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Foreign languages don’t usually get under my skin. In fact, I love the sound of them. The only exception being when I have visitors and everyone in the room is speaking in their native tongue – something which I don’t understand. There’s not even an attempt to speak in English.

I hate the feeling of isolation that I experience whilst my guests do this. Especially when they all speak fluent English and they know I can’t understand a word they are saying yet they still glance my way as though they expect me to contribute to their conversation somehow- a gentle nod or soft smile… something which I ran out of a long time ago.

Oh, The Whispering!

It’s awful that they acknowledge the fact that I can’t understand them – without fail. Finally, when they realise that I’m not responding someone will always say in English ‘oh that’s right, she can’t speak our language’ before going straight back to speaking it once more. But what’s worse a feeling is when they start whispering.

The moment my in-laws lean in to their son’s ear and start whispering in their native tongue I know that somethings up. I mean it’s bad enough when everyone does it at their normal volume – but when their body language changes and everything becomes so secretive it strangely becomes all the more entertaining!

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Why Are They Doing It?

It often makes me question their motives – are they trying to make me feel insecure, or do they want to try and start an argument? Alternatively do they genuinely feel that what they are talking about is so extremely private that not only do they need to discuss it in a foreign language, but, they need to whisper it! After all, I’m usually the only other person present when they’re doing this so whatever they’re discussing is something they don’t want me to be privy to.

As much as it drives me up the wall there is absolutely nothing I can do about it and it’s probably due to this very hopelessness of the situation that I can’t help but crack up whilst it’s happening. I can’t determine what’s more hilarious, the visual of my in-laws huddling up with my hubby trying to whisper as closely and quietly as they can – or the simple fact that doing so around me in a foreign language is just so pointless. I mean either way I’d have absolutely no clue what they were discussing!

Save The Secrets For When You’re Alone

Besides this, why can’t they just wait until they have their son alone before discussing private matters? He’s at their house practically every second day and they call him a few times a day so couldn’t they simply save the conversation for a more private time with him.

Admittedly my hubby does try to get them to speak in English when they visit. Although he himself often ends up speaking their language as well whenever they do come over, which only adds to my isolation.

It’s Funny Now!

I don’t know if this is just me being intolerant or nosy or if it is genuinely rude to go to someone else’s home and speak in another language, which singles one person out when everyone speaks fluent English. What I do know is that my uncontrollable laughter during these times is attracting the most confused looks from my in-laws, which in turn only makes me laugh even harder!

It probably sounds wicked that I get a cheap thrill out of their confusion, but the harder I try to compose myself and contain the laughter, the louder it erupts from my belly until tears are rolling down my face and the only time it reduces in its ferocity is finally once I’m gasping for air… but by then I’ve already made them feel uncomfortable and I have completely ruined their moment.

I’ve Given Up

Obviously, I can’t force these people to see how their behaviour makes me feel. I’ve tried to encourage a change for over a decade now without any results. Maybe it’s alright for me to give up trying to foster a sense of understanding between us and just allow myself to laugh at the situation. There’s nothing stopping them from going home if they can’t tolerate my laughter, besides, I didn’t ask them to intrude anyway!

At least I’m laughing at conversations I don’t understand. Just imagine how much more awkward things would be if I took the time to learn the language and then began actually replying one day!

You Don’t Need To Speak The Same Language To Communicate

Having said all of this, one of my closest friend’s mothers doesn’t speak English. Yet her and I still communicate wonderfully whenever she visits me with her daughter! We make an effort to try and understand one another and although she speaks to her daughter in their native tongue, it’s never to isolate anyone else. There’s still warmth, love and the intention of being transparent. Even when we have no real clue about the verbal aspect of our interaction, we both feel what one another is trying to convey and I love that about her!

You don’t necessarily need to speak the same language to make another human being feel included – you just need to have the intention of welcoming them into your conversation. We can tell when we are wanted and when we most certainly are not. Anyone can show kindness, love and respect without ever needing to speak a single word of the same language.

Has this ever happened to you before? How would you respond? Tell us in the comments below.

  • Wow so rude I would go out of my way to learn the language and not tell them so I could understand what they are saying just to see if they are talking about me

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  • Ahhh that’s so frustrating & so rude!!! Not sure how I would react but getting my husband to respect how I feel and avoid flipping language when I’m around would be where I start!

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  • I feel there’s a lot more going on here than the in-laws and hubby speaking in their language! It sounds like the in-laws are excluding you and you have gone from being hurt to being angry and resentful. Which is totally understandable in the circumstances. The fact that they whisper together is a sign they are probably having a nasty gossip session, who knows what about? It’s rude to do this in front of you – could you perhaps introduce a rule that only English is spoken in your home – after all you want to be included – you could suggest this with the sweetest of smiles and just insist they revert to English every time so you can join in. This is different to people talking among themselves, I love to hear the musicality of othe languages – this sounds like it is being done to exclude you, which is very different.

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  • I recall my Dad insisting my sister’s boyfriend speak English on the phone. My Dad was always suspicious and thought he could have been talking about us. My sister also has an Italian partner who constantly speaks Italian to his mother in front of everyone so we have no idea what they’re discussing. I just ignore them now and think it’s very rude.

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  • I believe it is rude to speak in your native tongue if you understand and speak English fluently. Doing so singles out the person who does not know your language and isolates them from joining in and being a part of the conversation. I lived with it all my years of growing up as my father’s side of the family used to do it and in front of my mother and that left her out, which as I believe and said is rude. Keep your language for your own home and if you live in this country where the majority of people speak English and know no other language, then out of respect for them speak English. Speak your own language in the confines of your home, not out in public and if you can’t understand English fluently, then takes lessons to learn it! After all, if I or others went to a foreign land, we would have to learn the language there to try and assimilate, especially if English is their second language and in other countries it is. It certainly isn’t their first. So I understand what this woman is saying and going through and I support her frustration. Living in an English speaking country? Then speak English not your native tongue. Again, it’s rude and non-inclusive

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  • I think it’s pretty normal for families to slip into their first language when chatting together – imagine if you lived overseas and had learnt the local language but were spending time with your family, you would be most comfortable speaking English and naturally slip into using it.
    It’s wonderful for your kids to be exposed to hearing your husband’s family’s language being spoken in conversations.
    Sounds like tHis issue is more about your relationship with your in-laws and issues there. Hope you can sort these out and get some mutual understanding.

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  • I think it interesting that you state ‘As much as it drives me up the wall there is absolutely nothing I can do about it……’ You are still letting their toxic behaviour get to you. There is nothing you can do about their actions, but you can get some help so that you can be more assertive. It’s your home, your family and your spouse. Stop letting these people have such negative impacts on your life. It’s time to take back the power.

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  • After 10 years of your family behaving in this way you feel a forum is your solution.

    Learn the language and take control of your life.

    I’ve always found when travelling my attempt at the host language encourages them that for them to speak to me in their second or third language (English) is better than me with my limited foreign vocabulary.

    Tens years is too long especially when these people who supposedly love you are not respecting you. Beat them at their own game and respect yourself!

    And learning a new language staves of dementia.

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  • This behaviour sounds very rude and disrespectful. The husband should be more supportive. The cup of tea idea sounds like a good plan. Why remain in the room when you are not valued?


    • I agree I would talk to my husband about it and if it kept happening I wouldn’t invite them over. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable in your own home.

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  • Yes this happen to me specially when neighbours having a party.It is so uncomfortable when you are alone such a situation.

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  • My husband and I stayed with his parents for around 2 week, when we returned to the country. Every night the dinner conversation was ALWAYS centred around when they lived in India, family and friends I didn’t know, and when my husband was little. As you can guess, I couldn’t participate in these conversations. I’ve never been to India and as I just stated I didn’t know anyone they were talking about. So I sat at the table for more than an hour pretending to be interested, night after night!
    One night it seemed my MIL and son were having a conversation at the table so I turned to my FIL to strike up a conversation with him. When we went to bed that night my husband was unhappy with me because my trying to start a conversation with his dad meant that his dad was no longer able to join in the conversation that I was excluded from, and it loudly stated to my MIL that I was not interested in what she was saying!
    So them excluding me from the conversation night after night was fine, but me trying to have a conversation that everyone could partake in was not.
    It doesn’t even have to be a different language for this to be an issue.


    • It’s sad when this happens. Communication on a deeper level with understanding and regards for each others feelings is an area of frequent misunderstanding. Good on you for trying and please don’t give up on this.

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  • I’m Czech living in Australia and married to an Australian. He loves when I speak Czech to our kids and only sometimes he wishes he would understand what I say. On the other hand I know it can be quite rude to speak different language when others don’t have a clue of what I say. It depends on the situation.

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  • I’m bilingual and I an quite fluent in both languages, the other being English. My family and I freely speak our mother tongue when it’s just between us but when my partner and his family, who are all exclusive English speakers, are within earshot we take great pains to speak English as we do not ever want them to feel excluded. This all boils down to mutual respect and understanding, I believe. My partner is now also learning to speak my native language but until he speaks it as fluently as I do then we do not ever speak amongst each other in a language other than English.

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  • English is a second language to me and I know for me my native language just slipped out of my tongue without any intentions. But there are some protocols to follow specially if the other person couldn’t understand your language.

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  • What an awful situation to be in. I had a Yugoslavian friend in primary school. When I went for play dates at her house, they all spoke their language. Her mum and dad never learnt to speak English…..ever! My friend started school and had to be taught to speak English, she then taught her younger siblings and did all translations for her parents…..til the day they died

    Reply

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