Author Topic: Is there a *polite* way to ask somebody to stop speaking in foreign languages?  (Read 1843 times)

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MommyPenguin

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My husband has a friend, whom I like a lot too, and we invited him over for dinner and games last night.  He's a great guy and we enjoy his company.  He just has one habit that I'm wondering if there's a polite way to ask him to stop, or if I just have to deal.

He loves foreign languages and speaks several.  On his previous visits, he kept saying things in Chinese, or saying things in English and then repeating them in Chinese.  I didn't mind this *quite* so much as I'm attempting to learn Chinese, too.  (He is not Chinese or of Chinese heritage, he's just been studying it for years.)  It did get old after a while, though.

Last night it was Spanish.  Apparently he's to attend a training exercise in a Spanish-speaking country for work, so he's practicing his Spanish.  Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I speak Spanish well (we both took one year of it in high school, but he spent most of high school studying Latin and I studied French and Hebrew).  Nonetheless, he either spoke in Spanish instead of English, or he'd say something in one language and then say the translation in the other language.  This went on for the few while.

After dinner, we started playing a board game.  He dropped the Spanish (mostly) during this time, although he did spend a while trying to translate all of the board game information into Spanish so he could keep track of his cards on his phone, which he'd converted to Spanish.  But then he started speaking in an accent for the whole game, everything he said.  It wasn't really a specific accent (at one point I guessed Australian, and he said it wasn't meant to be Australian, just a muddle).  Since the game we were playing was sort of detective-related, I joked that I should start speaking in Hercule Poirot's accent while playing (but didn't).

Is there any polite wording that I could have used to ask him to stop speaking in accents without being too harsh?  Would just saying, "Would you mind just speaking in your normal English accent for a while?" maybe adding light-heartedly, "My ears need a break," or something like that, do you think that would be okay to say?  Or is there a gentler way or a hint I could give instead?

poundcake

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You could try a light approach. "Hey, it's just us, no need for linguistic gymnastics!" or "All right, [Language] Teacher, class is over for the night."

gramma dishes

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...  Would just saying, "Would you mind just speaking in your normal English accent for a while?" maybe adding light-heartedly, "My ears need a break," or something like that, do you think that would be okay to say?  Or is there a gentler way or a hint I could give instead?


To be honest, Mommy Penguin, I think what you are considering saying would be fine.  But I must also say that I think I'd personally find this person to be a horrible bore. 

Clearly he's trying to show off his mastery of multiple languages, but when it gets in the way of a smoothly flowing conversation, it's too much.  He's just a show off and I doubt I could remain close friends with someone who constantly was doing things to bring all the attention toward himself.

Lynn2000

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Yeah, that does sound annoying. I guess with the foreign languages he's trying for the full immersion approach--turning his phone to Spanish, for example. But I can see how that would try some people's patience.

I think I would try to deal with each instance as it happens. If he speaks in a language he knows you're studying (like Chinese), right away say, "Oh, I'm kind of tired of studying that, let's just stick to English for tonight." If it's something else, like Spanish, look at him blankly each time he says something in that language. "What? I didn't understand you." Definitely don't make any attempt to figure out what he's saying in a language you have little to no grasp of.

If he starts to take time away from visiting with you to translate things into another language, you could say, "Hey Bob, would you mind doing that later? We'd like to get the game started."

For speaking in a strange accent, maybe you could start with, "Why are you talking that way?" You don't have to be mean about it, of course, but don't give the impression you're cool with it. At best, be kind of like, "Ooookay, that's weird. Moving on..." If you have any difficulty understanding him because of the weird accent, definitely let him know. "I'm sorry, I didn't understand what you said. Can you repeat that?"

It's tough because these quirks seem small and harmless, but over the course of a whole evening, they can get grating. Also feel free to just not invite him over as much, until it's been long enough that you are willing to put up with it again.
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Daydream

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Maybe you could tell him it's distracting and you'd like to be able to concentrate on the game/enjoy the conversation, etc.

Do you know if he has some kind of developmental or social disorder?  If so, I guess that should be taken into consideration but I don't think he should get a complete pass for his behavior. 

Aquamarine

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"Please speak English in our home, we want to have a relaxing time, not practice our language skills tonight".  If he persists then never invite him to anything again.

He sounds terribly burdensome.

It's your home, you get to specify what's on the agenda for the evening, and language exercises is not on it!
Always be polite, even to nasty people. Not because they are nice, but because you are.

Arila

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In reading this thread, I found it more helpful to stop thinking about the specifics and more about the fact that he's doing something annoying that he has control over. So, it could be...finger tapping, or obsessive detailed food/nutrition logging, for example. I decided I felt differently about being annoyed by something which was being done in an effort to improve oneself, rather than just plain annoying.

During games, I am frequently guilty of rattling the dice or shuffling my chips while waiting for my turn. I don't mind, in these instances, being asked to stop.

However, sometimes when I'm really struggling with my diet, or at an event where I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the junk food, I will pull out my food log and budget, based on a review of the nutrition facts, and counting/measuring  how much chips and dip I can have. I don't mind, in these instances that my friends might notice my efforts, but I would really really mind if they asked me to not keep track that day because of how my food logging made them feel.


To me the difference is that while both finger tapping and food logging might be a bit annoying to my friends, one is being done to improve myself, and I would hope that they would put up with a little inconvenience to encourage me along.

SamiHami

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"Please speak English in our home, we want to have a relaxing time, not practice our language skills tonight".  If he persists then never invite him to anything again.

He sounds terribly burdensome.

It's your home, you get to specify what's on the agenda for the evening, and language exercises is not on it!

I think this is a good way to handle it.

What have you got? Is it food? Is it for me? I want it whatever it is!

Lynn2000

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In reading this thread, I found it more helpful to stop thinking about the specifics and more about the fact that he's doing something annoying that he has control over. So, it could be...finger tapping, or obsessive detailed food/nutrition logging, for example. I decided I felt differently about being annoyed by something which was being done in an effort to improve oneself, rather than just plain annoying.

During games, I am frequently guilty of rattling the dice or shuffling my chips while waiting for my turn. I don't mind, in these instances, being asked to stop.

However, sometimes when I'm really struggling with my diet, or at an event where I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the junk food, I will pull out my food log and budget, based on a review of the nutrition facts, and counting/measuring  how much chips and dip I can have. I don't mind, in these instances that my friends might notice my efforts, but I would really really mind if they asked me to not keep track that day because of how my food logging made them feel.


To me the difference is that while both finger tapping and food logging might be a bit annoying to my friends, one is being done to improve myself, and I would hope that they would put up with a little inconvenience to encourage me along.

I think that's an interesting perspective. As someone who also keeps a food log, I don't usually pull it out in front of people (I usually just do it later in the evening). However, if I felt the need to do so, it would be as brief as possible, and I would only consult my nutrition guide if I really felt I needed to--so again, brief and not very frequent. I agree I would find it a little self-absorbed if someone couldn't handle me doing it for just that small amount of time, in an effort to improve my health. Though, I guess I would rather they said something, than slowly let the resentment build.

However, this guy's actions as described sound like they take a lot more time than I would spend with my food log. Translating the game directions into Spanish? He doesn't actually need to do that right now--I'm sure he could find a translation online later when he got home, or have looked it up beforehand. I kind of got the impression, especially with the Spanish, that he's expecting his hosts to understand him or figure it out even when he speaks another language, and that's just weird. To me that's more like asking everyone to write down all their food for the evening, or looking up everything everyone else is eating and announcing the fat and calories it contains. It's one thing to take a very few minutes to discreetly do something to improve yourself; it's another to involve everyone else in it, and take so long to do it that you delay things at the event.
~Lynn2000

MommyPenguin

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Maybe you could tell him it's distracting and you'd like to be able to concentrate on the game/enjoy the conversation, etc.

Do you know if he has some kind of developmental or social disorder?  If so, I guess that should be taken into consideration but I don't think he should get a complete pass for his behavior.

Definitely no disorder, there's no way he would have the job that he has if there was anything like that.

For the record, he wasn't translating all of the game directions into Spanish, he was translating the stuff he had to keep track of in Spanish.  It was the game "Clue," so he was trying to translate the items (wrench, lead pipe, conservatory, etc.) into Spanish, I think.

Honestly, this is a quirk, and while it is annoying, it's one quirk and the guy does have a lot of redeeming qualities, I promise.  :)  To the person who suggested maybe not invite him over too often (until I'm ready to deal with it again), we actually don't have him over that often, maybe once every couple of months.  Because of that, I'd completely forgotten that he likes to do this.  That's why I was looking for ideas for next time, so I wouldn't be unprepared.

When we were just talking about stuff and chatting, he didn't do the foreign languages or accent thing at all.  Maybe he was trying to liven stuff up during the game (we found conversation a bit difficult because there were constant interruptions for game play).  Maybe next time we should play Ticket to Ride, as it's easier to have a real conversation while playing that game.  Also, I'm sort of tired of my husband winning every game of Clue.  :)

kp

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I agree with Arila that there should be a distinction about the source or intention in his actions. If his annoying behavior is a by-product of a larger self-improvement goal (language-immersion), I think it deserves a little more tolerance than behavior that at is heart is a) unconscious of or oblivious to its impact on others or b) willfully self-serving or self-aggrandizing.

Especially from MommyPenguinís assurances, it seems like it might be a combination of his trying to self-immerse (through constant translation) and being oblivious to the comfort of those around him. (In the Australian accent example, it is possible that he just thought everyone was having fun and being silly.) I didnít see any red flags in the original post that he was being willfully obnoxious at his hostsí expense.

Since Mr. Multiple-Languages is more her husbandís friend than her own, it might be appropriate for her husband to address the issue with him at a time apart from the actual party. That way if Mr. Languages was oblivious to the fact that his behavior was annoying, he can prepare to alter it ahead of time, rather than being called out for it on the spot. Something like "hey when you come over on Friday, why don't you leave your foreign languages at home? Last time it kind of got in the way of the game."

Aquamarine

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To me the difference is that while both finger tapping and food logging might be a bit annoying to my friends, one is being done to improve myself, and I would hope that they would put up with a little inconvenience to encourage me along.

Finger tapping and food logging can just be ignored.  Trying to communicate in a language others may or may not speak is an entirely different thing.  It's hard to just ignore someone who is saying words that you do not understand in order to practice *their* language du jour.  Speaking a language others do not speak is rude when you are all able to speak the same language.  There is simply no reason to do it other than to make oneself feel "important" or "special" in their own mind.

If he wants to practice his language then he needs to invite someone to come over or go out with him for that purpose or hire a tutor.  "Hey do you want to go to Yummy Place on Friday so I can practice my Spanish (or whatever), it will be my treat".  Instead he is usurping someone else's gathering to do his practicing. I do not see how on earth that can be considered gracious, polite, reasonable or understandable unless all parties had agreed that was what the whole evening was going to be about - practicing different languages.

People do lots of things to improve themselves, but they are not welcome to do aerobics, have a 12 step meeting, practice their speeches, rehearse their lines or practice their group therapy skills at my party. 

A good guest concentrates on what he can add to an event and how he can help things go smoothly for the hosts, not on how he can practice self improvement projects unless those projects are how to be more sociable, a better guest or the host makes a special request of him.
Always be polite, even to nasty people. Not because they are nice, but because you are.

BeagleMommy

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If you and your DH are close enough friends with him, why not try gentle honesty?

"Hey, Friend, I know you're doing a Spanish immersion, but it makes it difficult for me and DH to enjoy conversations with you since we don't speak Spanish.  How about we stick to English tonight?"

He may be so immersed in the practice that he just doesn't realize what he's doing.