when customers speak to each other in a foreign language that I understand, my boss asked me to vent to her, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. When customers speak to each other in a foreign language they don’t realize I can understand

I understand/speak a number of languages (to varying degrees of fluency) that you wouldn’t necessarily expect me to speak just from looking at me. This situation mostly arises with Spanish, Russian, or Chinese — languages which I can understand fairly well, but I don’t have the vocabulary to have more than a superficial conversation if I’m speaking that language.

I never know what to do when customers speak those languages between themselves (unlike this previous questioner, I don’t think it’s rude … I know how hard it can be to have a conversation in a non-native language). I feel like I’m eavesdropping if I don’t let on that I understand what they’re saying, but it seems like if I say something in that language it will imply that I want to/am comfortable with completing the interaction in that language, which I generally am not. I also have a decent ear for accents so in the past when I’ve tried saying “Oh, I speak a little bit of [x language]” in [x language] the customer assumes I’m much more fluent than I am and starts talking quickly and excitedly — and then they’re always disappointed when I have to ask them to slow down their speech.

Thoughts? Is it weird/skeezy/impolite to just not let on that I understand what they’re saying? If I should mention that I speak a bit of the language, how do I broach that and at what point? I know I’m overthinking this.

I’d love to hear from people who deal with this themselves, but I’d say that it’s fine not to speak up to explain that you speak the language. I get that that makes it feel a bit like eavesdropping — they’re assuming that you can’t understand them and they might edit themselves if they realized you could — but I also don’t think you’re obligated to announce that you understand the language. They’re in a public space, and it’s never a 100% safe assumption that no one around will speak a particular language. (And they’re likely not speaking it to be particularly secretive about their conversation, but just because it’s the most natural choice if it’s their native language.)

2. My boss asked me to vent to her

Yesterday, I had a meeting with my boss, and aside from a few specific questions that she had for me, she asked me to vent. She explained that she knows that I am not a venter but that my coworker (there are two of us who do the same job but on different days) vented to her, and she shared one of my coworker’s vents that was about me. It had to do with differences in the way each of us was trained. My boss was not employed with the company at the time that we were being trained but does know the person who trained us. I offered to contact the trainer to get a refresher, but my boss doesn’t like the way this person did the job and said it wasn’t necessary. 

I found this whole situation extremely uncomfortable and also a very loaded thing to ask someone to do. I don’t like venting to people that I don’t necessarily trust. The whole meeting ended up being very frustrating, uncomfortable, and unproductive. Was my boss out of line to ask me to vent and sharing my coworker’s vent?

It’s a pretty weird thing to ask you, but I wonder if it was a badly worded way of saying “I’m interested in hearing any concerns or frustrations you have that I might be able to address.”

Without knowing a lot more, I can’t really say if she was out of line to share what your coworker had told you. Managers do sometimes need to share things like that in order to resolve issues or give feedback or just get more information, and it’s possible that was the case here. It also might not have been something your coworker would care if your manager shared. But certainly if your coworker felt she was talking to your manager in confidence and there was no need for your manager to raise the issue with you, she shouldn’t have done that.

3. Should I keep a teaching job at ITT Tech on my resume?

I adjunct part-time at ITT Tech in the business management program. For the past year, I would teach one class a week, usually with the same cluster of students. As I’m sure you’ve heard, ITT Tech decided to close its doors after the U.S. Department of Education put forth some standards they didn’t feel they could achieve. I received my notice of termination on Tuesday morning.

To be pretty honest, the school is a joke. They write the curriculum and set the grading scales, and I have very little leeway to do things how I would prefer to do things. The way that they set things, it is very difficult to fail someone provided they show up for class.

I always had this on my resume, because I feel it shows project management experience, leadership experience, and good experiences towards moving into a managerial position. However, now that the school has closed in a rather negative fashion, is this something I should keep on there?

I wouldn’t include it, especially if you’re applying for other jobs in academia or jobs that are academia-adjacent. The school’s reputation is so bad that it risks hurting you. Particularly, since you were only teaching there for a year and it wasn’t your full-time job, the easiest solution here is to leave it off.

4. Interviewing for a manager position where the direct reports are being hired before the manager

I interviewed last week for an assistant director position at a state agency. At the end of the interview, I asked some questions, one of which was if there were vacant positions reporting to this position. I asked if this manager would be able to have any input on these new hires, and the answer was “no, not this time.”

This answer feels like a red flag for me. Is it not best practice to have the supervisor make their own hires, instead of inheriting freshly hired new staffers?

I have not heard back after this interview 1.5 weeks ago, so this may be a moot point. But I would love to get your take on this situation.

It depends. Sometimes there’s a need to get people hired and up and running before an incoming manager would realistically be able to do it. Sometimes (although less often) the context for the positions means that someone else in the organization is better placed to be able to make strong hires more effectively than a brand-new manager who doesn’t yet have a nuanced understanding of what’s needed in the role. Ideally, yes, incoming managers would be able to do their own hiring for current vacancies (and it’s certainly better for the people being hired to get to talk with the person they’d be reporting to, as well) but the timing just doesn’t always work out that way.

What I’d ask in your shoes is whether the manager will typically be able to hire her own staff members as vacancies come up in the future. It’s definitely a red flag if the answer to that is no.

5. Working on maternity leave when colleagues send me questions

I work for a small (eight full-time salaried employees) consulting firm and have been with the organization for three years.

I am six weeks into an unpaid maternity leave and my coworkers continue to ping me for answers to questions or to help them find documents – not every day but three to four times a week.

I attempted to negotiate some level of maternity coverage since we aren’t covered by FMLA laws, but was told there was nothing they could offer me. Since the overall benefits of working here (flexible schedules, 100% remote workforce, very family friendly) were difficult to give up, I chose to take 12 unpaid weeks off.

How much contact is too much contact for them, since they declined to offer me any maternity benefits? I don’t mind the occasional question since we are a small organization and I did almost all the work in one area, but I’m starting to feel like if they want me available they should be paying me for that benefit.

I 100% recognize they are completely in the clear re: the legality of the situation, and that I could have found a different job that offered paid maternity leave. This is more about what is fair for them to ask and for me to give for free.

It’s pretty typical when people are on maternity leave to be entirely unavailable for the period of the leave, so it would be quite reasonable for you to basically go dark. But if you want to be available for the occasional — very occasional — question, you could say, “I’m going to be pretty unavailable from this point forward. If something is truly urgent, email me and mark it urgent but know that it may take me a while to see it and respond to you, and I’d like to reserve this for no more than one or two questions a month.” (You might also consider having all the questions funneled through one point of contact, since otherwise you could get one or two questions a month from each of your seven coworkers.) And then to the extent that you can, don’t respond to those emails immediately or you’ll train them to think that you’re pretty available.

Alternately, you could contact them and say, “I’m getting a lot more work questions sent my way than I’d realized I would. It’s adding up to enough that I’d like to either pull back on it or figure out some sort of compensation for this period. What makes sense?” (But only offer that if you’re willing to commit to continuing being responsive. It’s probably better not to, unless you think it’s pretty unavoidable.)

But you definitely shouldn’t feel obligated to keep up what you’re doing now.

{ 276 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty

    OP #1, you’re not eavesdropping on people speaking in a public place, regardless of what language they’re speaking. If they choose to take the chance that nobody else understands them, well, that’s on them. You are living proof that it’s not always the smartest choice to assume that one can tell, just by looking at a person, whether they do or don’t speak a particular language.

    OP #5, I’m a little floored that you see your company as ‘very family-friendly’ when it offers no maternity benefits, and co-workers feel free to bother you during your unpaid leave. AAM is right – hold them off.

    1. Queen Gertrude

      #1: Exactly. It is totally on them what they say in public, and if they are being presumptuous enough to presume that NO ONE ELSE is going to understand them, then that is on them. Not you. I am also multi-lingual and I always assume that when I am speaking a “foreign language” in any setting that their is a chance that someone outside my group might understand.

      I might be getting in some practice because I don’t get to speak that language very often, I might be visiting with friends or family members who are more comfortable speaking in that language. It’s pretty much never anything to be embarrassed about. That doesn’t mean I don’t have frank discussions with friends and family sometimes in any language. But if someone came up to me and said “Hey I understand what you are saying wink wink nudge nudge” implying that I was having some sort of conversation that was secretive, I’d think they were a little full of themselves quite honestly.

      So yeah, just pretend that they are anyone else having a conversation in public and ignore them. If you get into a more in depth conversation and feel comfortable then feel free to divulge more, but there is no reason to bother during brief conversations with strangers.

      1. Jeanne

        Lots of people have conversations in English at the grocery store that they don’t care about being overheard. I always assumed those speaking Spanish or whatever were doing the same. As a worker you should focus on your job and keep everything job related or small talk unless invited to discuss more in depth. (And some of those you might want to avoid.)

        1. Mander

          Just speaking from my own experience in supermarkets and such, but I understand Spanish well enough to grasp the general outline of what people are saying most of the time. It’s exactly the same stuff as what they were talking about in English beforehand: what happened at work that day, whether the other person wants this or that for dinner, do we need to buy bread, etc etc.

          On rare occasions I’ve said something like “excuse me” in Spanish if a big group is talking and blocking an aisle, just because it sometimes seems to grab people’s attention better. But I’d find it oddly intrusive to say something like “I can understand what you’re saying”, in the same way that it would be a little weird to butt into a conversation that you aren’t a party to in any circumstances, regardless of whether the other people are speaking the dominant language in that area or not.

          1. Charlotte Collins

            My grandmother’s generation was bilingual, and I agree that these conversations aren’t necessarily “secret.” It’s just that there is usually a preferred language that people use. Except when the older generation is clearly having a conversation they don’t want the younger (monolingual) generation to understand. But that happens at Sunday dinner…

            1. Dynamic Beige

              Or when they fight.

              Pro tip: yelling/raised voices and angry expressions mean “we’re fighting.” Just because I can’t understand what you’re saying doesn’t mean I can’t understand that you’re fighting about whatever it is.

              1. Chinook

                “Pro tip: yelling/raised voices and angry expressions mean “we’re fighting.” ”

                I have learned the hard way that that is not always true, depending on the speaker’s language. Some of those Slavic languages sound pretty angry to an anglo ear when they get happily excited.

                1. JB (not in Houston)

                  I think it’s the + angry expressions that makes it a probable fight. But even that’s not foolproof. My sister and I often have conversations with raised voices and angry faces, but if you could hear what we were saying, you’d know that we’re not fighting, we’re having an animated discussion about something that we’re both currently angry about.

                2. Queen Gertrude

                  Lol, yes! When I talk to my dad in his native language we often end up raising our voices without even realizing it and start gesturing with our hands wildly. It’s just our way. And because he’s family, my dad has NEVER had a problem saying exactly what’s on his mind without any filter. I have no problems shooting right back. Regardless of language. We aren’t fighting, we’re being us. Sometimes I’ve had people give us dirty looks thinking something else is going on. *Shug* what can you do?

            2. Chinook

              My grandmother grew up bilingual and she and her sisters would switch languages midsentence when they were searching for a word. Except when they were talking about Christmas presents, we children knew that what they said wasn’t secret, just ease of use at the moment.

              On the flip side, I have been privy to conversations in another language where atleast one of the speakers as trying to hide information from me because she figured there was no way I could speak her language (I have my dad’s last name and looks but speak my mother’s language too). I took great pleasure in calling her out on her deceit and her assumptions. There were others from her part of the woods that would say rude/secretive things in front of those they thought were unilingual (think sales clerks and bank tellers talking about a customer’s stupidity), but that has nothing to with their culture or language and everything to do with the type of human they are.

              Basically, if you are going to say something mean or hurtful, don’t expect it to be unheard just because those around you don’t look like you and don’t be surprised when someone calls you out on that behavior.

          2. SeekingBetter

            Yes, I would agree with this. I would find it odd/intrusive if someone who works at the store just told me “I can understand what you’re saying.” I speak another language and like OP #1 says, I understand more of it rather than being able to speak it fluently.

            1. N

              ^This. I am a non-Hispanic white person who speaks Spanish and I never speak it with people unless they explicitly approach me and indicate they would like to speak that language with me. If you’re a non-native or non-heritage speaker and you go up to a person speaking, say, Spanish, it comes across as, “I’m going to assume that you don’t speak English” and it can feel oddly presumptuous, like you’re just looking for attention. Just ignore them unless they explicitly come up and ask if you speak Spanish/Chinese/Russian or address you in any of those languages.

              1. N

                *to clarify, I don’t mean that when you’re in a store you should ignore the customers who aren’t speaking English. I just mean that you shouldn’t try to join the conversations/indicate you understand unless it’s necessary. When I worked in a store I went with English first with all of the customers (not wanting to make assumptions about anyone’s English abilities) and switched over if a customer blatantly said “I don’t speak English” or “Does someone here speak Spanish?”

                1. Chinook

                  Same goes for French. Nothing drove me more nuts in Quebec when I would start a transaction in French (complete with prepared phrases so I could learn to use them) to only have the clerk switch to English (sometimes with an eye roll, but not always). If I needed to speak English, I would have asked. I may be speaking slowly or with a different accent, but I understand perfectly what you are saying.

                  Interestingly enough, I never had this issue in Japan. The clerks, in fact, look relieved when I opened my mouth and (badly butchered) Japanese would come out. :)

                2. Marty Gentillon

                  I don’t see why you would assume that they are assuming that you don’t speak English, it is just as likely that they are excited for the (somewhat rare) opportunity to practice their Spanish. After all, how are they going to remain fluent unless they occasionally speak it?

          3. Mephyle

            If a person for whatever reason wants to signal that they understand the languag, the words used aren’t usually “I can understand what you’re saying,” but rather something like “Hello” or “Excuse me” or “Yes, isn’t it” in their language.

            1. Mander

              Well, I didn’t mean that you would use those exact words, just that you would make it known. But if you’re not answering a question or entering a social conversation it’s a bit awkward to do that.

          4. work from home

            The only time I would intervene is if they were saying something rude about me or my organization that they didnt think I understood. Because that honestly is just entertaining.

        2. Loose Seal

          This exactly. If you wouldn’t insert yourself into a conversation in English (or whatever your native language is), then don’t do it in other languages.

          My sister complained to me once about the workers at the pedicure parlor we go to. The workers all speak Vietnamese to each other all the time yet speak English to the customers. My sister said she just knows they are talking about her just as soon as they speak to each other and she asked if I knew of a polite way to ask that they only speak English in the shop. My answer was two-fold: “1) What makes you think they have so much to say about you? You’re not that special, and 2) If you are just dying to know what they are saying, you could learn some Vietnamese and eavesdrop. But, no, I don’t think there’s any way to ask someone to speak your language in their shop just so you can be certain they aren’t talking about you. If they want to talk about you, they’ll just wait until you leave and if you’re that demanding, they’ll have plenty to say once you’ve left!”

          1. neverjaunty

            And 3) if she makes them speaks English while she’s there, they’all damm sure be talking about her (in whatever language) after she leaves.

          2. EleanoraUK

            See, I actually think that examples a bit rude on the part of the pedicure folks. It’s not a customer’s private conversation being overheard by someone in a work function, it’s people in a work function purposely making sure their customers can’t understand what they’re saying. That’s just plain rude.

            1. Kai

              I really doubt most of them are speaking in their native language just so the customer can’t understand them. They’re speaking the language they’re most comfortable with–why shouldn’t they use it?

            2. halpful

              or it’s people defaulting to the easier language with people who understand it. speaking in a language you’re not fluent in can be incredibly exhausting; I always feel like I’ve been overclocking my brain and need to let it cool off afterwards. :) Even when I was really into language learning and knew it’d be really helpful to talk to my husband in the language we were learning, I found myself sticking with english 99% of the time.

          3. KAZ2Y5

            Well, according to my former Vietnamese coworker they really are talking about you. I didn’t care as long as I got a good pedicure ;-)

            1. Former Nail Technician Who Happens To Be Vietnamese-American

              Hey there,

              I had to add my 2 cents. While it is true that there is some gossip about the customers, it’s usually along the line of “I like her shoes/purse/lipstick/shirt/etc…” or “Oh look a new customer, let’s see what (service) she’s getting.”

              The biggest surprise for me working in nail salons was how often the technicians were in awe of beautiful facial features and hair. Think classical beauty, not your typical heavily made up beauty. And always of “wow look at her beautiful (usually light color) hair.”

              If a technician didn’t like you, she will be fake as $#^! to you and it’s definitely noticeable hahaha. Vietnamese women are not as subtle as they think they are.

          4. Former Nail Technician Who Happens To Be Vietnamese-American

            Thank you!!

            As someone who is Vietnamese-American, who worked in nail salons to help pay for college, I used to get so annoyed when people asked me (once they found out I speak English well): “are they talking about me?” I was always so tempted to yell out: “You’re NOT That Important!” But of course I never did lol.

            I tried to explain that they’re talking about their kids and families and what to cook for dinner since nail salons usually are open late. Biggest topic was always gossip about other Vietnamese people haha.

          5. BeautifulVoid

            Elaine Benes has a sister? You could always suggest she bring Frank Costanza with her next time (though that didn’t end well…).

            The nail salon I go to is staffed by three sisters who speak Spanish to each other and English to the customers. Maybe they’re talking about me, maybe they’re not; like others have said, as long as I get a good pedicure, I don’t really care. I figure if they’re dealing with feet all day, they can speak in whatever language they want.

      2. New Bee

        Agreed. Several of my friends are from the same Spanish-speaking country, and even though my closest friend of the group has been here 15 years, the cognitive load of speaking English makes it easier to communicate in Spanish. I don’t assume that people can’t understand us, and given that I live in a major city in California, I’d say the 3 languages you listed would make that a silly assumption in lots of spaces here.

        Side note: I appreciate that the OP’s question doesn’t feature veiled xenophobia, “this is Amurrica, speak English” crap. That’s what I was expecting when I read the title, so I’m glad it didn’t go there.

        1. Yup

          Not only that, but OP’s perspective was so refreshing in contrast to the post listed in the letter (about speaking a foreign language being supposedly “rude”).

          OP, congrats on your multi-lingual skills and interests!

        2. the gold digger

          “this is Amurrica, speak English”

          I have traveled widely and have also lived in several foreign countries. I have always been expected to conduct my affairs in another country in their language. I have never thought it was xenophobia; I have always thought, “This is Fenwick and here they speak Fenwickian.”

          1. esra (also a Canadian)

            I guess, if everyone spoke Fenwickian. But America is a diverse country, and as I understand, does not have a national language. So what would be “American,” really. Also, it looks like OP is talking about casual conversation between people, not actually conducting business.

          2. New Bee

            I’m not sure if you’re applying this reasoning to the US, but there is no official language here, and expecting people speak to (general) you in a language you understand (I have also lived overseas; I didn’t expect vendors to know English just because *I* showed up) is different than policing conversations you have no part of.

            1. the gold digger

              I am not policing conversations and you are right, that is its own issue. I don’t care what language people speak to each other if I am not a part of the conversation. It’s none of my business and I don’t think it’s rude. When I lived in Chile, I was always so happy for a chance to speak English because living in a foreign language is exhausting.

              I am pointing out that it is not xenophobic to expect to speak the language of a country when you are in that country speaking to natives of that country. When I paid my gas bill or my rent or went to the grocery store or the post office in Chile, I did not expect them to speak English to me because I was in their country and in their country, they speak Spanish.

                1. Sue Wilson

                  The US was colonized by too many European nations with distinct languages to pretend that it’s the “language of the country” in the same way Spanish is to Chile and Portuguese is to Brazil, especially since the US moved borders into territory that spoke Spanish and so has generations of families in the southwest who speak Spanish and have owned land there longer than any of the people who only speak English. It’s a lingua franca that became forced, and it’s odd and ahistorical to compare it to European understandings of state language or places where there is a constitutional/legal state language. Like “I expect people in a place which doesn’t speak English to speak English to me” is exactly what happened in the US.

                  Which is not even getting into the effects of genocide and forced assimilation/cultural destruction of many native populations, slavery, with it’s associated forced assimilation/cultural destruction/genocide, the exploitation of foreign labor with an accompanying requirement of assimilation unless one wanted suspicion of disloyalty (and exclusion, for the Chinese or for the Japanese, internment camps) and how that relates to people’s desire to keep their language. Like, I think you can get over the snideness/condescension of the generalization.

                2. Anion

                  Thanks for that, it rubs me the wrong way, too.

                  It’s rude, it’s insulting, and it’s an extremely provincial outlook.

              1. LBK

                I agree with what you’re saying that you shouldn’t expect anyone to speak a language other than the main one that’s used in the country/region you’re in, but there is definitely also an element of xenophobia that comes along with a lot of people who espouse the “you’re in America, speak English” idea. I haven’t seen another country where (some) people assert the idea so aggressively – there’s people that have bumper stickers, t-shirts, hats, etc. with that phrase on it, and it’s just such an unnecessary message to publicly project and insist on. If you have a bad interaction with someone, fine, but what’s the purpose of announcing 24/7 that you expect people to speak English, other than some nationalist assumption that there are people who don’t and therefore aren’t as American?

                1. Loose Seal

                  Ha, Elizabeth! So true.

                  My brother-in-law was going off one day about this subject. “If you decide to move to America, you should learn to speak our language first,” he says. I said, “Oh? I’d love to hear your Cherokee.”

                2. Chinook

                  ” If you have a bad interaction with someone, fine, but what’s the purpose of announcing 24/7 that you expect people to speak English, other than some nationalist assumption that there are people who don’t and therefore aren’t as American?”

                  *cough* Quebec Loi 101 *cough*

                  Though, since so many people I ran into just assume nobody outside the province speaks French, I don’t know if it is about protecting their language or keeping the anglos out of their businesses.

              2. Gaia

                But gold digger, I think the point is that there *is* no “language of this country” in America. Unlike nearly every other country we have no official language. And that isn’t a passive thing, either where we don’t have one because we’ve never set one – we explicitly decided early on not to adopt one. Every language is America’s language and therefore it is rather xenophobic and anti-immigrant to demand people all speak English just because that is the primary language for the majority.

              3. Oryx

                But there IS no “language of a country” here in America. Just because the majority speak English doesn’t make English the national language.

                1. MashaKasha

                  Wow! Believe it or not, I didn’t know that. And I’ve lived here 20 years. That is a very cool principle, even if it’s not always being adhered to by everyone.

                2. Gaia

                  MashaKasha,

                  I never knew it until the 2008 election season. I don’t remember how it came up but someone mentioned it and I remember thinking “surely not! Every country has an official language!” But nope, it was true and we specifically do not. In fact, several years ago Congress tried to change the law to make English the official language but ended up reaffirming the “no official language” law when they failed to act on the proposed change.

                3. Charlotte Collins

                  This is an interesting factoid. I don’t know about other cities, but a couple years ago, I learned that in Chicago in the early part of the 20th century birth certificates were issued in the preferred language of the child’s parents. (I don’t think this was any language, but it would be one of the non-English languages that was commonly spoken in the area.) We ended up having to pay to have my grandmother’s birth certificate translated into English, as it was in Polish.

                4. RKB

                  Interesting fact: Spanish is actually the largest and fastest growing linguistic group in the United States, according to research I had done in my undergrad. It’s why Dora the Explorer was such a smash hit and Ni Hao Kai LAN wasn’t in comparison. (All topics I did in my undergrad – I was a language acquisition student)

              4. New Bee

                I think this topic is better suited to tomorrow’s OT. I do think you are going to get a lot of pushback because re: your last paragraph, no one said that, which is why I’m suggesting it now while it’s still early.

          3. MeridaAnn

            The USA doesn’t have an official language, and even for countries where there is an official language (or multiple official languages, like Canada), that’s still just for government purposes – people can choose to speak in whatever language they wish. While English is the most common language in the USA, and many people choose to learn it as a second language for simplicity’s sake, there is no reason why people can’t speak another language if it suits them, and there are plenty of valid reasons why they might – whether because it’s hard for them to learn English, because most of their friends/family speak another language, because they live in an area where another language is more popular, because they’re learning the other language and want to practice it, because they’re tourists just visiting for a short trip, because it’s tradition or habit or a million other possible reasons. For your own convenience, you have decided to learn other languages in order to conduct business, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to make the same choice.

            1. Chinook

              “(or multiple official languages, like Canada), that’s still just for government purposes – people can choose to speak in whatever language they wish”

              Not always. Every so often a big stink gets made in Quebec because the language police had found another English business that doesn’t function in French (usually in Montreal or somewhere near the Ontario or American borders where there have been anglo communities for over a century).

          4. Gustopher (formerly Murphy)

            No one would expect you to speak Fenwickian with your travelling companion or friends though, which is the situation in this letter. You’d be perfectly within your rights to hold a conversation with your friends and family in English.

      3. The RO-Cat

        I’ve been in a sort of moral quandary some years ago, when I discovered that one of the sales reps I supervised knew a certain language spoken in a few areas of the country, but never disclosed to the storekeepers or vendors that fact. I asked him why and he told me that he prefers vendors speaking – beyond the counter, but in the shop and with him there – freely among them. That way, he said, he was able to hear the real objections, instead of fabricated, diplomatic brush-offs.

        I hesitated, but finally decided to leave him to his own devices because (a) his family name should have been a dead give-away, (b) it all took place in a public spot with him clearly present and interested in the discussion and (c) he was selling quite well.

        So I agree you have nothing to feel awkward about and, aside some very rare circumstances, no need to disclose your knowledge (and btw, Russian is hard, congrats on that!)

        1. all aboard the anon train

          I’d caution against assuming that a family name is a dead giveaway to someone’s language or ethnicity. It’s not always the case and it’s a big issue to assume that someone with a certain name speaks a certain language.

          1. Dust Bunny

            Yeah, seriously.

            This is edging awfully close to thoughtless racism. My surname is German but nobody expects be to speak it. I’ve dated Mexican-American guys who spoke less Spanish than I do (I’m literally as white as I can be, short of being blonde), but they were always assumed to be bilingual and I never was. Why I should bet let off the hook when people with so many other surnames are not is something that people should consider before they make assumptions.

            1. Oryx

              I also have a very German surname. My mom thought this meant I’d want to study German as my foreign language during middle and high-school. NOPE.

            2. Chinook

              Ditto. I spent a few years battling bosses, trying to make then understand that certain names and/or places of residence do not equate to fluency or non-fluency in a language.

              But, I also see your point that, if you are stupid enough to think that the person in front of you, who has an ethnically similar name to your own , doesn’t at least understand your language and you talk openly in front of them, then you deserve to be overheard. The name should be a little red flag that they may be able to understand.

            3. Julia

              This actually German woman has a very Polish last name and doesn’t speak a word of Polish. (I will have a Japanese last name from next year on and do speak Japanese, but obviously don’t look the part. Fun times ahead.) People sometimes ask me why my German is so flawless – others somehow detect an Accent even though I was born and raised in Germany – it’s nuts.

          2. Nanani

            This x 1000

            Reasons why someone might have a family name that doesn’t track with languages they speak are many, and include immigration by previous generations, changing name on marriage, name is from a different language culture that sounds similar to better known one (can you reliably tell which Slavic names are Russian, reliably? Not Ukranian, Polish, or any other Slavic group?), using an “adapted” name (anglicized name when in English-speaking country), mixed heritage, moving between countries while young, educated in different parts of the world, etc. etc. etc.

            Never assume, it makes an ass out of u and me

            1. all aboard the anon train

              Yeah. My last name is Polish, but I have quite a few people who assume it’s Russian and assume I can speak Russian, or who overhear me on phone conversations or speaking to family and think I’m speaking Russian instead of Polish. Sure, they share some similarities, but they’re still very different languages.

              It’s irritating, but the situation isn’t nearly as bad or frequent as the people who see my friends and automatically assume they’re bilingual or don’t speak English because of the color of the skin and their last name. Not cool at all.

            2. Loose Seal

              Never assume, it makes an ass out of u and me

              I have never understood this statement. I mean, I get it’s a clever use of the letters of the word. But if you assume something about me, sure, maybe that makes you an ass. But why should I be an ass because of your assumption?

              (Obviously, the “you” I use here isn’t you directly, Nanani.)

          3. AK

            This is especially true in the US, (or any country which has had large numbers of immigrants, I’m just more familiar with the US) My mother, for example, is of Italian descent and speaks some Italian, but because my grandfather defied his family and converted to Catholicism to marry my grandmother. My grandparents raised their children as Italian-Americans (as much as they could) and my mother and her siblings are all very connected to their Italian heritage and family members in Italy. None of this is indicated by their surname, which is Scandinavian and ends in -sson.

          4. hbc

            It’s not like anyone is proposing that you start speaking to Mr. Alexopoulos in Greek as if it’s a given, but if I’m going to be strategizing in Greek with my coworker on what to say to the sales guy, I’d probably think to move out of earshot for Mr. Alexopoulos and forget to do so for Ms. Nguyen.

          5. Golden Lioness

            This!
            I am a white blonde latin amerincan born person with a Syrian surname. I do not speak a word of Arabic, but people always get surprised when I start speaking Spanish… (without knowing my name most people think I’m American or European)

            1. Sofia

              Most people assume that I am white American or European too. My last name sounds Italian. Most people tell me that they think I am white until I start talking because I have a bit of an accent.

          6. Cari

            It’s kind of a big issue to assume a person doesn’t know enough about the country they work or live in too. Not every country that has many minority languages spoken is like the US or the other mainly English-speaking countries when it comes to last names and language…

          1. Retail HR Guy

            Profiting from letting your employee lie through omission. (I’m not coming down on one side or the other here, just trying to help identify the moral issue.)

        2. OP #1 (aeldest)

          My dad is fluent in English and German (to the point of not having an accent in either!). He’s a corporate lawyer now, and says every once in a while he gets some insight into what the other side is saying when they deal with German companies.

          Thanks! I haven’t been able to practice in a while, hence why I’m not super comfortable speaking it in a business context, but it’s an awesome language–probably my favorite to learn.

      4. KH

        This. I speak Japanese and my wife is Japanese. We talk Japanese a lot just because it’s easier for me to speak Japanese than for her to speak English. One time I (in the US), I was joking with her in Japanese and jokingly called her an idiot or something. Within earshot was another Asian looking couple. The guy loudly said “excuse me?” and accused me of calling his girlfriend an idiot. I had to explain the situation to calm him down.

    2. Secret squirrel

      I can speak a little Luxembourgish (my partner’s native language), and there are definitely places I would feel fairly confident of being a secret squirrel in that language. (Not always though, you can probably get a fair gist if you speak Dutch/German/French, especially in combination.) But even then, I wouldn’t try to have a secret conversation right in front of a salesperson, that’s just weird and rude, and you tend to be able to pick up on that (or at least feel awkwardly suspicious about it) even if you don’t speak the language. When speaking English in non-English speaking countries, I would always assume someone could understand.

      Spanish, Russian and Chinese are major languages and it would be foolish to assume no-one will understand them. Most likely, it’s just what’s most natural to them, and you don’t have to step in if you’re not confident continuing in their language.

      1. Secret squirrel

        Just to clarify, based on the comments directly above – the rude part was specifically trying to carry on a “secret” conversation right in front of the person instead of saying something like “can we discuss your offer for a moment?” or whatever and having the conversation in whatever language without them there. Not the mere fact of talking amongst yourselves in another language.

        1. Chinook

          “the rude part was specifically trying to carry on a “secret” conversation right in front of the person instead of saying something like “can we discuss your offer for a moment?” or whatever and having the conversation in whatever language without them there. Not the mere fact of talking amongst yourselves in another language.”

          This bears repeating! It is not rude to listen in to a conversation being done in front of you when they can see that you are there. The others are the ones being rude for assuming that they are a cone of silence because they are speaking some “secret” language.

        1. LBK

          I wasn’t sure what language they spoke there but I definitely would not have guessed Luxembourgish. Didn’t know they had their own!

    3. KR

      I second your last point about OP5. This isn’t family friendly. The flexibility you mentioned is, but the whole mess about maternity leave definitely isn’t.

    4. Mona Lisa

      For #1, I agree. I have musical training, which means I’ve got a background in several languages. When I work my retail job and hear customers speaking one I understand, sometimes I will switch to their language if I can tell they are struggling with English or if they are having to translate through one person in a group. Sometimes I’ll make it a point of conversation if I’m ringing and need some general chitchat (“I heard you speaking French earlier! Are you visiting the area, or have you lived here a while?”)

      However, if people engage with me easily in English and there’s not a natural opening for a conversation, I don’t make it a point to let them know that I can understand the conversation. It would be odd for me to go up to a group speaking English and announce that I can hear what they’re saying–I view people speaking other languages in the same way.

      1. Lily Rowan

        I could imagine replying to questions or concerns the same way salespeople often do when I’m speaking English to my friend. I’m saying to my friend, “I wonder if this is X, Y, or Z?” and a near-by salesperson will respond.

        If you’re concerned about being able to converse, OP, you could address their questions in English?

        1. Elsajeni

          Yes, this is what I’m picturing — when I worked in retail, I would sometimes hear customers debating something or asking each other questions that I could easily settle for them. If I overheard that conversation in English, it seemed obvious to lean in and say “Actually, it’s 100% cotton” or “Oh, we sell it by the yard — that’s about 90 centimeters” or whatever. If I overheard it in Spanish, I felt less comfortable about butting in; like the OP, my understood Spanish is much better than my spoken Spanish, so I’d get in over my head quickly in a conversation, and I always felt slightly weird, like I was admitting to eavesdropping in a way that I wouldn’t be if I’d butted in on an English conversation. But answering the overheard question in English is a good solution, I think.

      2. SeekingBetter

        This is a good way to use your other language skills if you see customers struggling to communicate. When I was overseas in Hong Kong, many of the retail stores, banks, and the airport had multi-lingual staff. If they see someone struggling with trying to communicate something in the local language, the staff will strive to find out what your preferred language is and help you by communicating in your preferred language. But this only would work if the staff happens to know the language well enough to do so. Thankfully, English is the world’s unofficial lingua franca and most of the world would use that language to communicate with everyone on a business level. Especially at airports and hotels.

        1. halpful

          I love the phrase “lingua franca”. :) It comes from one language (latin/italian?), the literal translation refers to a second (“language of the Franks”), and it now most commonly refers to a third language (english). It’s a lovely reminder of how much these things change over time.

          is there a word for phrases like that? I feel like “ironic” might apply, but that word has seen so much abuse it’s almost lost all meaning.

      3. Nanani

        Please don’t assume anyone speaking another language must be a tourist, especially if you live in a diverse place.
        I am back in my hometown and yet random Anglos will ask where I’m from when they hear me speaking with my family in our language, which is a large minority language that they could hear all the time if they paid attention.

        We are not tourists.

              1. Nanani

                Hi! I have lived in many countries and speak several languages so this topic is RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS.

                (So is “Chinook” to be honest. I lived a few years in Calgary too ^-~)

        1. Mona Lisa

          I unfortunately don’t live in a very diverse place, and we have a large student population, which means that most people who are speaking another language aren’t native to the area. Hence why I might ask a person whether they are from out of town or are local. It’s an easy conversation starter, and it’s the same question I would ask of people who have an out-of-state ID.

        2. KH

          I would love to know what is the large minority language? I am somewhat a student/hobbyist of languages and cultures (I speak fluent Japanese, studied French for 5 years, learned conversational Spanish working in a kitchen, and taught myself how to read Chinese and Korean well enough to not get lost/not starve — and I’d love to know if I guessed the right one.

    5. kac

      Eh, in America, especially in a small company, no maternity benefits doesn’t mean it is t family friendly. For example, allowing remote work & flexible hours is hugely family friendly policy!

      The questions during maternity leave thing, though is bs. I do think that responding to questions, gives the impression that you don’t mind getting more, and it is a vicious cycle. I think going dark is the best move. I’ll be heading out on maternity leave in January, and I really like my job, but I fully plan to be 100% unavailable.

      1. neverjaunty

        I agree it’s a very low bar, which is why this really isn’t “very family friendly”. It’s more like “not completely awful”.

        1. kobayashi

          I will disagree. It is often very difficult for small companies to pay an employee 12 weeks when they aren’t working for 12 weeks. For some small companies, it may be very well impossible without laying off someone. Telecommuting and flexible hours are ways they can be family friendly without risking their fragile bottom line.

  2. Engineer Girl

    #5 – you could be running afoul of labor laws if you answer too many questions. Technically if you are salaried they’d have to pay you for the entire week even if you spend just a little bit of time working.
    You might want to check with HR.

    1. Engineer Girl

      I meant exempt. Labor laws are funny if you work part of that week. They have to pay you for the full week unless you are on intermittent FMLA.

        1. Judy

          FLSA act covers employers with sales greater than $500,000 or engage in interstate commerce. A quick google says that interstate commerce involves sending and receiving mail or using the internet.

          I’d expect a company with 8 employees (that is viable) to have sales greater than $62k/employee. They have to pay for employee salary and benefits along with the goods and services they provide, the overhead of location & utilities and have some profits for the owners. And pretty much any business that sells anything uses the US mail in some way. If they buy materials, I’d bet they don’t source them all within their state.

        2. Natalie

          There’s no company size threshold for FLSA. And even a small company probably meets the $500,000 enterprise standard.

    2. NJ Anon

      With 8 employees, I doubt they have an HR person. OP, are you collecting disability? If so, you cannot work while collecting. It’s considered fraud. I was out of work due to back surgery and had to call my boss and tell her to tell cowork e s to stoo calling me with questiins that had more than one word answers.

      1. OP #5

        OP here!

        I’m not collecting disability. In my state you can’t file for short-term disability for maternity unless your organization offers a company sponsored policy you can take part in. (It sounds crazy, but trust me, I did A LOT of research before getting pregnant.) I’m not running afoul of any laws – I’m on a temporary leave of absence so I’m not collecting any money from any source.

        Also – like NJ Anon said – there is no HR to talk to. I had talked to our owners directly – I knew before I got pregnant that there would be no coverage for me. I’m not trying to finagle a way to collect more money, just trying to determine what is the right level of contact.

        1. Gustopher (formerly Murphy)

          In my view (and as someone who has been on a maternity leave) the right amount of contact that is initiated by them is near zero. Maybe a check-in to see how you’re doing, but work contact? Not cool.

        2. Nella

          To me it all depends on the agreement you had before you left. If it is unpaid time off, then you should have near zero contact and enjoy the short time you have to recover.

          I find it rather daunting to see just how little time is granted to US employees for maternity. In Canada there are talks going on to extend maternity leave to 18 months from our current 12 months.

        3. Stranger than fiction

          Even still, if you’re on unpaid leave and spending more than a certain amount of time on this per day (forget exactly what that is), they’re technically supposed to pay you.

    3. Natalie

      This is an interesting point, although if it does apply they would only have to pay for each individual day you work. They can deduct full day increments.

  3. Edith

    #1: I’ve been in the customers’ shoes, casually speaking English with friends in public in a non-Anglophone country. Unless the customers are complete jerks they’re not speaking another language to be secretive– they’re doing it because it’s easier and because when you live in another country sometimes it’s nice to be able to let your hair down and speak your native language. It would never occur to me to think someone else is eavesdropping on my conversation just because they happen to know the language I’m speaking.

    1. BobcatBrah

      The only way I can see it being rude is if three people are having a conversation in one language, then two of them switch off to another that the third doesn’t know, and then go back to the original language.

      The alternative (which I frequently run in to) is if only one person in a group speaks English, so they’re the translator between their group and whatever sales staff there talking to. Short conversation in English, translation in Portuguese for the group, short conversation in Portuguese, translation in English for the sales staff.

    2. Callietwo

      My daughter is bi-lingual, with English as her native language and she speaks French as well. She’s a retail store manager in a New England outlet mall store, with a lot of Canadian shoppers. She has often complained about how Canadians (in General of course!) often assume that we here in the US are dolts that don’t speak their language… will deal with the sales staff in perfect English and then make very nasty remarks about said clerks in French, and make fun of American’s weight, body shapes, ignorance, etc.. I live pretty close to Canada and have not really seen that but then I don’t deal with them in the same situations that she does. Personally, I’d say 99% of my dealings with our neighbors to the north are positive.

      She says unless it’s about the service they’re getting from her staff, she ignores it but if the commentary in their language is about quality of service or products or anything directly related to their shopping experience then she will address the situation, and in their language.

      1. Chinook

        “She has often complained about how Canadians (in General of course!) often assume that we here in the US are dolts that don’t speak their language… will deal with the sales staff in perfect English and then make very nasty remarks about said clerks in French, and make fun of American’s weight”

        Sad to say, those individuals do the exact same thing to Anglo Canadians, not just Americans. There is a subset of Quebecois who truly believe that French is a “cone of silence” and that no one outside their borders can understand them. These individuals are often shocked to find out that there are thriving, centuries old francophone cultures outside their borders (usually founded by their ancestors who had had enough of that type of attitude 150 years ago and would rather live through multiple prairie winters than deal with that type of superiority complex.)

          1. Chinook

            My grandmother talked about moving to rural Quebec in the ’50’s (courtesy of my grandfather’s military posting) a everyone thought they had to be from France because there is no way a francophone could be from anywhere else if they weren’t Quebecois. And my mother’s first day in grade one involved being told she “stole their country” despite the fact my family was also on those first French boats too. My grandmother had grown up in rural Alberta had never before encountered such hatred or “racism” (or whatever you call it when the locals think you are “other” based on where you were born). Luckily, others were more welcoming.

    3. RKB

      I speak Punjabi and Hindi. I hear conversations on the phone and between people in Punjabi or Hindi all the time. It’s the same as hearing conversations in English. The only time I answer is at work, where someone may pose a question in Punjabi to their friend without realizing I understand (ex. “Can you ask her about adult swimming lessons?”)

  4. Christopher Tracy

    Regarding #4 – I interviewed last fall for a position at a large national bank in their risk management division. The AVP of a niche line of business that I had nearly three years of experience in decided to bring her audit team in-house and phase out her California-based vendor. Since nothing like this existed at said bank in any other capacity/line of business, the AVP was essentially trying to build a division from the ground up. To do this, she was going to hire six managers and four direct reports for each manager working on auditing different functions of the business line and various vendors (the team I was interviewing for would have primarily been auditing law firms who handle their cases).

    Well, AVP began interviewing potential direct reports first because she wanted to get an idea of who all would be on what team and by gauging the strengths and weaknesses of each, she’d be able to better envision what qualities were needed to lead each group (group dynamics were very important to her). I asked the same thing OP was wondering – would whoever becomes a manager get to hire their own people assuming future openings became available? She said absolutely, but because the group was still in its infancy, she needed to be the one guiding it up front to justify bringing the audit team in house to her manager and the executives/officers above her. No red flags there.

    On the other hand, the place where I gained my nearly three years of experience for the audit job? Yeah, Evil Law Firm did not allow managers to hire staff at all. HR handled this (and performance issues, firings, transfers, etc.) – managers got stuck with who they got stuck with. Needless to say, this was a disaster on the operations side of the house. For example, HR hired a construction worker with no legal experience as a paralegal (he was the COO’s daughter’s boyfriend) and he quit two weeks later. They hired paralegals with degrees and/or certifications and stuck them in the mail room or our billing department. The firm was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, by the massive turnover throughout operations. And then the attorneys started dropping like flies because HR kept hiring idiots to manage them. It was a mess.

    So in that case, HR hiring me was a red flag that I was too desperate to have noticed at the time. Now I know better.

    1. Cat steals keyboard

      Everyone has been surprised to hear there was nobody from HR in the interview for my current job (I’m in the UK where it’s not uncommon to just have one interview). The panel consisted of my manager, my department head and someone on the same grade from another team who I’d be collaborating with on a particular type of project. I thought it was great, as they let the main people I needed to click with handle the interviews.

      1. Christopher Tracy

        Yeah, HR was only involved in the phone screen and calling to make me the offer at my current company. It was a culture shock coming from Evil Law Firm to here and seeing how much power managers could actually have (and how toothless, and sometimes useless, HR could be at some companies).

        1. Retail HR Guy

          Some HR people (not me, but others) are just very good at hiring people no matter the position; interviewing better, thinking of the right questions to ask, looking for cultural fit, avoiding discriminatory hiring criteria, knowing how to research what a competitive salary would be, etc.

          But, yeah, they should be in a support role, helping the hiring manager to make the decision and not the other way around.

        2. Raeglyn

          At my company (software engineering) HR/recruiting does a lot of work on finding and filtering resumes – they’ve had a lot of talks with our engineering managers around what to look for in people’s resumes, so that they filter out the chaff and send only likely-looking candidates to our (very busy) managers. I think they also handle the initial phone calls to people so they can answer general questions about the company and benefits, so that by the time a candidate talks to an engineer, their conversation can focus in more detail on the engineering position and team. They also handle all the scheduling of interviews, which is a GODSEND because that sort of thing is a real time sink.

          HR/recruiting are the best :)

    2. Bluesboy

      I also found myself taken on as a manager without choosing my own staff. Reason? New branch. Firstly, they didn’t want to start paying me until the day it opened, and as obviously the staff had to be chosen before then there was no way to have my input on hiring.

      That said, although I would have liked to be involved, if it had been left to me I would have made horrible choices. I was a new manager with zero experience of hiring, interviewing…any of it. Although I understood the core business well I was also going to be managing people whose skills were a complete mystery to me – how could I have made effective hires? It made total sense for the staff to be chosen by more experienced colleagues.

      Going forward, initially I was choosing new staff although they were vetted by my area manager, and moving on from that it was left to me. Honestly, I was very happy with it. So I agree fully with AAM that the question to ask is “whether the manager will typically be able to hire her own staff members as vacancies come up in the future.”

    3. Pwyll

      This also seems fairly normal (or at least understandable) for a Government agency, especially if the subordinates are civil service and competitive positions. I’ve found that in order to combat the appearance of nepotism or cronyism, some agencies will establish policies in the extreme the other direction: completely removing the ability of line managers to build their own teams at all. Certainly not a best practice, but not necessarily surprising.

  5. Cat steals keyboard

    #5 Did you do any kind of handover either in writing or in person? If so, I’d refer them to that.

    1. Jeanne

      I wonder why she has to be so available. New mothers don’t check email 10 times a day, they don’t answer every phone call. Only reply every 10 questions or so. They’ll figure it out if they have to.

      1. Ella

        Or if you do still want to be semi-available you could limit it. When my boss goes on vacation for a long period, he’ll pick a few days during the month to call us to answer questions. We know the days in advance, so we save the questions for then, but he doesn’t check email, etc other than that.

  6. Tau

    #1 – So at this point I’ve spent more of my life living in places where my native language isn’t spoken widely than where it is. And let me tell you, my rule of thumb has *always* been to never, ever assume people around me can’t understand what I’m saying. A conversation in a public space doesn’t become a private conversation just because I’m not using the dominant language – as Alison says if I’m using German in public, it’s not for privacy, it’s because that’s what’s most comfortable for me with whoever I’m with. If I forget that, it’s on me if someone overhears me saying something I didn’t want them to.

    So, yeah, I see no issues here at all with just not speaking up, and you aren’t deceiving anyone by choosing to keep quiet. In fact, if I was speaking German in public and someone did talk to me in German in response, I’d treat it the same way the people you’re talking to are – as a sign that you want to switch languages -and be mildly disappointed to discover that’s not the case after all.

    Possible exceptions:

    – I’m not sure how this works for very rare, little-spoken languages, and anyone who’s a native speaker of one of those may want to weigh in. That said, none of the languages you mention fall into this category.

    – If the people start engaging in a lengthy conversation while around you and you’re reasonably sure they wouldn’t be talking about this if they knew you could understand the subject matter, alerting them that you do may be a considerate thing to do. That said, it’s still entirely on them and I’m having trouble coming up with a diplomatic way of phrasing that, so I’m not certain about this one.

    1. Jules the First

      In the case of a lengthy conversation that I think they’d want to know I could understand, I usually say something like “I’m sorry – would you like me to step away for a moment so you can have some privacy?”

      Ideally, I deliver this calmly in whatever language we were speaking, but on the rare occasions where I’ve absolutely just heard something they definitely meant to keep private, I’ll interject in the language they’re speaking.

    2. Leslie

      I use a number of foreign languages daily and this commenter hit the nail on the head. If speaking in a public place, do not assume the fact that you are speaking another language gives you privacy. It is on the speaker–not the listener–to remember that and act accordingly.

      1. Liane

        Never assume conversing in another language will give you privacy, much less advance your Evil Overlord Plot. Many years ago, I read a mystery novel. A conspirator gave himself away by using the Polish word for “dog” when he meant “hound” in saying the name of a tavern. Not being too flunt in that language, he didn’t realize that, just like in English, those were different words.

    3. Catherine from Canada

      “A conversation in a public space doesn’t become a private conversation just because I’m not using the dominant language”
      This.
      I’m just back from two weeks in Italy and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to slap my fellow tourists upside the head and say, “Look, just because everyone around you is speaking Italian doesn’t mean they’re not listening in English. If you absolutely have to comment on everything you think is wrong about this country (which usually only means different) at least do it in the privacy of your hotel room.”

  7. Ruth (UK)

    1. Especially as in the past when you have tried to say something in their language, people have been excited (not awkward) they probably are not speaking with the specific intention to not be understood. Also, I think it’s only eavesdropping of it’s intentional (ie. If you purposefully put yourself in a situation / location where you know the people you’re hearing don’t want to be heard, not if people just happen to talk in front of you. There are some tricky exceptions but this isn’t one of them).

    Also, I have lived with a lot of foreign language speakers (2 French and people and a Spanish speaker for a couple years, and 4 Chinese students one year) and weirdly, it was as though they were assuming I was understanding when I don’t speak the language.. They’d often switch to English and address me in conversation, but try and continue where it left off and I’d have to remind them I hadn’t understood what had been said so far… They were definitely speaking as though they forgot I didn’t know what they were saying..

    1. Yetanotherjennifer

      The roommate of a friend of mine used to switch into his native Russian in the middle of a conversation without realizing it.

    2. Fjell & Skog

      My boss speaks three languages and will often thrown in words from the other two when speaking English. I understand many words in the 2nd language, and very very few in the 3rd language. It can be really difficult to follow along with what she is saying sometimes!

      1. MashaKasha

        My ex’s German-born mother did that. I only spoke to the woman once. That is, she spoke for an hour and a half, and ex and I sat there and nodded. Every tenth or so word out of her mouth was a German one and I’m sure she had no idea she was doing it. I understood all of them, both from the context and because my ancestors spoke fluent Yiddish and I know a few of the words, and they’re basically the same in German. But I thought it was freaking adorable.

        1. Soupspoon McGee

          Our parents did this growing up, and my sister and I still use some of the old-world words without knowing it. About a month ago, I was telling my sister a story about dropping something down the abyss (the furnace grate and vents). I had told a friend the same thing. Turns out that’s not what you say in standard English, and we have not known this for 40 years.

          1. MashaKasha

            Wow, that’s the first time I’m hearing this term! I’d be horrified to find out there are multiple abysses (abyssi??) in my house!

      2. OP #1 (aeldest)

        I kind of do that sometimes–my whole family speaks English, German, and Spanish (to varying degrees of fluency), and while we speak English in the home, we frequently pepper our speech with words from other languages (and/or quotes from foreign movies in those languages). If I go from hanging out with them to talking with friends or coworkers, I sometimes forget that not everybody will understand those phrases or references!

        (However I still think I was in the right in a recent situation where I told a friend I was on my way to his house, and then when I arrived I texted him “aqui.” Even without speaking basic Spanish he should have known from context!)

        1. halpful

          as someone with no exposure to spanish (but some latin, german and others), my first thought was “water?” :) I’m not sure if the context would have been obvious enough for me to get it, or if I’d be thinking you’d stopped at a grocery store to get drinks or something :)

    3. Nerdling

      I did that when I was studying foreign languages in high school and college, and I’ve noticed myself doing it again since trying to freshen up my French lately – not just French but the other language I studied. It’s funny how the brain works with language!

  8. Dan

    #1

    I’m going to tell a round-a-bout story that actually gets on topic.

    Several years ago, I was out at a sports bar with a group of friends. Tables were packed close together, and my friend and I were seated opposite each other, maybe a foot or two from the adjoining table but whom didn’t belong to our party.

    After the table next to us left, my friend says to me, “Thank god these people are gone.” WTF? I asked. “They were griping and complaining the whole time.” Really? I didn’t hear a word, I said.

    My friend told me that in a prior lifetime, he use to be a tour guide. He said people never told you what they really thought of the tour to your face, so your only way of getting accurate feedback was to eavesdrop on their conversations.

    So, moral of the story to OP: Use it as your secret weapon. Don’t let on directly that you know. Take the critical points and learn from them.

    If you just feel uncomfortable about the whole thing, you can just ask them in their native language if they prefer to communicate with you in their language or English. I know some basic phrases in Spanish, and ever so slightly more conversational German. The stuff I can say, I guess I speak confidently, because I get back fluent responses at a rate I can’t understand much, if anything, of. After a couple of rounds of back and forth, I politely ask in their language if we can speak in English. (Native speakers tell me that most people of my proficiency speak very haltingly.)

    Honestly, if somebody straight up offers to speak English to me, I’ll take it. Especially if I’ve just traveled 20 hours and haven’t slept. I’ll posit that anybody who considers your offer of speaking their language (particularly if you know enough to actually handle the type of needs that arise at your business) to be rude or insulting, well, it says more about them than it does you.

    P.S. I had some eye surgery done in Germany. I was conversing a little bit with the staff in German. They asked me if I preferred to be addressed in German or English during surgery. Honestly, I was floored. My German is nowhere near good enough to handle those interactions, and I had no idea that the German I could speak gave that impression.

    1. Mander

      Something kind of similar happened to me once. I was doing fieldwork in Spain and chatting to the people who ran the local museum. They thought it would be great if the local radio could interview me (the novelty of having an American there studying the place, I guess?). They insisted my Spanish was good enough based on my ability to talk to them, so I agreed.

      Well, the radio interviewer called and I couldn’t even understand the very first question. I tried to ask him to rephrase but it was no help. I ended up having to pass the phone to someone else and have them explain that I didn’t speak Spanish that well. No idea if I was actually on the air at the time but it was really embarrassing!

      1. semipolyglot

        FWIW, at low-to-intermediate fluency it is much harder to have a conversation on the phone, without visual cues, than face-to-face.

        1. Pixel

          Very true. When I moved to Canada, I believed my English was good enough to get me going without too many adjustment pains. Wrong! Listening to people who were talking at me was exhausting, phone conversations were worse, and forget about talking on the phone and writing at the same time. At the end of the day my entire face would hurt as speaking English apparently uses muscles differently than speaking Hebrew. The entire experience was humbling, frustrating, and have I mentioned totally exhausting? And I was a deluxe immigrant, educated, with a solid English base, with an accent that wasn’t too thick and an ear for language in general.

          It’s been quite a few years and I still make many mistakes, still mispronounce words which my kids are only too happy to point out, and have to be completely “on” when listening – I don’t just intercept things I hear while focused on other things, something that I had to explain to my native English speaking office mates. I recommend spending time in a foreign country, preferably speaking a different language, to anyone who grumbles about “why can’t everyone just speak un-accented English?!”.

    2. MashaKasha

      Aw god, I hate it when people do that. They are the ones that perpetuate the assumption that, anytime anyone speaks to each other in a language other than English in public, that they’re gossiping about everyone around; which in reality is only the case maybe 10% of the time, if that. Most of us have far better manners than that.

      I once had a coworker go off on me and my Russian-speaking friends on FB, when I posted a picture of my Sheltie and a few of them replied with short comments in Russian. Suddenly this woman is, “Hey guys, speak English! I don’t know what you’re talking about.” So I told her, “what do you think we’re talking about? It’s a photo of a cute dog with a bunch of comments underneath. OF COURSE we are talking about you!”

      Another thing that I regret to this day, my kids were 4 years old and 15 months old when we came to America. Shortly after that, a coworker who was a fellow Russian immigrant, told me that I should never speak my native language in public, because it was rude and because everyone would assume I’m talking about them. So I spoke English with my kids whenever we were in public; which was most of the time. That was one of the reasons they forgot most of their native language, and now speak it very poorly. The coworker had been in the country four years longer than myself, so I thought she knew what she was talking about.

      1. Emmie

        That’s really horrible what your coworker said. I wish we could all get over whether it’s rude / not rude to use native languages in public. Why is it anyone’s business what language people speak? It’s not!
        For what it’s worth, my grandparents spoke two languages and neither were passed down. At that time, it was important to speak English so you would not be discriminated against because you were “foreign.” I don’t think much has changed unfortunately.
        As to the OP: I partially speak another language. I treat it like I would English. I don’t purposely pay attention to other people’s conversations; however, I will say something if it’s necessary (yes, the salad has onions!)

        1. Myrin

          I always find that so interesting to hear because it’s not like you can’t just bring up your children bilingually. I mean, children who grow up bilingual usually take a bit longer to learn to speak in general but technically, just because it’s important to learn English doesn’t mean you can’t also/additionally teach them a second language. Interestingly, while that phenomenon also exists where I am from, it does seem to be much more prevalent in the US (I have met very few people here with mixed or entirely foreign parentage who didn’t speak the foreign language as well) which is weird because if anything, the US is the country I’d most think of as a hotchpotch of languages and cultures and diversity.

          1. Amadeo

            My great grandparents kind of did the same thing as Emmie’s grandparents. They came to the US from Sicily (we still have their papers, though we need to figure out how to preserve them, they’re falling apart) and my grandfather and his family were born here and never spoke a lick of Italian. My great grandparents never passed it down to them, though sometimes I wish they had, as it’s something I’ve been struggling to learn.

          2. Mander

            That’s one of many things that I really don’t understand about the US. We could all be bi- or tri-lingual so easily, yet we have this stupid obsession with English. I grew up in a quite diverse neighborhood yet so many kids I knew only really could speak English. It made me sad in school when I was doing better in Spanish class than kids whose parents were native speakers but didn’t want to use it for fear of discrimination. My Navajo friend can hardly understand her mother. A kid who used to live down the road couldn’t really talk to her Hungarian grandmother who lived with them. The kids with Vietnamese or Korean mothers could understand but not reply. It’s all so stupid.

        2. MashaKasha

          All of my grandparents were fluent in two languages and neither of them passed their second language down to my parents. For the same reason yours didn’t; it wasn’t safe where they lived at that time. Not that it stopped me from telling my parents, each time they’d get on my case about my kids not having a good command of Russian, “Oh yeah? Say something in Yiddish!”

          Funny (sort of) family story, my oldest son graduated college with a 3.96 GPA. Meaning, every grade he got in college was an A, except for one class, where he got an A minus. That one class was Russian as a foreign language. Oops. His advisor thought he’d test out of it, didn’t happen.

        3. Chinook

          “At that time, it was important to speak English so you would not be discriminated against because you were “foreign.” I don’t think much has changed unfortunately.”

          The opposite was true in my family. I am a first generation Anglo because my dad spoke no French and my mother’s family firmly believed you speak the language that the most people in the room speak so they aren’t isolated. As a result, my fluently bilingual grandparents never spoke French when we were around because they wanted to include my dad in the conversation. As a result, none of the grandkids used it at home and I never felt comfortable using it with my grandmother even as an adult because my response to anything she ever said was a automatically in English because that is what she always spoke to me.

          1. Emmie

            An excellent point, Chinook.

            On another side of my family, my grandmother spoke one foreign language and my grandfather spoke another. They both spoke English, and neither passed down their foreign language.

          2. Nanani

            I have cousins with the same story as you, it’s kind of sad/wistful-making :(
            (are you my cousin.)

            My parents spoke French to us even though we lived in a mostly Anglo city in Ontario and I will be forever glad to have had multiple languages early in life.

      2. Elizabeth West

        I have friends in Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic who post stuff on FB and talk about it in their own languages. I often like the post because the pictures are nice (e.g., a cathedral or a kitten). I can guess at what the comments say. The translator feature is very rough, but if I need it, I can usually get the gist of the conversation.

        I’ve never asked them to switch to English–they’re not talking to me and these are their posts! Though once in a while, I will ask, “What’s this building? It’s really pretty,” or whatever, and they’ll answer in English. If I had three wishes, one would be that I could speak, read, and write every language, not because I want to be nosy but because I think languages are cool.

        And your coworker was way off. Maybe that was her experience, or she had a bad experience, but that’s in no way the majority.

        1. MashaKasha

          That was many years ago (I no longer work at that place or have that dog) and things were different then. Also, location matters. When I first visited NYC, I was amazed at how people spoke every language and had every accent imaginable, and no one looked at them funny for that. Things are very different where I live. Getting much better lately, but still different.

      3. Pixel

        Masha, for what it’s worth, kids absorb the cadence of the language and some cultural context even if their spoken language is non-existent. As a double immigrant, I’ve experienced this myself and also see it in my kids. Kids want to assimilate – it’s what kids do, but your language and culture are still there.

        Immigration tears up lots of connections and builds many others. It’s not easy but hey, it builds character :-P

    3. Lucie in the Sky

      Just wanted to add about I wouldn’t let it on, could be useful at work. I work at a Japanese company in America. Most of the time when I switch to Japanese in a meeting is to explain something to a lost coworker and confirm an answer because I have a few team members that get overwhelmed in fast paced English meetings.

      However, there have been many times I have to remind coworkers that they can’t just assume people don’t understand them. Because there are things the likely wouldn’t say infront of a customer in English that some of them will say just cause they assume that no one knows what they are saying. Not typically mean / gossipy things, but business related things you don’t what customers to know. I basically have to be like “When you look at me (blonde white girl) you don’t assume I would speak Japanese so why would you assume they don’t?” …

    4. Lora

      Oooh yes. Had this happen to me in several languages, where someone assumes you don’t speak their language. 95% of the time people are just talking about the usual teevee or what’s for dinner or whatever, but that 5% of the time is pretty memorable.

      Dear Italian men: American women do not actually consider that a compliment. We consider it gross. Vaffanculo.
      Dear Chinese colleagues from exjob: the next time I hear the word Gweilo, you will be explaining it to HR. Seriously not cool.
      Dear German colleagues at current job: Holy smokes, it’s like I’m stuck in a Blackadder episode. Just stop it. You KNOW I know what you’re saying and you’re STILL rude. What the hell is wrong with you?

      Enough Americans speak Spanish that I am genuinely surprised any Spanish speakers think they can say something without the white people knowing.

      1. MashaKasha

        I had a Russian-speaking coworker from hell, who would barge into my area and talk at me, assuming we were buddies or something; making really bizarre statements sometimes. “well, you know that the Jews control everything.” Today’s Masha would’ve ended that conversation on the spot, and made sure it was the last one. But that was ten years ago and I let it continue. One day, she came into my cubicle with a long, detailed story of how she and her fiance were looking for a good school district for her five-year-old, but that they were leaning towards a private school, because every public elementary school they’d visited had the same issue – Black kids roaming the hallways. “Even when it says on the website that they don’t have any, we come to visit and here they are!” I tried to get her to stop talking. But again, the long-ago me kept dropping mild hints like “no we didn’t look at that when choosing a school for our kids, we looked at the test scores and the advanced classes”, when the proper response should’ve been “YOU NEED TO SHUT THE HELL UP AND NEVER TALK TO ME AGAIN, AND I WILL REPORT YOUR ASS TO THE HR IF I HEAR THIS ONE MORE TIME”. The entire conversation was in Russian and no one around us had any idea what was coming out of her mouth. I avoided her after that. She changed jobs a month later, tried to get my contact info to stay in touch, but I said no. (I actually said “no, you can’t come over, because we’re selling our house and moving”, again, that was the old, submissive me. We were, of course, not selling our house. I don’t know how that popped into my brain.)

      2. Loose Seal

        I hope you didn’t actually mean this but your last line sounds like you are equating Americans with white people when of course Americans are of many races.

  9. Dan

    #3

    AAM’s right, but also for another reason. Teaching doesn’t really support the career development things that you’ve listed. Outside of the classroom, project management involves work products, schedules, and budgets. Leadership can be a variety of things, but in-classroom, things are both scripted and mostly outside of your control. (It’s particularly bad for an adjunct lecturer who has a canned curriculum, a defined syllabus, and what not.) The same issues with project management crop up in trying to pursue a non-academic managerial position.

    I’d change my opinion if you were in more of a curriculum development position or otherwise responsible for student outcomes, but from what you wrote, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    When would I include that teaching job at ITT? If you were looking at getting into gigs like corporate training, consulting, client presentations, and other types of roles that rely heavily on oral communication to groups of people. This is going to sound really ironic, but you can spin the high grading pressures as “evidence” that your students flourished because of your excellent presentation skills.

    While academia may eschew any employees from for-profit schools, on the outside, if I needed skills like I described above, I want to see that ITT reference on your resume.

    1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

      True ITT story except it might have been one of the other for profit schools in that vein. In my head, it was ITT.

      We’re interviewing a guy for an entry level artist position. (We have a bunch of artists on staff so I’ve done a gazillion art interviews in my life.) He’s a pretty weak candidate so we’re more making polite conversation than doing a hard interview.

      He says, as a selling point, “And in this class, XYZ, my instructor quit in the beginning of the class so they picked me to take over the class for the rest of term.”

      O.o

      This is not a selling point on your training.

      1. VintageLydia

        This sort of happened to a friend of mine at another for-profit school. He went to a technology-focused magnet high school and when he started at this for-profit, it became blindingly obvious he knew more than his teacher. She… pretty much gave up and had him teach the class unofficially.

        Unfortunately that wasn’t a good enough hint for him that MAYBE this wasn’t the right school for him. No one else in his family is college educated, and I’m a bit irritated at my mother for not being more blunt to him about it (at this point my mom was basically a second mother to him and he was living with her. I’d already moved out.) But that’s a rant for another day.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

          The biggest shame is that was allowed to go on for so long. The plug should have been pulled on all of these shyster schools a decade plus ago. A TON of our taxpayer money went into this in the form of loans that can’t be repaid and veterans benefits.

          Imagine if all of that money had been invested in our community college systems instead!

          Better late than never but seriously, this is late.

  10. Bluesboy

    #1

    I’m English mother-tongue and my fiancèe is Italian mother-tongue, and we can both speak both languages fluently, so we pretty much just move from one language to another without thinking about it, or about where we are. So I’m sure I’ve done this many times as a customer. I’ve also found myself on the other side, where I understand completely a conversation and the speakers don’t realise.

    I understand why you might feel rude. I was once on a bus with a guy who was speaking urgently into his phone with his girlfriend…about the STD he thought she’d transmitted to him, and where on earth she might have picked it up, and…I felt pretty uncomfortable that I could understand what was obviously meant to be a private conversation. But you can’t hold a private conversation in a public place and blame someone else for understanding you.

    Don’t worry about it. If they’re really talking about something private, they won’t thank you for pointing out you can understand, they’ll just be embarrassed, and maybe even angry with you for not saying something earlier. And if it isn’t private, how are you eavesdropping? You hear conversations every day on the bus without the language issue and don’t feel like you’re listening in on other people’s conversations.

    1. Ruth (UK)

      Agree especially with your last paragraph. Assuming you don’t know these people, if you just never point out you understand and pretend you don’t, then as far as they’re concerned, you didn’t… So it’s as if you didn’t, and no possible awkwardness or rudeness involved :D

    2. Xarcady

      Oh, that reminds me of the time I was in France, visiting Versailles, and waiting in line at the cafeteria there to get lunch. It was a long line. The couple directly behind me were having a pretty nasty argument, in English, about their vacation–something about one of them just wanting to look at piles of old rocks, i.e. old buildings like the palace we were at and old cathedrals and the like, while the other one wanted to do more shopping and dining out.

      They very clearly thought no one could understand them. They were trying to keep their voices low, and the tones of their voices calm, but they were both very upset.

      And I knew that in a few minutes I was going to have to order my food, and that the first word out of my mouth would make it very, very clear that I had understood every single word they had said. It was pretty uncomfortable, but I couldn’t, in the moment, figure out any better way to handle the situation. My brain just sort of froze up with the awkwardness and unpleasantness of it all. The second I started to speak, they went very, very quiet.

      In hindsight, I could have turned around right when I realized what they were saying and chirpily babbled about how nice it was to meet fellow English speakers and were they from Australia? hey, I’m from the US!, or I could have just left the line and gone to the end (but it was a long line and I was hungry).

      Waiting in that line was one of the more uncomfortable moments in my life.

      1. SamSam

        They should be embarassed at their own cluelessness – did they really not pick up on how many people in Paris & Versailles spoke to them in English? That the people in their hotels, ticket booths, etc could converse with them? While traveling in France I never assumed mastery of English, but especially in tourist centers assumed that anyone around me could be fluent or from an English-speaking country. Sounds like they hopefully learned an important lesson.

        And for the letter writer: I would only speak up if you feel comfortable or if doing so will clear up confusion. For instance if you hear the customers discussing something they got wrong because of misunderstanding you, it sounds like it would be the right thing to try to explain in their language to make sure they understand the transaction and their options better. But no obligation…
        I’ve had a situation where I could understand enough of people speaking a romance language to get that they were confused, so I started explaining differently in English (different words, more gestures, etc)

        1. LBK

          Agreed – I’ve only visited a few places in France but everyone spoke at least conversational English. What a weird assumption that no one could understand them, and at a tourist hotspot where there’d likely be plenty of other English-speakers visiting, nonetheless.

          1. Myrin

            Right? Especially with a language like English which is, you know, a world language and not only spoken as a native language by people from all over the world but at least in Europe a mandatory language to learn at school for many years. That doesn’t mean that all or even many of these secondary speakers would understand all that much of a conversation between two native English speakers but the likelihood that there is at least someone who understands them is pretty high, as opposed to more “obscure” languages which have fewer speakers in general (and even then, really, you never know who’s behind you in a line!).

          2. Lily Rowan

            I’ve heard American tourists in the US have conversations like that, so doubt they really thought no one could understand them.

      2. Elizabeth West

        Yipes!
        I’ve never had this issue because I haven’t yet had the chance to visit a non-English speaking country. I’ve only had it with people pouncing on my accent (“You’re American! What state are you from?”). Or other Americans doing the same thing.

  11. EleanoraUK

    #1 You’re not eaves dropping. If you happen to hear something they didn’t want everyone to know, that’s really on them for assuming no one would speak their language. I’m an expat and I always try to keep in mind that while most people won’t speak my native language, that doesn’t mean I can say whatever I want, because there will be folks that understand. My general rule for myself is, if I wouldn’t say it in that particular situation in English, I probably shouldn’t say it in another language either, unless I’m willing to risk the embarrassment.

  12. Benji

    #1 I’d say that unless you can be helpful to them there’s no need to speak up. Like if they were having difficultly explaining what thy wanted and it turned out you could understand then it might help to let them know, otherwise it seems unnecessary, it’s not like you’re looking to chat.

  13. RBN Serenity

    #2: boss is a manipulative narcissist, google narcissism in the workplace and see if it fits. Bad situation, trust your gut.

  14. animaniactoo

    LW3 – you, with the most direct knowledge of the position, not just the scandal rumors and half-informed truth that the rest of the country is getting, don’t even respect the job or the institution you were doing it for. From that standpoint – why would you expect anyone else to see this and think anything good comes of it?

  15. Rae

    #1 this goes for ASL (sign language)as well. So often deaf people will assume people don’t know sign. They will not only openly have very personal conversations in public, but also not quite tactfully observe the locals. I’m far from where I grew up (near a huge deaf community-church, sports and civic events were all together) so many ASL speakers assume they have complete privacy in public. I developed my own way of saying I am no longer fluent but understand a lot. It prevents me from observing that their cousin had sex with their professor.

    1. Benji

      I’m puzzled as to why you’re watching them st all. With spoken conversations it’s not always easy to tune people out, but surely you can look away from th people conversing through sign language? Mind your own business and all that?

      1. Susan C.

        Well, once you know it beyond having to consciously work at understanding, you’d have to completely remove the conversation from your field of vision to not at least pick up fragments – and now imagine your cashier pointedly staring at the ceiling while they’re scanning your stuff. Awkward, much?

        1. OhNo

          Yeah, since ASL depends so much on line-of-sight it does have an extra level of awkward when you are trying to tune out someone’s conversation. If you’re just passing someone on the street it’s no big deal, but if you’re expected to be paying attention to them the way a salesperson would… slightly more problematic.

      2. OG OM

        When you hit the 60-70% accuracy level with ASL, it is really hard to “tune it out.” I mean, yes, you can physically walk away in the same way as with hearing conversations, but once you learn ASL, your brain wants to “listen.”

        1. Myrin

          I feel like it might be similar to reading? Like, once you’ve learned how to read at a reasonable level, you will automatically do so as soon as you see letters somewhere and you’d have to keep your eyes shut to “tune it out”.

      3. Rae

        Well, as my work in retail, part of my job description included “non obtrusive observation of customers for loss prevention” and, well, I’m not looking at people’s feet for loss prevention. So seeing certain words–like sex, masturbation, bitch, etc, can really stand out. Plus, communication via facial expression is a large part of both ASL and life. It’s not just about the sign. For instance, smiling and looking cheerful when you sign the word “happy” is a must–otherwise you are not really signing “happy” you’re just gesturing. For other words facial expression can have an even bigger impact on meaning. So unless you’re going to completely ignore ie. not look at, greet or acknowledge someone, you really can’t get around catching a word or phrase here or there. Also, keep in mind ASL is not structured like spoken English at all, so it’s far easier to get a whole bunch of information overload in only a few signs.

        1. Rae

          Well, what I’m stating is that I can sympathize with the OP who works in a very auditory based position when I ran into a visual language working in a very visually based position. And in general ASL is a very different language. My advice is based on my own experience–find a way to say you do not know the language well, and can’t really speak it, but do understand some. Coming up with this phrase, and practicing it (in the language of contention) will prevent you from forgetting it in awkward situations. I worked on a college campus with ESL (English Second Language) classes and I would say to the patrons, “You speak (Spanish/Portuguese/Vietnamese)? I only know my numbers and colors, I need your class schedule to help find your books” I practiced that over and over and over. The patrons LOVED it. Many remarked to their teachers (who then told me) they felt so happy about being spoken to in their language. They loved correcting my pronunciation of the colors/numbers or telling me new ones. I was told by the student worker who was a native speaker of Spanish, they almost never said rude things in their native languages about the store if they thought I might know what they were saying. (he was usually in the back room out of sight, I had to be up front because only full time workers could process book vouchers).

          But basically, I believe people deserve to know you what they are saying, and often monitor themselves.

          1. neverjaunty

            “People deserve to know you know what they’re saying” rests on the assumption that people have a right to assume nobody else shares their language, and to have public conversations treated as if they were private. That doesn’t seem like a very wise assumption.

            It also doesn’t seem fair to put the burden of that assumption on others – “If I foolishly assumed you didn’t ‘look Deaf’, then it’s on YOU to correct that for me!”

            1. Rae

              Well, in general, as an employee my job is to make them feel comfortable and happy in my store, not to make them unduly embarrassed. I wish them to return to my store and by being upfront with the basics, that builds trust rather than say, acknowledging my knowledge months or years down the road.

      4. SystemsLady

        The human brain naturally tries to gather as much information as it can from its surroundings. It’s why people naturally feel annoyed when they hear a conversation in a language they don’t understand, and why it’s hard to pull your mind away from a conversation happening right behind you. In the case of ASL, I imagine it’s like when your neighbor on an airplane is reading or playing a game, and you keep feeling your eyes drifting in the direction of what they’re interacting with.

        It’s polite to suppress annoyance generated by hearing things you don’t understand, to pretend you aren’t listening, to pull yourself away when you notice yourself looking rudely, and not to “store” that information, but it’s our human curse that we often see and hear these things behind the curtain of politeness we put out.

  16. Newish Reader

    #2: I wonder if your boss is new to managing and is trying to do her job well but going about it in a less than ideal way. She may be attempting to get the full scope for what your coworker has told her to determine if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s smart for a manager to try to get all sides of a situation when one employee brings her a vent/complaint/issue. But asking you to vent isn’t the right way to go about it.

    As I read the letter, I was curious what the underlying issue is that the coworker brought to the manager’s attention. It’s noted it has to do with differing training methods for each person. That in and of itself may not be problematic. But is the coworker concerned that the work is being performed differently and is causing issues – lack of consistency to customers, rework on her part for aspects that impact her, etc.

    Assuming there aren’t any other issues with your manager and also assuming she’s new to managing, I might cut her some slack initially. One thing that could be done is to go back to the manager and tell you you’ve given the conversation more thought and you want to discuss the specific concerns related to why the different training methods might have resulted in differences in work. The ultimate goal isn’t to dissect or second guess why the training was different, but ensure that all three of you are on the same page now for work output and quality. If it’s not consistent or the desired outcome, what are the strategies to reach alignment? These are the questions and issues the manager probably should have brought up in the initial conversation, but it’s possible you could do that now, if you think it would be helpful and you’re comfortable approaching her with that.

  17. JoJo

    What gets to me about ITT is that they charged $45,000 for an Associate’s Degree, while the local Community College charges about $7,000 for the same degree.

    1. Heina

      I once tutored someone at Arogsy, another for-profit, and was shocked by how much they charge per course. I told him he ought to fill out FAFSA and go the JC/CC route, but the sunk cost fallacy won out. I felt bad for him.

    2. Michaela T

      Yup. BF went to ITT when he got out of the Air Force, maybe 15 years ago? Still paying his Associate’s Degree off.

  18. Person of Interest

    #2 – I sympathize. Our company is going through some tough times and every time I meet with my supervisor she asks me how I’m feeling about things. I never quite know how honest to be about that! I try to limit to constructive venting – things she might need to know as a leader, or in terms of how to help me stay effective, but sometimes I really want to go all out! My rule of thumb in these kinds of situations is that even when venting, I never say to a coworker anything that I wouldn’t say directly to my supervisor or to the person about whom I’m speaking. If it ever came back to me “Hey, I heard you said such-and-such about so-and-so, I’d want to be able to say, “Yup, I sure did, and here’s why…” Sort of akin to the rule, don’t put in an email what you wouldn’t say out loud to a person.

  19. crazy8s

    #5–technically the organization is not required to hold your job open for you. I think some of the posters here do not understand that. Your employer may be accommodating your absence from work–that’s great, and I think they should–but you do not have any legally enforceable “right’ to a leave, whether paid or unpaid.
    However, they can’t ask you to work for free. This is a violation of labor laws. What you run the risk of is for them to issue you a “return to work” demand, to come back to your position. They could do that. I mention this only so you can make your decisions based on good information. I had a friend who was in a similar position, and when she told them she either needed to be paid for the time she was “working” while she was out, or they needed to stop calling her, they basically called her bluff and told her to return to work.

    1. Katie F

      That’s horrible. We need mandated parental/medical leave so badly in this country. So many people end up crushed by the “Well, we don’t HAVE to do what FMLA says” argument.

      1. PolarBear

        That’s shocking :(

        In the UK we get a year off – from memory it’s 90% of full pay for 6 weeks. Then £140 a week for 33 weeks. Many workplaces do pay more though and top up the minimum – my current job is 6 weeks full pay then 6 weeks half pay then the £140 a week.

        Many jobs pay way more – especially public sector jobs – such as 3 months full pay and 3 months half pay.

        Our sick pay is less generous. Statutory sick pay is £88 a week but again, many companies have their own polices. My current workplace is only 1 month full pay and one month half pay a year but I’ve worked in the public sector and other companies where they pay 6 months full and 6 months half!

    2. SystemsLady

      Yup. I work at a company with more than 50 employees, but only some number in the high 40s who live within 75 miles from the office. We also have a manager in another department who’s infamous for shifting around people he doesn’t like/thinks are paid too much, hoping they quit. Several people under his management who needed major surgery came back to find themselves in an entirely different field.

      At least our state basically requires FMLA for the specific case of pregnancy, excepting only very, very small businesses (I think it covers spouses as well).

    3. CMT

      Is that because the employer is small enough not to be covered by FMLA, or are there other laws (or lack thereof) in play here too?

  20. OG OM

    If you would be working from home, returning for one or two afternoons a week before your planned leave is up is not the worst compromise to offer. This creates about 7-8 hours a week compensated when you are open for questions. Or even it gives your coworkers the option of emailing you whenever something comes up, but makes sure they understand you will only respond during those time periods. It also gives you a chance to ease back into working with a kid and will ensure you’re not completely out of the loop in terms of what is going on at the office, but also gives you a clear boundary to point to when people put you an awkward position. You can “I totally can help you with this…during my part time hours XYZ. I will return to full time on DATE.”

    1. hermit crab

      I have a coworker right now who is doing exactly this! The arrangement seems to be working out well for everyone.

    2. 2 Cents

      In the meantime, especially if you’re able to ease back in like this, I’d stop answering all questions and go dark (after letting them know). Remove your email from your phone, route all work emails to a different inbox if you have to. Now is the time to recover from a major medical event and to be with your baby.

  21. Minnesota

    #5: If you are willing to spend an hour a day checking email and answering questions, I recommend that you simply advise your employer that you will be keeping track of the time that you work while on leave and that they can either compensate you for it (at your normal rate or some different rate) or provide you with comp time/vacation time in lieu of cash. As a parent of four, extra time off is always a useful thing once you start back at work and it might give them an easy solution that would satisfy you as well.

  22. Onomatopoeia

    #1 So I have a different spin/question about this. I speak and understand Russian fluently and understand conversational French. I work in hospitality so this sometimes becomes an asset, but I only utilize it if I can tell the customer is struggling with English (I’m in the US). However, what’s the best way to go if the customers say something rude/impolite about you in their native language? I’ve only had this happen two times in my life and both times I just said the next sentence in their language with a smile and continued assisting them. As far as Im concerned there shouldn’t be an expectation of privacy in a public space, especially directly in front of a person just because you’re speaking another language. I’ve thought about asking from the get-go if they speak a particular language since I can see their last names, but for example people with Slavic-sounding last names can be from Bulgaria/Poland/etc and it seems impolite to assume they’re Russian from the get go.

    1. Nanani

      The way your handling it sounds great.
      It’s how I’ve handled similar situations myself.

      Turn the awkward rudeness back on them, but not to the point that they feel they must leave ;)

    2. Whats In A Name

      I think you can keep going on as you are. It’s fantastic in fact.

      And PS: sorry that’s happened to you

    3. all aboard the anon train

      It’s also impolite to assume or ask if someone speaks a particular language because of their last name. As discussed above, someone’s last name doesn’t automatically mean they speak that language.

      And as someone with a Polish last name and who speaks Polish, it’s going to annoy me if you assume I’m Russian.

      That said, if someone says something rude/impolite about you in their native language, I would say something in that language if I also spoke it fluently. Just like I would do if someone insulted me in English.

  23. mistersquawk

    This is only very tangentially related to the ITT Tech question, so someone let me know if I should save it for the weekend open discussion, but what is the general feeling toward graduates of/degrees from Southern New Hampshire University?

    They’re not the same as ITT Tech at all, but since they’re primarily online and occasionally advertise nationally I’m afraid they’re perceived that way.

    1. Natalie

      I wouldn’t worry about it, the problem isn’t the online nature. I’m not even sure whether ITT Tech was online or bricks-and-mortar. The issues with ITT Tech stemmed from them being a *for-profit* college, which Southern New Hampshire University is not.

    2. Temperance

      I’ve heard that they aren’t seen as competitive/prestigious in the way that a brick-and-mortar nonprofit college would be. Kind of like University of Phoenix.

      1. mistersquawk

        They are a brick-and-mortar nonprofit, though. They just have a huge online enrollment, too.

        I’ve personally gotten varied responses. My work approves of enough to pay for me to go there, but people in general often hear “online classes” and roll their eyes or outright say that’s not a real school.

        I’m just wondering what might happen when I take this degree on my resume to a new job. Luckily I’ll also have a few years of experience by the time that happens.

    3. Anon for this

      As a native Masshole, because SNHU has a brick and mortar (and was formerly New Hampshire College! mostly for accounting and…something else, I don’t remember), I would think nothing unusual of it. Just another small New England college. As an alum of a college within the UNH system, I know SNHU isn’t part of UNH, but again, that isn’t indicative of an inherent problem.

    4. Also Anon for this

      Let’s not forget that that SNHU also has worked to ensure that all colleges are held to certain standards (level of education, graduation rate, job placement rate) brick and mortar or not. ITT Tech closed because they aren’t meeting the standards….like the basic, students need to master 40% of accredited curriculum material, graduate at least 30% rate, and have degree related employment at least 10%. SNHU is pushing for much higher rates than that.

  24. overcaffeinatedqueer

    Yeah, don’t assume language understanding or not. I speak fluent German (bilingual since birth but grew up in the US- Mom was a German teacher). She also sent me to German language immersion camp as a kid several times- it was basically like living in a small German village, down to food and architecture.

    Anyway, one day my language group of about 12 took a trip to a nearby state park, with the proviso of “only speak German, whether in the camp or not.” I was 14 or 15. We got there and had a great time. While resting on a trail, a guy with this huge ugly straw sun hat walked up by us. I mean, huge honking bright and awful!

    I nudged a friend and said, “Look, what an ugly hat…no, don’t point!” In German. In my defense, German was really rare in my hometown, and mom would often use German to gossip and such and bank on others not understanding.

    The guy said, in German, looking affronted, “I quite like this hat, thanks!”

    1. Tau

      My mother tells me that not long after we moved to the US, there was an Incident involving me (around five-six years old at that point) pointing at a man on the street and saying, loudly, in German: “Look, that man is really fat!”

      He spoke German. And was not amused.

      I don’t remember this at all (repression?) but it’s definitely left lasting scars in that I am completely unwilling to assume anyone doesn’t speak German. So your friend told you three months ago that they speak no German whatsoever? Well, maybe they’ve got addicted to Duolingo since then! You just don’t know!

    2. OP #1 (aeldest)

      Was it Waldsee? I went there for a few summers too!

      That’s hilarious though.

      My dad and I had a rule that we would only speak German to each other when we went to restaurants, and sometimes if the rest of my family was there we’d pretend to be insulting them but actually be saying complimentary things (e.g. “Haha, Axel is so klug und gutaussehend” but in an insulting tone).

      1. overcaffeinatedqueer

        Yes, that! I went in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2005. Always in the most advanced group due to fluency.

        It kind of sucked missing the 4th of July for it though! I always went for the two weeks from the 4th to mid July and their idea was “well, Germans don’t do the 4th and so we don’t either!”

  25. Nanani

    1. I’ve been on both sides of this in more than one language and I don’t think there is any one right way to handle it. Just go by what feels right. In your position (providing a service) maybe completing the transaction in English is best, but throw in a farewell in their language afterward?
    Or something like “were you speaking (language)?” in that language and tell them you are studying it so they don’t assume you’re fluent.

    It might help to remember that for a lot of linguistic minorities, finding someone else who speaks their language, especially when its a required interaction, is a BIG PLUS and might make them more inclined to come back for your service in the future. It’s highly unlikely to be seen as an intrusion :)

    Also, you could maybe try and brush up on those languages specifically in terms of scripts for your position?
    I interpreted letter 1 as being in a customer service type role, so if you can drill vocabulary for your field and memorize common question/answer pairs, you can then bust those out with the relevant customers.
    Yes it’s extra work and no you don’t have to do it, but the dividends in customer retention could be huge.
    (Unless your field is inherently transient maybe, like tourist information booths)

    1. OhNo

      I think mentioning that you are studying the language (whether or not it’s true) is a great way to get around the expected fluency issue. Another thing that might help would be to ask in English if they were speaking a particular language. That usually comes a cross as a pretty good indication of “I know this language, but am more comfortable speaking in English”.

    1. KR

      I’m not sure if you’re referring to SNHU (Southern New Hampshire University) but I can assure you that it’s definitely a real and very good private school. Not at all like a “for-profit” college or university. (I put for profit in parenthesis because really, even public institutions charge exorbant amounts of money for tuition and I doubt it all goes back to the students.)

      1. Emmie

        I often see tuition cost as one of the criticisms of the for-profits. Yet, the cost of private university and of professional education (like law with horrible career outcomes) is equally absurd.

        1. Natalie

          Private colleges do generally publish a high sticker price, but for many students (particularly the low-income and otherwise disadvantaged students that for-profit colleges target) the sticker price isn’t anywhere close to what they will pay. Many private colleges provide substantial amounts of institutional aid above & beyond federal aid. I went to a private college; practically no one paid full-freight. I have no idea why they don’t just lower their official tuition level, but I assume there is some kind of logic behind it.

          (Comparing professional school tuition is completely apples and oranges. Although FWIW there are now for-profit law schools that are *even worse* than the non-profits, with abysmal bar pass rates to boot.)

    2. Emmie

      It depends on who is looking at the degree. A lot of people lump U of Phoenix in with the for-profits like ITT, and Everest b/c it is a for-profit university. U of P has regional accreditation like SNHU; however, it is still lumped in the for-profits. Southern New Hampshire, and Arizona State University have online programs that have a stronger reputation – in my experience – b/c they are affiliated with traditional non-profit schools. The for profits have a bad reputation b/c of the enrollment pressure, the apparent instructional or educational quality, alleged misleading marketing practices, and allegations that career outcomes were inflated.

        1. mistersquawk

          I can tell you it is difficult. I feel like I’m held to a very high standard in my online SNHU classes. This is for my master’s degree, so I have some perspective from my own undergrad which I attended in physical space. The professors vary as far as teaching quality, as in any program at most any school, but I feel like I’m getting a very good education.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      University of Phoenix is looked down upon and not considered academically strong. Some employers will not hire you with a U of Phoenix degree on your resume.

  26. Dust Bunny

    Re: Venting.

    This would make me super uncomfortable. Maybe she’s just looking for more information, but maybe she’s hoping I’ll rat out my coworkers and make either them or myself look bad, or have ammunition to play us against each other.

    1. Beancounter in Texas

      It’s a red flag to me that the boss shares a vent to the OP about the OP that a coworker told her, and then solicits vents from the OP. Uh, NO. Mayhaps her intentions are good, but she certainly isn’t phrasing it positively.

  27. Muriel Heslop

    My native language is English, but I am conversational in Spanish and can limp along in French. I also understand some Italian. I’ve learned to say “I understand (insert language) better than I can speak it” in all three languages so people know I can understand much of what they are saying. (For most people receptive language skills develop before expressive language.) As a teacher, this is especially helpful. I conduct a lot of parent conferences in Spanish/Spanglish and it works out fine as long the parent know I can understand what they are saying but won’t be able to respond with fluency.

    *To those saying the US doesn’t have a national language: that is constitutionally true. But our schools provide primary instruction in English, and that creates a de facto language of its own. I am not saying this is they way it should be, only that it’s the way it is.

    1. Beancounter in Texas

      A fellow student at college married a German national, and she transferred to our school. Before her performance of her senior recital, her parents and their son-in-law were having a dual language conversation. I thought it was a brilliant way to communicate – they’d speak German and he understood, and he’d speak English, and they understood.

      The couple moved to Germany after graduation and he works in the publication department of an automaker, editing the English portion of the manual.

    2. matcha123

      The US has a number of national languages, such as Creole, Hawaiian Pidgin and Spanish. We do not have an official language.

    3. neverjaunty

      English is the de facto national language, but it’s not the official national language, and in many places it isn’t even the primary language.

    4. Loose Seal

      I read somewhere that the Queens, NY school system has 150 languages spoken in it. The school system in my very, very rural county in Georgia speaks English and Spanish, as in you can’t be hired to work or teach there if you aren’t bilingual in those languages. So just because English is the primary language in school where you live, I don’t think you can apply that to everywhere in the U.S.

  28. Rebecca

    #1 – my daughter had a part time job at a big box store, and I’d say most of the people who live in our rural area speak only English. She was working checkout, and a small group of people went through her line, speaking a foreign language she had taken in high school for several years. They were discussing stealing items from the store, laughing about it, etc. When she greeted them, she spoke in that language and smiled. They realized she could understand them, quickly paid, and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. She said she wished she could have snapped a picture of their facial expressions.

    1. Heina

      My uncle is a realtor and, like me, doesn’t immediately seem to be of our ethnicity even to people who share it. He uses that to his advantage. For example, he was showing houses to a married couple when one told the other “I definitely want this one” in what she thought was secret code, but he understood and so was able to confidently keep the price high. Your daughter might find similar opportunities someday.

    2. Katie F

      I speak a little Spanish and actually understand a lot more, and when I worked at a ladies-oriented clothing store years and years ago, I had a group of women come through who were mocking a coworker of mine who was busy setting up new displays on the floor. Making fun of her hair color, the way she looked and talked, etc, all in Spanish, clearly assuming no one else could understand them.

      When they got up to me (they had been behind someone else I was checking out, so it took a second), I said to them, “That’s not very nice to say, she’s really great,” in Spanish. (Halted and stumbling Spanish, granted, but it got the point across)

      Their faces went totally ashen. They mumbled an apology and the rest of the transaction was made in complete silence before leaving as fast as they could.

  29. matcha123

    I speak Japanese and Korean. I’ve eavesdropped on plenty of conversations when I am back in the US…
    Heck, I do it when I’m in Japan or Korea. Do you worry if you hear a conversation in your native language? Unless they specifically reference you, there’s no need to let them know you understand what they are saying.

  30. happymeal

    #4 – this gives me more pause about your candidacy than the actions the employer is doing. We’ve often hired subordinates first because HR knows what fits within the culture and organization. Someone looking to “hire their own” is usually inflexible and not good at acclimating to company culture.

    1. Natalie

      You’re making an unsupported leap there – wanting to have a say over the hiring of your staff doesn’t necessarily mean you want to bring in your own team (“hire your own”).

  31. MM

    Not related to the post, but I have to say that the advertisements here are becoming prohibitively obtrusive on a mobile browser. I like to read AAM on my phone during my lunch break and lately I haven’t been able to because of ads popping up and redirecting me to other sites.

    1. Stuck in Ad H*ll

      Same. I’ve been getting caught in endless re-direct loops. Most days I don’t get a chance to read from a real computer and I give up after a few attempts on mobile…

  32. Heina

    #1 is hilariously relevant to me right now. I just started a job where a lot of people speak Hindi and some speak Gujarati but none of them immediately picked up on the fact that I’m of Gujarati Indian origin (I understand Hindi fairly well but don’t speak it well at all, while my Gujarati is a bit better). I’ve always known that my looks read racially ambivalent despite the fact that both sides of my family are from the same ancestral village in Gujarat, but I had no idea that my name doesn’t jump out as Indian to Indians from India — or at least the ones that work here.

    1. Loose Seal

      Not the OP but there are other families than mother + new baby. Perhaps the people who work there have had great support for their family obligations up until now. I’d hate for the standard for “family friendly” be that they pay maternity leave. For one, I’ll never use that benefit (and yet, somehow, I have a family too) and two, many small businesses would never be considered family friendly if that were the only criteria.

    2. Katie F

      I think she’s referencing the remote workforce and flexible scheduling as being aspects of her job she feels are “family friendly” and frankly, flexible scheduling alone can go a LONG WAY towards making being a parent and also an employee much more doable. The lack of paid maternity leave sucks, granted – I work for a small business that just had to create a maternity leave policy for the first time because of my pregnancy (he’s only had either male employees or women who had already done all their child-having before tehy were hired by him in the past) and I receive four weeks paid. Despite not being bound by FMLA, he also offered me another 8 weeks unpaid to get me the full 12 that FMLA would cover.

      While only four weeks paid seems paltry, it’s far more than nearly any other small business is willing or able to do in many cases, and I’d call this job insanely family-friendly because they have flexible scheduling, paid vacation, and are very much a “if the work gets done, we don’t care when you do it” kind of location.

  33. MD

    #1: I cant speak to this from a business sense, but from personal experience, unless they are making definitively insulting comments about me or my family in another language, I just let it be. If they are making those comments, I usually respond by repeating what they say, in English. It shows that i understand them and don’t take kindly to what they are saying. Maybe a little passive-aggressively……

  34. Dip-lo-mat

    Re: AD government position. If the state’s hiring system is like the federal government’s, you don’t always have the luxury of holding and waiting to hire. The fiscal year, hiring guidelines, etc., may be limiting factors. It might not be a control issue.

  35. anncakes

    Re: #1 – it’s definitely not rude to not say anything and to pretend you didn’t hear or understand anything. There are some situations where it would be helpful to speak up and let the customer know you have at least some command of their language, but it depends entirely on what’s going on.

    I’m multilingual, and this has come up repeatedly at work. Most of the time, it was fine to just continue in English until maybe I’d use a term they didn’t understand, and then I’d let them know that I speak Spanish or whatever and that the term means XYZ. Otherwise, I let the customer lead the conversation. I’ve had people ask me if I speak Spanish and they make it clear they’d like to switch. Or if they seem to be struggling, I’ll bring it up. In another case, a client noticed I pronounced her pet’s Slavic name properly and asked me in English if I spoke the language. Since she didn’t switch, I stuck to English, and when we parted ways, she used her native greeting, and I responded in that language.

    You do get awkward situations, though, and you just do the best you can. I once had a mother and son pair of clients. Mother spoke almost only one language, and the son was bilingual in that language and English. He did most of the communicating, but the mother stuck to her language and would chime in. I’d respond to what both of them were saying, but in English because the son was driving the conversation, and I got the sense they didn’t want me to switch. Anyway, I was assessing the dog. I took his temperature in his ear, and as soon as I was done, the mother said in that language, “Wow, why didn’t he bite her? He always bites people who touch his head.” By that point, she already knew I understood what she was saying but she said that anyway as if I didn’t. THANKS FOR THE WARNING, MA’AM.

    I’ve also got stories about traveling and being out and encountering people making rude and obnoxious remarks they think I can’t understand, but I think dealing with these issues in the workplace has the potential to be even more awkward and is more difficult to navigate.

    1. SystemsLady

      My worst experience with switching not being helpful was reserving a Shinkansen spot with my JR Pass in Tokyo.

      The attendant seemed to have a similar level of English to my level of Japanese. We could both get the basics in both languages, but we both forgot the opposite word for “smoking car” and one or two other specifics. Those were painfully awkward to work out (it was one situation where seeing it written in kanji would’ve been easier for me!).

  36. Language Lover

    #3 I don’t have any good advice except I feel for you as I’m in a similar position. When I was first starting out in my career change and in need of experience, I worked for a for profit academic institution before they attracted as much controversy as they do today. I wasn’t involved in recruiting or admissions and what I personally saw on a day-to-day basis was a commitment to student education.

    I eventually left and the school has recently been the target of investigations. Some fraudulent practices have been revealed–practices I didn’t witness nor would have been in the position to witness–but the school has gone from one with a neutral reputation to one of the “bad actors.”

    Like you, I struggle with whether or not to include it on my resume. Unlike you, it was full time. To leave it off would mean a gap of a few years on my resume. To put it on could make future employers focus more on the school’s reputation rather than the work I did there. (Which is pretty much the same wherever I’d work from public schools to non-profit private schools.)

  37. jaxon

    Ugh at #4, I once started a job and discovered that my assistant had been hired by another staff member a month before my start date. The assistant was probably being interviewed at the exact same time I was. It made no sense. The assistant was lovely and a good worker but in many ways not right for the job and I never would have hired her.

  38. SystemsLady

    OP1: I am in a similar situation with Japanese and French (I have two clients who are Japanese-owned, one who frequently has Japanese side involvement in projects, and another with some French presence).

    One reason I would lean toward not going out of your way to proactively disclose, and emphasizing you’re intermediate at best if you do, is that business norms are very different between countries. It could change a context where you might be forgiven for slipping up into one where it would damage your reputation to do so, similar to how you’ve noticed people getting disappointed when you aren’t as fluent as they’d like.

    Now if it’s early in the conversation and you can tell they’re talking about you or your company when they swap languages, that might be the time to say something like “Hey, I once learned a bit of [language] and it’s possible I might understand bits and pieces of your conversation. If you ever need me to step out for a bit let me know.”

    I’ve never had to, fortunately. Pretty much the only benefit I’ve reaped is knowing Japanese technical experts sitting at a station I set up were making positive comments and were excited about the thing they made, not snarking about what I set up. Or even commenting on it at all, really.

    I ended up casually bringing up the anecdote to somebody there who wasn’t a Japanese speaker, but made it clear my capabilities weren’t business level.

  39. CMT

    #4 In the state government I work for, if you don’t fill a vacant position quickly enough, they’ll eliminate it. If this scenario had played out here, I would have assumed it was due to timing. But Alison’s suggestion to ask about future hires is excellent.

  40. Oryx

    #3, you have my sympathy. ExJob was at a for-profit college (although a couple of years ago they went through some big hoopla to get switched to non-profit to separate themselves those “other schools” even though day-to-day operations nothing changed at all) but luckily it’s small enough, at least in this region, that it doesn’t come with the tainted name that some of our competitors did and it never effected my job prospects: I even landed an in-person interview at a well respected university with that on my resume.

    But because of everything going on, I’d suggest taking it off. The name is too well-known at this point.

  41. Xarcady

    #4. I just interviewed for a non-supervisory position. It’s at a company that I’ve temped for a lot in the past two years, for a completely new service they are going to be offering.

    They are creating a team composed of some existing employees and a few new hires–the senior person on the project is going to be a new hire. But this service is seasonal, and they have a very tight deadline to get it up and running in time, so the new manager-to-be’s boss is doing the interviewing and hiring for all the open positions.

    It’s not ideal. It was odd interviewing and not getting to meet with the person who would be supervising me. But they have to get a functioning team in place by October 1, even if the senior project manager hasn’t been hired yet. The big boss will be handling that role until that position has been filled.

  42. TJH

    #1 I’m super late to the party but I want to add in my 2 cents (I’m also the Former Nail Technician Who Happens To Be Vietnamese-American above lol)
    I definitely can relate to having an ear for accents since when I asked people or customers [in X language if they speak X language] they always assumes I’m fluent. But I’ve never encountered the disappointment when I told them sorry, I don’t speak it fluently and to please slow down. If anything they were always so happy to have someone willing to try to talk to them in their native tongue.

    Don’t ever feel badly for being able to understand other languages. My BF is always jealous that I am fluent in Vietnamese and can understand basic French and Spanish; to me, it’s just me knowing what I know and I don’t really consider it to be any special skills. It’s actually something most people in the States cannot do and wish they can, at least according to my BF. :)

  43. Yes, I do know what you're saying

    OP #1: I never comment that can to some extent speak the language unless the people a) clearly struggle in English when they address me, or b) are actively insulting me in front of me (this happened once, and the woman’s reaction was priceless). Otherwise it’s like another conversation you happen to hear in a public area, you’re not eavesdropping unless you’re trying to listen in.

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