not my name » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:48 am

I remember reading about a Russian girl who was an only child and had a French governess. When she was very young her family (with the governess) fled the revolution to somewhere in Eastern Europe where nobody spoke French. When she was older (but still a child) the family moved to Paris, and she was amazed to discover that French was not an invented language she and her governess used to share secrets. An entire nation of people had invaded her privacy.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Midpack » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:59 am

The Wizard wrote:Never speak a foreign language where it can be overheard by others.
That is tbe best policy...

+2. Selectively speaking in a language other than the norm in a workplace within earshot of someone else, would understandably make the third party wonder why - it's just human nature. You are actively excluding the other party, for reasons they can't know - what would you think if co-workers selectively excluded you in conversation while in their immediate company? Goes without saying but privately is fine of course...
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby KyleAAA » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:11 pm

No, it is not rude.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby PreserveCapital » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:12 pm

Can it possibly be that no one has suggested asking one's supervisor about what the "company policy" is?

Ask your supervisor whether or not it is OK to speak a foreign (native?) language in a private conversation with another person at work, and what the parameters are.

If there is no corporate policy, suggest that it is something that would be helpful if it could be addressed.

As far as a co-worker who is not in your supervisory chain of command telling you what you can and can't do--they need to learn to mind their own business.

Recently, a co-worker told me she felt I was being rude when I was conversing in my native tongue with another co-worker because she could not understand us.


Your response: "Don't you have your own work to do?"
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby PreserveCapital » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:16 pm

Midpack wrote:
The Wizard wrote:Never speak a foreign language where it can be overheard by others.
That is tbe best policy...

+2. Selectively speaking in a language other than the norm in a workplace within earshot of someone else, would understandably make the third party wonder why - it's just human nature. You are actively excluding the other party, for reasons they can't know - what would you think if co-workers selectively excluded you in conversation while in their immediate company? Goes without saying but privately is fine of course...


Unless speaking the particular language is some kind of violation of corporate policy, and assuming the conversation is not meant for the other employee's ears, this is simply a situation in which someone who apparently doesn't have enough of his/her own work to do, is being a nosy parker.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby VictoriaF » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:17 pm

Yes, it is rude.

If you would not speak a foreign language in the vicinity of your supervisor, you should not speak it in the vicinity of your colleagues either. Speaking in the vicinity of the subordinates a language they don't understand is even worse for the morale.

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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby PreserveCapital » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:18 pm

raisin mountaineer wrote:O.k., I'll bite. I think generally, if you're within hearing distance of other coworkers, it is respectful to speak English. If the third coworker walked in while you were having your conversation, and you briefly concluded it, that's no big deal, and she (I think it was a she?) should lighten up. But if (say) you were all three in the break room and you struck up a conversation with your other coworker in a language the third person couldn't understand, it does give the impression that you were cutting her out. That happens to me at my office, and I try not to take it personally, but it feels odd.

When it is a work discussion, and they speak their language in order to have a side conversation about the topic at hand, that feels weird to me. However, sometimes that's what happens, and I try to accept it as a cultural thing, even though the general discussion is not "cultural" in nature. Not that it should make a difference to this conversation, but the language is Navajo.

Reading your question makes me think I should re-think my discomfort; these coworkers are older, and it may be that it is a relief or a treat for them to speak their language. However, I'm just telling you how I feel-- it puts up a big "I don't want you in on this" message.


Why don't you ask your supervisor what the company policy is?

If the company doesn't have a policy against people speaking Navaho, and you care enough to want that to stop, then politely explain to your supervisor what your legitimate reasoning is for prohibiting people from speaking in Navaho.

In the example you provided, the conversation was work-related and you were legitimately a part of it. That would be a good reason to object to switching to a language you don't understand, as it could impair your ability to do your job. That's different from the original post, though.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby JupiterJones » Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:08 pm

Wow. I really don't get this one at all. Why in world would it be rude?

If anything, it's rude to expect two people having a conversation between themselves to cater to the needs of every random eavesdropper who passes by. Sheesh.

If she doesn't like it, she can learn your language.

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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby monkey_business » Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:48 pm

If you are all sitting at the same table during lunch, or something along those lines, I think it is rude. Then the person is essentially stuck there, not understanding what's being said. However, if you are just having a conversation between yourselves, and the third person is around you because they're passing by or using the microwave or something akin to that, then it does not matter. They are not part of your conversation, nor do they have to listen to it.

Is it rude to talk quietly to someone if another person is nearby and cannot hear your conversation? Aren't you excluding them in the same way as speaking in a language they do not understand? Once again, if three people are sitting at a table and two start whispering to each other, then it would indeed be quite rude. However, if two people are standing by themselves and speaking very quietly and you're nearby, should they speak louder so you can hear them? I doubt anyone would advocate that. The same could be said for speaking a different language.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby kraftwerk » Tue Jan 03, 2012 1:50 pm

Email her a link to RosettaStone.com
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Midpack » Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:00 pm

JupiterJones wrote:Wow. I really don't get this one at all. Why in world would it be rude?

If anything, it's rude to expect two people having a conversation between themselves to cater to the needs of every random eavesdropper who passes by. Sheesh.

If she doesn't like it, she can learn your language.

JJ

Unfortunately the OP wasn't clear which is convenient, right or wrong he did say it was a workplace and I assumed all three people were near each other, maybe sitting at desks within easy earshot. In that case I do think it's unnecessarily rude. However, if she just walked up on them and subsequently complained, she's probably out if line. If a co-worker is sitting close enough that they can't help but hear, and you selectively speak English some times and another language another times, it's no surprise that the third party is uncomfortable.

But you're giving the OP the answer he was fishing for, so you're right by definition.
You only live once...
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby StoutDrinker » Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:10 pm

If you both work in front of a computer, get a messaging program and message each other in the foreign language...that way you look like you're working all the time. If caught by others...they won't easily understand your typed conversation. Okay, I guess I didn't address the question, but there were a lot of good responses already.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Epsilon Delta » Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:24 pm

Midpack wrote:Unfortunately the OP wasn't clear which is convenient, right or wrong he did say it was a workplace and I assumed all three people were near each other, maybe sitting at desks within easy earshot. ...


I am amazed by the responses. If an office has close quarters, it's not talking in a foreign language thats rude, its talking at all. Take it outside and let me get on with my work.

Having said that you could learn ASL. It keeps the office quite and if the xenophobes butt in you can refer them to the ADA.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby getRichSlower » Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:07 pm

My personal opinion is that US citizens in the US should try to speak English whenever they are in public. However, I will admit that my opinion is on the extreme end of the spectrum. For work, check with your supervisor and get his or her feedback.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby TT » Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:41 pm

rylemdr wrote:Recently, a co-worker told me she felt I was being rude when I was conversing in my native tongue with another co-worker because she could not understand us.

The three of us were not engaged in a conversation in the first place when I started talking to this co-worker in a foreign language other than English.

I feel a great sense of relief when I am able to express myself when talking in my native tongue. Everything feels much more natural and the conversation is a lot more fluid when I don't have to think too much about my words.

I never do this when monolingual speakers are present and are participating in the conversation, but I feel I should be able to speak in my native language when it is a private conversation between two people without being considered rude.

What do you guys think?


English-Only Requirements
English-only rules (which prohibit employees from speaking any language other than English while at work) may be legal, depending on the circumstances. First of all, the rule must not have been adopted for discriminatory reasons or be applied in discriminatory ways. For example, an employer may not adopt an English-only rule as a subterfuge to get rid of Latino workers. Similarly, an employer may not selectively enforce an English-only rule (for example, enforce the rule against workers who speak Tagalog but not workers who speak Spanish).
As long as the English-only rule isn't motivated by discriminatory intent, it will pass legal muster if it is necessary for the safe or efficient operation of the business. For example, if customers or coworkers are fluent only in English, then an English-only rule might be necessary to promote communication and ensure safety, in case of an emergency. If employees work closely together and some speak only English, an English-only rule might be necessary to allow everyone to do their jobs.
Before an employer adopts an English-only rule, it should notify employees and tell them of the consequences of breaking the rule. The employer should also make sure that the rule is narrowly tailored to address the actual needs of the workplace. For example, it is reasonable to require employees who deal with English-speaking customers to communicate in English. However, a rule that forbids workers from ever speaking another language, even during breaks or when a customer who also speaks that language is present, is probably too broad.

Title 7 of the Civil rights Act of 1964
Language
Accent discrimination
An employer may not base a decision on an employee's foreign accent unless the accent materially interferes with job performance.
English fluency
A fluency requirement is only permissible if required for the effective performance of the position for which it is imposed.
English-only rules
English-only rules must be adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons. An English-only rule may be used if it is needed to promote the safe or efficient operation of the employer's business.


An employer banning the speaking of languages other than English at all times in the workplace including lunch and other breaks is discriminatory.
Various states also have more protection for allowing the usage of native language in the workplace.
If you feel you are being discriminated due to your national origin you can file a complaint with the EEOC.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby madpunster » Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:52 pm

It is a little odd, but I've noticed that speaking in a given language with someone in Europe or Asia that others in the immediate area may or may not speak doesn't seem to be a big deal. But in the US, I can feel the hostility of people nearby even if it is a private conversation between two people.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby dgm » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:00 pm

frose2 wrote:I cannot agree. You are allowed to have private conversations in the workplace. They can take place in whatever language is best for the people involved. I remember in particular many lunches with a friend from my country in Silicon Valley in which we both spoke our native language. They took place in an employee cafeteria operated by one of America's largest technology companies. We would have been shocked if anyone had objected. Maybe that's just Silicon Valley, where you would doubtless in that time have heard Mandarin at another table in the cafeteria, and Cantonese at another, but still...


Speaking as someone in your neck of the woods, I think its just Silicon Valley (or more specifically, work environments which are used to being multi-lingual).

I speak two languages, but grew up in the midwest. I would be very careful to use my second language in a midwest work setting but would not think twice in Silicon Valley.

Its a combination of them not understanding what a relief it is for you to speak in your native tongue and you not understanding how exclusive and aloof it can seem to other people not used to foreign language conversations happening around them all the time.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby stan1 » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:02 pm

Use of foreign languages in the workplace can be of huge benefit.

I have several employees working for me who speak a common language with a major customer. During meetings I sometimes sit smiling at the head table for up to an hour while my employees speak in their native language to the customer. Sometimes there is animated speech and pointing, even yelling or standing up. We can explain subtleties in the foreign language that non-native speakers might miss. It shows respect for their culture, and shows we are willing and able to meet them half way when we consensus and compromise is required. Eventually the customer will say in English "OK we are ready to move on." This works with my customer. They prefer the formal part of the meeting to be in English, and view use of the other language as an indicator they have transitioned to a working level discussion. At first I was a little cautious, but now I understand its part of the process and we get a huge benefit from this collaborative way of doing business. It avoids misunderstandings.

When we are at group functions, all of the foreign language speakers take great care to include me in English conversations (even if their English is not very good). I am always seated next to someone who speaks good English, and we always make sure one of my employees who speaks the foreign language well is sitting next to anyone at the table who does not speak English well.

Foreign languages in the workplace can be handled professionally.

Using foreign languages in front of others to gossip or complain is always unprofessional. People who do not speak the foreign language may feel that you are talking about the person who does not understand the language. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't, but looking at it from the other person's perspective may help (especially if you don't get along well with the person who feels left out in the first place).
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Wolkenspiel » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:14 pm

Strangely, I have the exact opposite reaction to most of the posters here: Not only do I not think that the OP was rude, I actually think this can be considerate and efficient. In my group 5-6 languages are spoken by multiple group members, both "management" and "workers" (i.e. faculty, postdocs, students). We occasionally use English vs native language to differentiate conversations that everyone should pay attention to from those that only concern a few people, allowing everyone else to get on with their work. If two of my students argue in front of their computers in Mandarin, I know they are not looking for my advice - simple. It might help that the average number of languages spoken by group members is 3-4, so using foreign language as encryption isn't very safe.

In a workplace were the first thought is that co-workers might be gossiping about others when they speak a foreign language, something seems to be fundamentally wrong.
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Re: Is it rude to speak in a foreign language in the workpla

Postby Bob's not my name » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:24 pm

You're imagining stuff that's not in the OP.
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