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Thoughts on employees communicating with each other in a foreign language

We have several employees who are foreign and from the same country, they sometimes speak to each other openly in the office using their own language and not in English. One of the managers really doesn't like this and asked them to stop. Other than her saying it's rude for everyone else in the room, no other reason. I thought is it discriminatory asking them not to do it? I'd appreciate your thoughts because I can see it coming up again. We have foreign customers who the manager is happy for the employee to speak to in their own language, so it feels to me to be a bit cheeky.
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  • It depends entirely on your workplace, but I'd suggest in most instances a blanket ban wouldn't go down very well. If you 'think' in one language and are constantly having to translate and work to communicate in another, it must be such a relief to be able to express yourself without effort from time to time. At the same time, it's rude to exclude anyone in a group situation - so I'd want to work with them to encourage them to think about who else is present when they're chatting, and how it might impact on them or concern them if they feel excluded - or worse, that the reason they've switched to a different language is to speak about them.

    A bit of understanding in both directions feels to be what's needed.

    Good luck!

    Nina
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    21 Sep, 2023 16:01

    Hi  ... there are some previous threads around this topic. 

     RE: Foreign languages in the workplace 

     Employees speaking different language  

    Speaking local language 

    It would be good to hear from others who may have handled this issue, of course.

  • Hi Steve thanks, I don't think the threads contained in this thread are working anymore.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    21 Sep, 2023 16:07

    In reply to Fiona:

    No, they've been archived. I've amended my post above.
  • thanks I wasn't sure if it was just my device :)
  • Hi Fiona, you may have ticked the boxes on all of the below but just in case:
    Part of the employee policy that is signed alongside expected conduct and working hours etc.
    Part of the company and/or department induction training and ongoing team trainings.
    Part of the bi-annual performance review where it is covered as a performance metric under team working/collaboration/communication.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    22 Sep, 2023 17:42

    In reply to Catriona :

    Hi Catriona... did you mean to post to a different thread?
  • I wonder if there is something else going on in the team when I read this. I am curious around trust levels and how the team is working as a team.

    I am with Nina in showing a bit of understanding of both 'sides'. Perhaps the manager is worried and concerned they might be talking about them or the work and excluding people or gossiping. Perhaps the people concerned don't see a problem and can't see how it might be perceived differently.

    I've worked in offices where people communicate in their own language at times as it's easier for them and it's also nice when the main language is your second language. It gives them a break from the constant mental processing.

    It feels to me this needs to be an open discussion around how this might come across and any concerns and to build up trust.

    At the moment the press, media and politics feels quite unwelcoming to people who's first language isn't English and I don't think we can underestimate the fact this might creep into workplace cultures too. A compassionate, understanding and inquisitve approach rather than instructions would be my recommendation.
  • Hello, I am foreigner but if I am honest, I feel uncomfortable too when a group of employees using their own language at work. I think it is not very respectful towards others who doesn't understand what they are talking about. Of course, when there are foreign customers to talk with, that is part of the job. But in the office, where there are colleagues with different nationalities, I would use the official language the workplace required. I am sure there is a policy regarding this?
  • I work in the hospitality industry. We have a lot of employees from all over the place working for us.
    I regularly hear Hindi, Romanian, Polish, Bulgarian, English etc being spoken around the building. The only real rule on this we have is that our team should speak English in guest/customer facing areas.
    I’ve never had any issues with this and see it as a benefit to the team.

    As a few others have said, it’s a nice mental break for people who have a native language that is not the main language spoken.
  • First up, of course it's reasonable to have a workplace default language that employees are expected to use when communicating with one another about work, even if their shared language is something else. However, we should also be sensitive to those for whom English is a second language for whom sometimes it can be a welcome relief to communicate in one's native tongue when vocabulary defeats you in the default language.

    By far the best way to ensure that employees stay professional either way is for managers to learn a little of the other language(s)! Not only is language learning very good for us, but it also helps those who speak other languages feel more welcome when managers can greet them in their own language and occasionally essay a phrase or two. But best - or perhaps deviously - of all, employees will never be 100% sure of your level of comprehension so won't risk saying anything really unprofessional in your hearing, even in their first language.
  • This is an interesting thought.

    I have been in this situation before, where I have been in a room with two individuals who have spoken a foreign language between themselves, whilst I was part of the conversation too. I found this to be quite rude at the time, as I felt they could have been saying something about me, without me knowing. Of course, it is a very sensitive situation, and one that should be handled with care to avoid discrimination. I recall not making a massive fuss about this at the time, but feeling quite frustrated nonetheless.

    It should be common knowledge in the workplace for people not to speak a foreign language when in the presence of those who do not know the language, as it can come across rude and insensitive depending on the situation.

    What are your thoughts?
  • What would be the justification for stopping employees from using other languages other than English.There is a risk of cultural exclusion if there isn’t a justification.There’s the historical context of linguistic imperialism whereby English is the language of instruction.Linguistic diversity and expression are part of people’s identity and cultural expression.For instance there are some things that don’t have the reflective expression equivalence unless said in the language of the speaker.The freedom to express.It might well be that we interrogate the source of discomfort when we hear others speaking a different language other than English.Working with trust,empathy and trust can help
  • It might be helpful to start by defining “foreign “Did the manager say what they didn’t like about it ?also we don’t have a universal agreement on politeness.It all context based and at best can be quite subjective.We could risk issue of impositions.Ie imposing our values on others Which can be detrimental in fostering good relationships especially in global workplaces.Which need negotiations rather than dictating personal preferences
  • In reply to Irene:

    Although some may say it is not relevant to the OP’s question, I wonder how many of the other posters have gone to another country and spoke English in the presence of non English speakers.