Why NOT to speak in your mother tongue in mixed group interactions in US

In What NOT to Do in US by Kumar11 Comments

Why NOT to talk in your local language in Public in US Languate BarrierInternational students and professionals are often tempted to speak in their mother tongue or their local language whenever they find someone from the same country or place. It is a very bad practice and can have bad implications. Here are few thoughts shared by our guest author.

Article by Guest Author DD

We have something called as our ‘mother tongue’, which serves as our ‘first language’ – that’s the language we are most comfortable in and use to speak widely. Hence, in a foreign country, it is only natural that when we meet someone who speaks our same first language, we are tempted to converse with him/her in the same language.

Many Indians, when in the US, speak with each other in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and a whole bunch of other languages, besides English.  Other Asian students converse in Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese and other oriental languages. Students from Latin countries speak in Spanish or Portuguese.   However, speaking in a language other than English (in the United States) in a public setting where the group is a mixed bag might not be a good idea, for many reasons.

Why NOT to speak in your own local language in Mixed Group

Americans love to get involved and be a part of random conversations. Any American or international student/co-worker, for that matter, would love to be a part of your conversation, unless you are keeping it private. Everyone loves to talk and mingle. Whether you are discussing sports, politics, entertainment, studies or just anything random, it is obvious that other people will want to get involved. But if you converse in a language other than English, how do you expect them to be a part of it? This is considered rude and not encouraged. Even if you are in company of other students from your home country, but who do not speak your language, how do you expect them to understand what you are saying? Think about this: Would you like to be stuck in a group where everyone else speaks a language you do not and hence, you end up bored and frustrated?

How you can be misunderstood and create negative image of yourself?

You might argue that you are talking about some topic impertinent to others. And hence you are conversing in your language. For example, you might be discussing about some Hindi/Tamil/Telugu/other language movie that was released recently and feel others won’t understand it. But how do you expect others to realize that you are talking about something like this?

When you speak in a foreign language, it is natural for others to feel that you are speaking in a language alien to them because you want to bad-mouth them!  This might not be what your intentions are, but you cannot blame others for believing so.  Worse, some words from your language might have a completely different meaning in some other language! When others hear and understand bits and pieces of your talk, they might construct a completely different story – something you are not talking about! Half-knowledge is more dangerous and harmful. You might be the cause for misunderstandings.

It is not a good idea to assume and expect others to know your language or expect them to learn it. They are here for learning engineering, math, science, arts, business and other topics (probably not your language). You might be multi-lingual. Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back! … But don’t expect others to be as linguistically gifted as you!  Just be considerate of others.  Such behavior leads to communication gaps and others might distance themselves from you. You might lose good friends, just because of your boorish attitude.

Hence, it is necessary to speak in English or any other common language when there is even one person who does not understand your language. When in doubt, just stick to English – you cannot go wrong with this! It might not come naturally to you, but you have to try and get used to it. It might happen that you speak in English but others continue the conversation in some other language. Try and divert the conversation back to English. If they still do not continue in English, mention that there is someone else in your group who might not understand what they are saying. Likewise, avoid regional, national, racial topics when in public. You never know when you may offend others!

About Guest Author: DD completed MS from a university in the Northeast region of United States and currently works at  a financial firm in New York City.

Image Credits : http://haikudelka.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/The-Language-Barrier2.jpg

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Comments ( 11 )

  1. Rammy

    I work for a product development company in India. Most of my counter parts are based out in North and invariably speaks in Hindi during all business calls! There are more than 1-2 employees who do not follow Hindi inspite of which the discussions continue in Hindi! I have no disrespect for the language, but it sucks when folks use their native language during official discussion with zero respect for non -hindi speaking crowd.

    I personally find it very disrespectful.

    1. LP

      I am from North and currently working in a company in hYderabad, and having the same issue, everyone here speaks the local language “telugu” even in meetings without realizing that there are couple of non-telugu people also present there… Feel so bad sometimes. I guess it is more of a general etiquette, until and unless people self-realize, this can’t be resolved… There may be one of the 3 reasons behind this –

      – They’re more comfortable speaking in their local language
      – They don’t feel you need to understand what they’re saying
      – They’re trying to shut you out of the conversation

  2. Alan Yau

    My first language is English due to being raised up in the U.S. and my second language is Cantonese due to my parents being from Guangzhou as well as my relatives being from Guangdong as well. I have improved my Cantonese and Chinese in general with intense effort because I love it! I will speak it when I get the chance, but when there is a group of people that I’m in and even one doesn’t understand Cantonese (when I get to speak it that is), I’ll either speak in English or translate for him/her. Though this doesn’t happen much. I would love to get to speak Cantonese more (for as many things as possible). English I’ve spoken plenty.

  3. Char

    Honestly, I don’t think people care anymore. Half this country speaks Spanish and the other half doesn’t even know Spanish.

    Go to a nail salon. The technicians are usually looking right at you and touching you while talking to each other in another language.

    We are taught other languages, despite popular belief. Spanish was mandatory at my elementary school. In high school, you’re required to take a language for two years (The options are typically Spanish, French, and German – I took French). In college, you are usually required to take two more years of a foreign language. College has even more options. Japanese and Hebrew are options that I’ve seen a lot.

    The US is made of so many different cultures. Hearing a language other than English isn’t so weird.

    But I will say – in a small group setting, I think it’s rude for two group members to talk in a language that those in their presence cannot understand. You don’t know what’s being said, and it could be said about you. You have no idea how many times I’ve heard Mexicans talking crap about people in Spanish right in their faces because they thought that person wouldn’t understand them.

    Someone said it was rude to talk on the phone in your mother tongue in public? Uhh, why? It’s not rude here. Why would you be expected to talk a foreign language to someone in your home country who speaks the language you do?

  4. Rosali

    This is very true. For those of you who think speaking in another language and leaving others out is okay, then Fine!
    I am somewhere where I am the only one who doesn’t speak mandarin. Is that wrong? No
    Were in north America! Were expected to speak English, but apparently others around me do not think so because other races are a minority. When we came here I was the only one who couldn’t speak English. I was told to just deal with it. Why aren’t they?

  5. Mayank

    They’re not the one who’s in your land. You’re the one in the US. When you’re visiting a place, you simply work along with etiquettes, and to some extent, culture.

  6. Happy

    Screw what others might think! I am not going to be ashamed about speaking in a language other than English in the U.S. If others feel excluded, too bad. Try learning at least a second language. You might be able to join the conversation.
    Why does the rest of the world has to be OK with Americans shouting on their cell phones in English wherever they are but I cannot do the same here?

    1. Dali4ny

      Finally someone worldly enough cultured enough to understand why you do not speak in a language other than English when even one person is present does not speak your mother tongue. Having ever heard the saying when I’m Rome do as the Romans do? I have noticed Jen I’m agitated and lower class groups that people do speak them their mother tongue and could care less but I think it’s more of their uneducated and uncultured upbringing that they just don’t understand what proper etiquette is. I personally feel it is very rude to speak in a language other than English anywhere in public or even private if other people are present. Yes many of the nail shops to speaking Vietnamese believe long customers certainly do not like it but may not say so. When Americans travel to other countries and their land we don’t expect them to speak English. Of course if their catering to Americans and want American money . I guess its to their advantage to speak English. I guess when people don’t follow the rules of etiquette it shows their class.

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