Monday, May 12, 2008

Speaking in another language isn't rude

Dear Diversity Diva: Where I work there are several groups of people who are originally from other countries, and when they are in the break room or standing off to the side they frequently talk to each other in their own language. Why are people that rude? — English As My Official Language
Dear English: Your question is an increasing concern in our society — not just in the workplace.
The bottom line is: What business is it of yours what people who aren’t talking to you are talking about? Obviously if they are speaking a language you can’t understand, then the issue isn’t about you being offended. Usually, the concern is “But what if they’re talking about me?” So what? Unless they point directly at you and laugh, chances are they aren’t talking about you.
The implication of people finding other languages spoken around them as rude is that those “foreigners” are being deliberately exclusionary. The fact is that when folks go to the side and talk and engage in a conversation and the group seems bonded by being in the same physically distinguishable group, it pops up on the radar quicker. Some people, for example, are quick to take notice when they see several black employees standing to the side talking and laughing, and language isn’t the issue in that case.
If language interfering with actual work is the issue, that’s another concern. But what you’re talking about is how people express their interests, backgrounds and identities in those “in between moments” that help them increase their comfort level in their work environment.
Think about it – if you and some other people are standing by the water cooler talking about who needs to get kicked off “American Idol” or rehashing the latest Chiefs game, are you excluding anyone? No. You’re just not including the uninterested and would probably find it rude if someone tried to insert themselves and change the subject to fit their interests.
Rather than worrying about what other people are saying at break in another language, why don’t you focus on spending your breaks building your own bonds to get you through the day? There is always someone willing to talk about anything or nothing at all until it’s time to get back to work.