What do you think?

Situation: You are sitting/standing/lying down/hopping (I don’t know your life) in the company of your friends. They begin to speak in a language that you don’t understand.

I’ve heard two opinions about this situation.

First opinion: “How rude!”

Second opinion: “They can do whatever the hell they want.”

Paranoid opinion: “Are they talking about me?”

I’ve always been a little torn about this situation. Time and time again I’ve heard people express their disapproval of this. Is this really a breach in social etiquette, or is it forced assimilation? When we condemn this situation, are we instating English as the dominant language? (In this situation, usually it’s a non-English language.) In fact, does our opinion on this situation change when the language that one person doesn’t understand is English? Does disapproval of this practice reveal an attitude against multilingualism in our society?

Here’s another situation:

A group of students enter a classroom. They cluster in the corner and speak a non-English language.

I’ve heard an overwhelming amount of disapproval of this situation as well. Do the same questions that I asked above apply?

2 Responses to “What do you think?”

  1. mcrowell Says:

    I can’t say that I really have a strong connection with any of the three opinion options listed above, but I can at least respond to them. I don’t consider it to be rude for foreigners to speak in their native language. I mean, they could just be visiting the country for a short period of time and not know the country’s language. And, even if they do, why should they not be allowed to speak in the way that comes most naturally to them and that makes them the most comfortable? So, in that case, I guess I would say that I side more with opinion 2. And as far as the last opinion goes, I’d rather someone talk about me in front of my face in a language that I don’t understand than in one that I do. I mean, if girls in high school (and sometimes even college) had the courtesy to talk about you to your face ina language that you didn’t understand, there would be a lot less drama.

  2. Heather Says:

    For me, I think it depends on the situation, primarily on whether or not all of the speakers have a language in common. For instance, if you have a group of 3 people and all three speak fluent English and 2 also speak fluent Spanish and converse in front of the third person in Spanish, I find that to be rude and distasteful because they are purposefully leaving that third person out.

    However, say although they all speak English one of the people who speaks Spanish has only been speaking English for a few months and has very little mastery of the language, then I don’t believe it would be rude for the two to converse in Spanish or to speak in English as long as the bilingual person made an effort to translate.

    This is very much a gray area and personally I believe the issue has less to do with forced assimilation and more to do with trying to communicate in the best way possible with the littlest confusion with all people present. I feel like the first scenario I described is so problematic for me because it’s similar to kids telling secrets on the playground blatantly in front of another person emphasizing that they are not one of them and should remain on the outside.


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