Monday, February 18, 2019

Foreign Language at Work?

I've had this come up at companies I have worked at before, this issue of people speaking in a foreign language at work. I never could figure out what the problem was. But some people get very upset if people around them at their job are speaking in a language they cannot also understand.

Some people even assume they are being talked about or laughed at. Seems like issues of self-esteem there rather than anything about the foreign language being spoken.

Whatever. It just never bothered me.

Now, if they are being rude about it, that's another thing. If two people are speaking a foreign language they know you don't know, if they are obviously looking at you and laughing, or point (pointing is not a foreign language by the way), or looking angry and staring at you (again, staring is also not a foreign language), that's another matter.

Those aren't matters of foreigners, or a nonstandard language being used int he workplace. Those are management issues that need to be dealt with.

But if in the course of the day one walks up to another and starts talking a foreign language together, I guess I always just thought it was kind of cool. Especially if they are enjoying themselves. Actually, even if I think they are talking about me, blowing off steam isn't a bad thing. Or maybe they're not saying anything bad.

I've worked with a lot of people from India and China, as well as other countries. I know that sometimes it's simply faster for them to speak their native language and it's just more effective. Native speakers can simply cover a lot more territory more quickly.

Once three of us were working on a problem, and two of us were Indian. At one point, the guy I knew best asked if I minded if they just spoke their own language for a few minutes because they were both programmers and I wasn't, and they needed to hash something out between them.

I said it was fine with me and busied myself with something in the room there with them until they worked out whatever it was. They spoke intensely for about five minutes, stopping, starting, considering, disagreeing and finally agreed on something. I thought it was nice they asked about it as I was then being purposely excluded.

But I would also have been fine with them simply acknowledging it and telling me they were going to do it. Asking was just overly nice and polite. And in the workplace, perhaps necessary. I'm just saying, I'm not negatively phased by it. As long as the mission, the work, the job, is progressing and if faster than before, excellent.

In the end, we saved time and I'm sure they saved some energy in just going for it. Yes, they could have spoken English, they spoke good English. But frankly, I can't talk English as fast as they could speak their own language. Maybe they even have to speak more words than I would have in English to convey the same messages. I don't know. And I really don't much care, either.

I think it's good for us to be in a rich, multilingual environment.

Not to the point that people can't work together, however. Obviously. English as the common language is a good thing. Not that English, traditionally the worlds business language, has to be THE language. But it is America. If I were in India, we'd probably still speak English. But I don't see a problem speaking just English with another American or English country born worker in a foreign language environment either.

According to Babbel Magazine languages spoken in the world in order are:

1. English 1.121 billion total speakers
2. Chinese 1.107 billion total speakers
3. Hindi 534.2 million total speakers
4. Spanish 512.9 million total speakers
5. French 284.9 million total speakers
6. Arabic 273.9 million total speakers
7. Russian 265 million total speakers
8. Bengali 261.8 million total speakers
9. Portuguese 236.5 million total speakers
10. Indonesian 198.4 million total speakers

We're number one in the world. Though I'm unsure if that's because of us at all or the United Kingdom's rule worldwide for so long. I do wonder at times if we are sometimes sensitive because of what some consider a lower class in Spanish speaking Mexicans rub people wrong. Again, that seems a problem mostly with the English speaker.

I do find it sad that most Americans can speak only a single language. I've met many people from Europe who speak at least three and many five, six or more. And we're afraid of more than one? It makes one wonder if we don't feel somewhat less than in the midst of multiple language speakers.

And we should consider that when we feel a need to denigrate another for their having more capabilities than we do. Have some respect.

I never understood people who have less respect for multi linguistic foreigners who actually seem to have more brainpower, than our conflated American ego can handle. Those who have such poor self-esteem that they fear people are talking about them.

That doesn't strike me as a national thing so much as a poor mental health issue or simply low emotional maturity. I think sometimes we can just be bigger and greater than we are by not making a mountain out of a molehill.

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