employee’s weird email about a coworker, job wants people who enjoy jokes made at their expense, and more

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

1. Employee sent a weird email asking if her coworker could leave early

I’m the director of a small nonprofit and I just received an email from a staff member that I find bizarre. The employee, Phyllis, sent this email to me and other staff who would be working with Pam on the evening in question:

“My son and I arranged to take Pam to the movies this week, but I forgot it is an evening she closes. I’m not sure if she is forward enough to ask for permission to leave early, so I am doing so on her behalf. I know this is awkward, but I don’t think she gets out much, and she hinted that she would like to go with us. If any of you see an issue with the suggested arrangement, please let me know.”

Is it just me, or is this super inappropriate? Pam has not addressed this with me, and in all honesty, staff could close without her that evening. But I still feel like I should have a conversation with Phyllis regarding — I don’t even know — professionalism, overstepping, appropriate timing of and reasons for requesting off … all of the above?

Yeah, that’s weird on several fronts. For starters:
* “I’m not sure if she’s forward enough to ask for permission to leave early” — it’s not forward to ask to leave early on occasion. It is forward to send this email on someone else’s behalf though.
* “I don’t think she gets out much” — WTF?
* “She hinted that she would like to go with us” — Either she does or she doesn’t, and it’s up to Pam herself, not someone taking it upon herself to make plans on her behalf.

If Pam wants to leave early, she can arrange to leave early. It’s overstepping for Phyllis to try to coordinate Pam’s work schedule for her, and her message undermines Pam, whether she meant it to or not.

So yeah, I’d talk with Phyllis. Let her know that Pam is welcome to talk with you about changing her schedule, but letting employees asking on behalf of others can cause all sorts of problems and people need to be able to control their own schedules. You could also point out that the message sounded disparaging of Pam, and ask her to re-read it from that perspective.

2. Ad wants people who can laugh at jokes made at their expense

I recently graduated from graduate school and have been applying for jobs in my field. One of the job postings on my school job board included this description (company title changed): “[Acme Co.] provides top-flight services while valuing people who like to engage with colleagues, laugh at a joke (even at their own expense), and thrive by being a part of a team.”

What do you make of the “laugh at jokes at your own expense” language? It seems like really bizarre language to me.

Yes, that’s odd! What’s going on at this company that this has made its way into a job ad? Who will be making all these jokes at your expense, and why, and why do they put such a premium on you enjoying it?

It’s possible that it means nothing at all — it could be badly written boilerplate that just means “we joke around” and no one caught that it’s coming across like “we’re jerks.” Sometimes weird stuff makes its way into ads and doesn’t actually mean much. Sometimes it’s an overreaction to one isolated problem that’s unlikely to recur again (like their last hire took offense at even the mildest of humor and they’re overcompensating without realizing how weird it sounds). But it’s odd, and you’re right to find it odd. Please interview there and report back.

3. I’m shy about speaking a new language with coworkers who are native speakers

I just started an exciting new job after three years of working in a toxic environment — hooray! I plan to spend a lot of time working on rebuilding my confidence and trusting myself again, as my old job kind of clobbered those things out of me. All of my new coworkers have been really great so far, and I’m feeling optimistic about the future.

However, the vast majority of the employees at New Job are from another country, where English is not the native language (let’s call it Dothraki). This was one of the things that attracted me to the job, because I studied Dothraki for a time and have a personal interest in the country. My work is done entirely in English, but my knowledge of Dothraki does help a lot.

As you might expect, my coworkers speak Dothraki to one another throughout the day. I can understand bits and pieces, but often not whole conversations. So I’ve been doing a ton of Duolingo and reading Dothraki newspapers and such, hoping to beef up my vocabulary so that my listening comprehension will improve.

The thing is, I’m a naturally shy person who’s only just learning how to trust people in work environments again. And I can’t get myself to speak Dothraki to anybody. Though my coworkers know I have some knowledge of the language, they only speak English to me, and I only speak English back. I’ve always been nervous about practicing languages (and making mistakes) with native speakers, so this is not entirely a new feeling. But when I got the job, I had kind of assumed I would be able to improve my language skills in this way and use them to build rapport with my new coworkers. I’ve been really disappointed in myself that I just … haven’t.

And now it almost feels too late. I’ve been working here for several weeks, and I feel like it would be really weird for me to suddenly bust out my intermediate-level, grammatically challenged Dothraki in the middle of lunch or something. Plus, I’m still getting to know my coworkers, and I’m shy. They’ve all been great, but I don’t know if I feel ready to do that yet. But then again, will I ever feel ready? I don’t know!

Would love any advice, although I suspect the answer might just be “grit your teeth, do it, and don’t worry so much about looking stupid.”

Why not tell some of the coworkers you feel most comfortable with that you’d be grateful for a chance to speak the language with them? By declaring yourself publicly like that, you’ll make it harder to backtrack and not follow through (plus, if you see enthusiastic reactions from them, it might help you feel less shy about it).

You can also ask in the moment when someone’s talking to you — “do you mind if I answer in Dothraki? I’m trying to get better.” You don’t need to ask that — you could just plunge in — but I suspect you might feel more comfortable if you preface it that way. Alternately, you can just plunge in! (Depending on where your skills are at, it might make sense to do this in social conversations rather than work ones, since efficiency likely matters more in the latter.)

It might help to think about how you’d feel if the roles were reversed and a non-native speaker of English practiced their English in conversations with you. You’d probably be happy to help and supportive of them doing it, and it’s very likely that your coworkers — who have been great so far — will feel the same.

4. What to say to an awful boss when you’re quitting without another job lined up

I have a question on what to tell your boss when you’re resigning without another job lined up. My toxic boss and terrible company culture have shaken my confidence and mental health, and my job hunt while working there has been unsuccessful. Although I am nervous to quit without knowing where my next paycheck is coming from, I am feeling it’s the only way to move forward.

I know from past employees’ experience that our boss will be very angry, demand explanations, try to make me extend my notice, and make my life miserable for my remaining time there. It definitely would not serve me well to be honest with them about why I am leaving. What can I say to avoid being interrogated and pressured to stay longer?

One option is to say you have a family emergency that will need a lot of your attention for a while, and you’re leaving to focus on that. (It’s true! You are the family emergency!) If he pressures you for longer notice, this has the advantage of letting you shake your head sadly and say, “I wish I could. Unfortunately I need to focus on my family as soon as possible.” If pushed: “It’s not an option. My last day will have to be X.”

With a boss like this, most of the challenge of resigning and getting through your notice period is simply holding firm. He can push and pressure all he wants, but he doesn’t have the power to make you give in. In fact, once you give your notice, he’ll have less power over you than ever before; keep saying no and you’ll be fine.

Also, read these:

manager is angry that I’m only giving two weeks notice

update about the boss who’s angry over two weeks notice

since I gave notice at work, my boss has tripled my workload

how do I resign when my boss is a horrible person who will yell and insult me?

5. Is my boss signaling it’s time for me to move on?

I have been at the same small employer for a decade now and have had two promotions. Right before the pandemic started, I asked for a raise and was told that the retiring CEO decided to not give anyone a raise (aside from an annual COLA) and to let the new CEO make all those decisions.

During the pandemic, I’ve been a key team member to enable our success and have been the go-to person for many tasks. At my annual review this year my boss told me I met or exceeded all expectations and that my work was critical to our success this past year. I asked again about a raise and my boss told me she has not yet been given instructions on what kinds of pay changes she is allowed to make from the new CEO. I know that we are financially very sound due to the work I have been doing during the pandemic.

When I first joined the company, I was told by the former CEO that my job would be a great stepping stone to something. I think most other employees thought the same about me and my role. Is my boss now “telling” me that it is time to move on? Or should I keep pressing for a raise? I like what I do, but feel like I am severely under-compensated.

I think you’re asking the wrong question! I don’t see any reason to think your boss is telling you it’s time to move on; if she were, it’s unlikely that she would have stressed how critical your work was to their success this past year, and she probably would have said something that sounds more like “it’s time to move on” (like “you’ve done all you can do in this role” or “I think the needs of the job are changing”). Instead, the question to ask is whether she’s giving you the run-around on a raise, and whether you’ll be able to be paid fairly there, at least without a ton of hassle and angst.

She might not be giving you the run-around! It can be true that an outgoing CEO might feel they should leave pay questions to their replacement, and it could be true that the new CEO hasn’t made any decisions in that regard yet. But you’re entitled to push for an answer, or at least a timeline on getting you an answer. You could say, “I appreciate that the new CEO is getting her bearings. This is a strong priority for me, since I’ve found I’m severely under-paid for the market. I like my job and want to stay, but it’s important to me that my salary reflect my contributions and be more in line with the market. Can you let me know the likely timeline for addressing it?” If she says she doesn’t know, ask if she can find out and let you know.

If you just get vague, non-committal answers (and assuming the new CEO didn’t just start work yesterday), that’s a sign you might need to look elsewhere to get paid what you’re worth. But I don’t see any “you should move on” signals coming from your boss.

{ 484 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    All: LW3 has explained repeatedly below that she’s not looking to have her coworkers tutor her for free, balance of privilege is not an issue in this situation (she says the language is comparable to Finnish), the environment is heavily Dothraki-speaking and all responses to her attempts so far have been very strongly positive. Please move on from those issues.

  2. Venus*

    Find someone that you think could have a good chat with you, and start with them. I like to practice another language with coworkers, but do so with specific ones that I know and trust to be supportive when I say “What is that word?” or I get something wrong

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Years ago I took language classes and I also didn’t have much confidence in my skills. With my co-workers, I started slowly by greeting everyone in Dothraki and asking about their weekend plans or even the weather. This kept the learning curve light and it was easier for people to respond if there was no pressure for full comprehension than if the topic was work-related.

      1. hbc*

        I agree, starting with greetings and limited-scope transactions was also the way to go for me. I’ve never been comfortable entering into random chat in a second language, but building on canned phrases helped me get better, and then I slowly expanded my selection of cans. One of my earliest successes was checking out of the grocery store entirely in the language, because a cashier usually has a pretty predictable set of questions.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes my local cafe is operated by an Italian gentleman from Sicily. I don’t speak much Italian beyond greetings but we have over time expanded the number of phrases to cover the whole ordering process from end to end and a bit of small talk (only when he’s quiet). I’ve discovered that I actually understand more than I think and when he speaks I get more than I expect of the conversation.

          It’s a fairly low stakes way to speak the language and he seems to enjoy it. Obviously when he’s knee deep in customers or I’m rushing between meetings I just order and go but sometimes we have time for a chat and it’s pleasant.

    2. Hotdog not dog*

      Years ago, I spoke a very limited amount of Spanish. My company hired a Spanish speaking employee who spoke a limited amount of English. What began as some very basic, stumbling conversations turned into a good work friendship and two people with enough second language skills to be able to communicate effectively in either language. It might be a little awkward at first, and you’ll probably get a few laughs from things you might say accidentally, but you won’t regret it!

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


        My experience is also that every time I’ve tried to speak in another’s native language, they’ve been appreciative if not enthusiastic of the effort, and I’ve never had a negative reaction. Even in German, where the only phrase I’ve committed to memory is literally “I don’t speak German.”

        1. Dust Bunny*

          A high school classmate and I each spent a summer in Norway due to our dads’ jobs (same company, but different branches; dads knew each other but didn’t work together regularly). But because we were expected to socialize mostly with other expats and were only there a short time, the only thing my classmate learned to say was “I do not speak Norwegian”. The only thing I really learned to say was “one scoop chocolate” or “one scoop blackberry” at the ice-cream shop.

          1. BeenThere*

            I’m fluent in Italian Ice Cream Shop Order. Hooray for short periods of time in countries and being very driven by my stomach \:D/

            People really appreciate it when you try and speak their native language, my spouse has an ear for languages and we always have such fun when traveling as a result. I’ll never forget the German student at the counter in the French baguette shop. She’d figured out fairly quickly that our French was terrible and switched to English saying she was German but her English was better than her French, cue a lovely bit of banter while we ordered. When we left we thanked her for the delicious food and wished her good luck in her studies in France, in full flight German, the look on her face was priceless.

        2. meyer lemon*

          This has been my experience as well. Even when my knowledge of the language is really minimal, native speakers are almost always encouraging. But I’m an editor and still find it very embarrassing to speak a language where I just know I’m making tons of mistakes, so I understand where the LW is coming from.

    3. OhNoYouDidn't*

      Absolutely mention that you’re trying to improve and ask a few people if you can practice with them. My husband did this while serving on a medical ship with a couple from Germany. Since it had been 20 plus years since he’d had the opportunity to use his German, he’d forgotten a lot. The German couple was more than happy to help him practice and a lot of hilarity ensued. Most people would be happy to help with this. And for those who wouldn’t, they’re the issue, not you.

    4. Mockingjay*

      Ask your coworkers! I bet they’ll be delighted to help. Maybe meet at lunch once or twice a week for conversation practice.

      When I lived in Germany, I routinely met with two lovely neighbors who wanted to practice their Business English skills. After I had taken several German courses, they turned the tables on me and had me practice in German. We picked a new topic each time to add vocabulary. It was challenging and fun.

    5. Jiminy Cricket*

      This is sometimes very difficult when the other people are really, really good at English. In Western Germany nobody would speak German with me for longer than a sentence or two because their English was so much better than my German. It was different in Eastern Germany where fewer people spoke English, so I got more practice. If you can find somebody who is less comfortable with English it might work better.

    6. quill*

      Yeah, I did a decent portion of my spanish degree when I was, for various other reasons (overwork, mostly, but also I turn out to not be so great an extemporaneous public speaker in any language, despite theater in high school! I need my lines!) VERY BAD at communicating verbally.

      I sort of barreled through since it was school, because by the point it got bad (overwork: don’t double major, even if it seems easy freshman year) I’d built up enough of a rapport with my small language cohort that my professors and TA’s found conversational workarounds like “you know, the thing with the hinges?” “A DOOR?” more charming when assessing fluency, or needing to use the language seriously, than disqualifying for a decent grade.

      Then I spent a lot of time in a lab where I was the only native english speaker for some time and everyone accepted that there would be linguistic quirks, up to and including calling the centrifuge the “sample tilt-o-hurl”

      1. PeanutButter*

        >Then I spent a lot of time in a lab where I was the only native english speaker for some time and everyone accepted that there would be linguistic quirks, up to and including calling the centrifuge the “sample tilt-o-hurl”

        Sample tilt-o-hurl, I love it! Yeah, working in scientific labs gets you over shyness about trying to speak different languages in a hurry. While English is the common language, it’s normal to have only one or two native speakers in a given conversation. I’ve been in the position of translating from English to English for many very, very brilliant researchers! Also every year when we get in the new PhD students there’s always about six months of adjustment for international students who have excellent skills in reading English, or communicating academically in English, but have limited conversational skills. I personally love watching people develop their skills in a new language, because it’s like a real-time neurology study, watching them make connections and breakthroughs as their brains re-wire for an additional communication mode.

        1. quill*

          And the in-jokes get very, very good as everyone not only adapts to the lingua franca, but starts picking up bits and pieces of other languages.

    7. Malarkey01*

      So I live in a bilingual house where I myself have a very poor grasp of the other language (something in my brain just doesn’t click as fast as others on language). But, I echo others that just start with greetings, thanks, please, yes, no- most dual language speakers will almost not notice that you’ve switched and it gives you confidence to start getting comfortable in switching back and forth and it being “normal”. From there casually chiming in on social conversations or break room chatter helps you build up and is a fine place for those how do you say – lags. Professional conversations would be my last since it can be frustrating when you need information quickly or accurately with someone that can’t fully express the idea (but I bet you get there faster with all these casual conversations).

    8. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Same! So, I work for a French company and have coworkers who speak both French and Spanish, in addition to English (which is what they use to communicate with me). I am…horrifically shy about speaking a language I don’t speak perfectly. It’s definitely the English major in me, but if I have a language I can communicate perfectly in and a language where every sentence is going to take 5 times longer because I have to mentally review vocab and grammar, I’m going to pick the language I’m comfortable in.

      Well, wouldn’t you know it – it turns out my coworkers (who speak wonderful English) feel the same way. And my teammate who speaks Spanish is looking to be able to keep using it so she doesn’t lose her skills. So we’re setting up conversation times – just 30 mins here and there to chat. I’m trying to do more IM-ing in French and Spanish, so I at least have time to make sure it’s mostly correct, and I’m just going to try.

      But really – I guess the point of this is to say a) I totally get you, LW3 and b) if there is somebody nice where you feel like it would be mutually beneficial that might help you go from “This is awkward, I don’t want to ask this,” to “Okay, it’ll be a little awkward, but then they’ll have me to come to for a resource when they need something checked and it balances out a bit,” which can make it easier to take the leap.

      1. anonny*

        Seconding the IM-ing or other text messaging as a nice in-between step to practice a language you feel shy about speaking/trying – on top of giving a little more time to think, it can also start to set a practice of communicating in [Dothraki] with that person if you’re feeling shy about just jumping in and making the switch. (Signed, a person just beginning to work in a language I began learning 2 years ago!)

    9. BadApple*

      It’s no big deal! I work in a department where we all use Spanish. If people use it regularly at work among themselves, it’s totally fine to say “Hey! Can I use some Spanish with you?” And to just do it. We do all our tech stuff in Spanish for example – native and non native speakers. (Where do you click to make such and such so such and such a thing?)

  3. Dark Macadamia*

    #1 I can’t be the only one who thinks Pam used her work schedule as an excuse to decline movie night with Phyllis and Bob Jr, right?

    1. Language Lover*

      Nope. My mind went there too.

      So LW, I’d tell Phyllis it’s not her place to discuss her co-worker’s schedule for her but I’d be careful not to make it known that you’d be willing to change the schedule.

      I’d probably talk to Pam too just to see what her thoughts are and let her know that she needs to be arranging her schedule and can’t have coworkers do it (assuming she knows about it.)

      1. OhNo*

        Definitely agree on brining it up with Pam. You might even want to mention it to her first, just as a heads’ up that the conversation might affect how Phyllis interacts with her in the near future. And her other coworkers who received this email too – who knows what they’re thinking about the situation!

        Also, this might be getting too involved as a manager, but if Pam were a fellow employee I would 100% offer to be the “bad guy” in this situation. That way Pam can say, “Sorry, can’t go, boss refused to change the schedule! So unfortunate, what a jerk, etc. etc.” and not have to worry about huge pushback from such an already pushy coworker.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Someone might already have brought it up with Pam; Phyllis sent the email to the OP and also the staff who would work with Pam that evening.

          Phyllis might have been hoping to ‘guilt’ someone into volunteering to cover for Pam, so there’d be no excuse for her not to leave early.

          1. Pennyworth*

            I’m absolutely getting the vibe that Phyllis is trying to cut off all of Pam’s escape routes.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Yeah, I’m imagining Phyllis as Pepe Le Pew, and Pam as the hapless black and white kitty cat, clawing her way out of Pepe’s aggressive embrace.

              I’m weird that way.

          2. OhNo*

            That was my impression, too. Hence, offering to be the “bad guy”, so Pam has someone to blame and a solid out for not having to go on this weird outing with her pushy coworker.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I think the manager offering to be the bad guy could make sense, if you do it right.

          The main thing you want to do in this conversation is not assume anything about Pam and Phyllis’s relationship. You ask Pam to come talk with you in your office, tell her you received a very strange email from Phyllis, and ask what Pam’s take is on it. Maybe you’ll find out that Pam really likes Phyllis and wants to be her friend and just doesn’t understand a lot of professional norms. Or maybe you’ll find out that Pam’s been trying to push back against Phyllis’s attempts at a closer friendship and she needs a little help building those boundaries.

          Ultimately, you know that Phyllis want’s Pam to have the evening off to go to the movies. But you don’t know whether or not *Pam* wants to take the evening off and go to the movies with Phyllis. If Pam doesn’t want to go, then let her use the “Boss wouldn’t change the schedule, isn’t it a shame” excuse if that’s what she wants to do.

          The other piece of this is absolutely going to have to be a conversation with Phyllis about how each employee needs to manage their own schedule with the boss and not intercede on behalf of their coworkers. What Phyllis did was inappropriate, and it doesn’t matter if she thinks Pam deserves an evening off. If Pam doesn’t want to ask for time off, she doesn’t have to and Phyllis needs to let her handle her own schedule.

    2. Katie*

      YEP. Maybe it’s just because I’m tired but I laughed out loud at “I don’t think she gets out much.” Maybe not, but she probably has better social skills than you, Phyllis!

        1. Dark Macadamia*

          Definitely this!! And the fact that they’ve “arranged” it but she only “hinted” she wants to come… really sounds like Phyllis was trying to ensure Pam is available before actually inviting her (which Michael literally does to Pam on The Office!) so it’s harder to say no.

          1. Emilia Bedelia*

            The cynic side of me is thinking that Pam said, very deadpan, “Wow, that sounds like a fun time. Too bad I can’t go”, and Phyllis thinks this means “I am dying to leave my house and go to the movies, but my crippling shyness is preventing me from standing up to the cruel task master in charge of this sweatshop. IF ONLY someone would help me to get time off!”
            Even if Pam truly does want to go and is nervous about asking, OP should talk with her directly about it. There’s no reason for Phyllis to be in the middle at all.

            1. Observer*

              Even if Pam truly does want to go and is nervous about asking, OP should talk with her directly about it.

              I don’t think the OP should talk to Pam at ALL about the time off. Phyllis has as much standing as the office cat to ask for time off on behalf of Pam, and the OP should treat the “request” (more like an attempt at public shaming, imo) with that level of seriousness, as it pertains to Pam.

              1. quill*

                Sorry Mrs. Fussbudget Furball the 2nd, but no one is allowed to extend their break simply because you think they’re a good place to nap. Also, your request for fillet mignon wet food was denied by accounting.

              2. Stormfeather*

                I do think the OP should talk to Pam, because if nothing else Pam needs to know that Phyllis is doing this stuff. It’s also of course possible that Pam knew about the planned email and is fine with it, though I’d lean toward it more likely being all Phyllis. But at the very least the conversation would happen, even if it’s more a matter of giving the information that this happened and getting an idea of Pam’s take on it than anything else.

            2. Decima Dewey*

              Yeah, I’m seeing Pam thinking “I’d rather have a root canal and a mammogram on the same day than go to the movies with you” but hoping that “too bad I can’t go” would end the matter.

              And as a loner who doesn’t “get out much”, sometimes an evening with a book of Sunday crosswords can be just what the doctor orderd.

          1. Where the Orchestra?*

            I had that thought too….I wonder who really doesn’t get out much.

            (Typed while Pink Floyd’s song Mother runs through my head.)

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Yes, and I think she underestimated Phyllis’ pushiness (which Pam must be somewhat aware of to begin with — I expect that’s why she didn’t really want to go…)

    4. Virginia Plain*

      Came here to say the same – OP1 when you do talk to Phyllis, don’t reveal or hint that of Pam asks to leave early you’d agree. For all you know, Pam might think Phyllis is an annoying overstepping busybody and has no intention of going to the cinema with her – and is thankful not to have to manufacture an excuse! And even if not, I got one wouldn’t be tempted to socialise with someone that would tell my boss I don’t get out much, even if I was a complete hermit!!
      I’m imagining the letter to AAM Pam could be writing now…”Dear Alison, my patronising coworker won’t leave me alone and went behind my back to our boss saying I had no life! Would it be legal to yeet her into the sun?”

    5. LadyByTheLake*

      That’s what I immediately thought. Phyllis sounds like an interfering busybody who Pam has been trying to keep at arm’s length and what better way to do that than saying “no I can’t, I have to work that evening.” After I spoke with Phyllis I would speak with Pam to see if Phyllis has been overstepping in other ways.

    6. Amethystmoon*

      Right. Also, introverted people might not want to go out. Maybe Pam has plans online. Maybe her plans are books and coffee. Either way, it is really overstepping to assume that introverted people must be somehow made to socialize.

    7. Dust Bunny*


      I have a coworker, though, who might ask me to do this. We’re at the same level but I have a lot more skills than she does and she sees me as a superior–I have to tell her to take stuff to our shared supervisor all the time because I either don’t have the information she needs or don’t have the authority to make the decision. I could very well see her asking me to ask this. It’s not normal, no, but . . . she’s just like that.

      1. Observer*

        It doesn’t fly. I could see a situation where Pam might ask Phyllis to ask for the time for her, although it’s definitely not a normal or healthy thing. But, that wouldn’t explain the public email, the language of the email and the fact that Phyllis didn’t actually approach the person who is authorized to allow time off.

    8. Falling Diphthong*

      For me it is a perfect 50/50 shot:
      • Pam wants to go to the movie but is terminally afraid of doing anything wrong at work, including lots of stuff no one would care about.
      • Pam is glad she has closing as an excuse to get out of that movie.

      Which is why Phyllis’s plan is a terrible one–people have to guess if the third party has the slightest clue about what Pam wants.

      1. Malarkey01*

        If it was the first part, I’d expect Phyllis to assure Pam that oh no things aren’t like that here and if really necessary help Pam figure out how to ask behind the scenes. At the very very most I could see a situation where Phyllis shares with supervisor that Pam doesn’t understand the office norms and is really afraid to ask for time off so that the supervisor knows and it’s something she can work with Pam on or clarify directly (I once had an employee tell me another student hire wasn’t going to ask off for a funeral because in her culture you absolutely couldn’t ask off for anything at a new job. In that case it was a heads up you may not know what’s happening on your staff so I could address it directly rather than someone doing the ask on her behalf).

    9. MistOrMister*

      I thought about that too. And seriously…who the heck emails the boss asking for time off for a coworker?? I have never experienced anything like that! How awful if Pam is trying to use her work schedule to gwt out of being steamrolleree into events by Phyllis and Phyllis is going to the boss trying to get her schedule changed! That would make me so uncomfortable.

    10. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      YES! Especially the part that ‘she hinted that she would like to go with us’ sounds as if Pam was asked and went with the benign ‘oh, yeah seeing Black Widow sounds cool, too bad I close on Friday.’ I wonder what the rest of the coworkers who close with Pam think (not that I think OP should ask, but I’m just curious since not only did she email OP, she emailed everyone else working at the same time as Pam too).

    11. Q*

      Absolutely. This might of been my move also but clearly Phyllis isn’t going to go away easily so if this is the case then Pam is going to have to have the conversation where she tells Phyllis to stop trying to set her up with her son.

    12. Boof*

      LW1 – yep, please let phyllis know it’s not appropriate to ask for time off (among other things) on someone else’s behalf unless it’s an emergency where the other person is incapacitated and they are relaying that sort of information. I’m not sure it’s worth getting into how embarrassing her letter was in other levels because at the end of the day if she doesn’t try to overstep like that then she doesn’t try to justify overstepping like that! Please also check in with Pam and see if she was aware of what Phyllis was doing, and let her know you’ve asked Phyllis not to do that sort of thing*. *if Pam was totally unaware, which I suspect is the case, make sure to make it clear you are putting this on Phyllis and you’re just letting Pam know as a courtesy.

      1. Observer*

        if Pam was totally unaware, which I suspect is the case

        Phyllis emailed the whole office, not just the OP. Pam knows about it.

      2. Artemesia*

        But the actual words of this letter make it MORE problematic. Asking for the time off was an overstep, sure. But the degrading comments about poor pathetic Pam look like a direct attempt to diminish her and undercut her with the boss in the guise of being helpful to her. A less sophisticated boss might have her perceptions of Pam affected by this. Phylis needs to be told that not only is it entirely inappropriate for her to independently request time off for someone else but that her email appears to be an attempt to undercut Pam in the workplace and that it was completely out of line. And no hint that you would let Pam off that evening.

        Pam needs to know Phylis has done this and that you assume it was without her knowledge and that she needs to contact you directly for time off which you will grant when possible. AND that if she actually doesn’t want to go on this outing, you are also happy to ‘deny’ her time off.

    13. Pants*

      I also found it odd that Phyllis “arranged” to take Pam to go to the movies. That doesn’t seem… mutual. You okay, Pam? Blink twice if you need help.

        1. Ann Nonymous*

          You guys, Phyllis sounds like serious mother-in-law material. I bet she already has a great house picked out for Pam and Bob Jr., right next door to hers, with 3 bedrooms for plenty of grandkids. Maybe she’s even got some of the wedding details taken care of. Not sure what everyone on here’s problem is…

          1. GothicBee*

            Oh no! I was picturing Phyllis’s son as a child and was like, huh, that’s weird, why would Pam even be interested in going to see a kid’s movie with Phyllis and her son. The adult son matchmaking take is so much worse!!! Yikes.

            1. Where the Orchestra?*

              I pictured Bob Jr as being about the same age as Pam – don’t know why, but that was the first image into my brain.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        Yep, I suspect if the LW went to Pam and said something like “hey, Phyllis mentioned you wanted to leave early on Wednesday to see a movie with her, but I told her you’d need to make the request yourself” it would be the first time Pam heard about it beyond making small talk about how that movie looks good.

      2. Dr.OO7*

        “Arranged” as if Pam is some kind of mental deficient who needs to be taken care of.

    14. quill*

      Given that (extreme speculation here) it really sounds like if Phyllis has a grown son reasonably close to Pam’s age, Pam might be being “helpfully” set up, I can easily see the refusal going down this way.

      Phyllis: Oh, you and my son would get along so well!
      Pam: Sure, Phylllis.

      Phyllis later: We have tickets to go see Iron Man 7, I know you like superheroes, would you like to come?
      Pam: I’d have to check my calendar… what do you mean, “we?”
      Phyllis: My son and I!
      Pam: Oh, they’re for the thirty sixth of this month? Sorry, I have to close, have fun!

    15. Dennis Feinstein*

      I 100% thought that too!
      “Sure Phyllis. I’d love to go to the movies with you & your son but oh no gosh darn I have to work late that night.”
      I mean… it’s the movies. If she really wanted to go, surely they could just go another night.

    16. Nanani*

      My thought exactly.
      Unless directly indicated otherwise by Pam, that’s by far the most plausible scenario.

    17. LW1*

      Y’all’s speculation is fantastic. I love it. lol. Some made me giggle, and others were very helpful. Thank you! In response to come of the comments:
      -I don’t think there’s any match making going on. There are other details that I didn’t share that makes me think Phyllis really is just trying to be nice. I think instead of looking at Pam as a coworker, she’s looking at her as a daughter-figure. In our profession, we tend to be a bunch of bleeding hearts.
      -Pam did ask me the day of if she could leave early. She is shy, but given conversations we’ve had in the past, I also know she’s not scared of talking to me. I had a feeling if she wanted to go, she would have actually asked. So when she did, I said she could go.
      -I have not mentioned Phyllis’s email to Pam, I was kind of waiting for the response to this before I decided. Definitely sounds like y’all think I should!
      -The email wasn’t sent to everyone. Sorry if I made it sound that way. It was sent me me, plus three coworkers who would have been working with Pam that evening. Which still, embarrassing and inappropriate, but Pam did *not* see the email, nor did about a dozen others read about how lonely and pathetic she apparently is. (I of course don’t think this, it just seemed like the tone of the email.)

      1. Ooh La La*

        Thanks for updating, LW1! Phyllis sounds well-intentioned but this is such a huge overstep, and it could damage Pam’s professional reputation. If I were Pam, I would *absolutely* want to know about the email so I could set stronger boundaries with Phyllis and reevaluate if I wanted any kind of friendship with her. Alison’s advice of having Phyllis re-read the email to see the condescending tone is also a really great idea.

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        I’m honestly surprised that Pam asked for the time off! I still wonder if she felt obligated/pressured into it but that’s more a personal thing that you dont need to involve yourself with. Definitely let Pam know what happened and make sure Phyllis knows it can’t happen again.

        1. Tara R.*

          It’s very possible that Pam likes Phyllis and wants to spend time with her! People can be kind and mostly pleasant and also have poor judgment and say things that come across as condescending. I can see several people who I love dearly making a similar mistake to this. I’m not excusing Phyllis– the email absolutely was undermining and I can’t believe she sent it to a whole group of people– but I think this is one of those situations where your perspective really affects how egregious you find it. To a more reserved audience that puts a lot of value on professionalism (a lot of the AAM crew), Phyllis sounds miserable, but someone with different values might not find it as noteworthy.

          1. Observer*

            I agree that Pam might actually have wanted to go. But, the issue here is not just about professionalism, although that’s the only thing the OP has standing to address.

      3. Observer*

        but Pam did *not* see the email, nor did about a dozen others read about how lonely and pathetic she apparently is. (I of course don’t think this, it just seemed like the tone of the email.)

        Yes, then Pam needs to know about this.

        I think you are totally correct about the tone of the email. It is totally condescending and really makes Pam look like a charity case.

    18. Where the Orchestra?*

      That is kinda my thought as well, an i’d love to but I have to work , shucks, as phyllis doesn’t get boundaries well (or that BobJr is trying to get himself set up with Pam and not hearing no).

      I’d just say I can’t honor your request Phyllis, but Pam is welcome to speak with me about the schedule if she needs a change.

    19. generic_username*

      That was my first thought. Also, the AUDACITY of thinking you can choose when someone else uses PTO (or takes unpaid time off). I can’t even imagine what Phyllis is thinking….

  4. Cambridge Comma*

    For OP3 I think the advice should depend on what the actual language is, the power relationships between that language and the OP’s language (is one a dominated or endangered language?) and the actual labour involved for the coworkers in having a conversation with her, given that she doesn’t follow a good proportion of the spontaneous office conversation. Sometimes paying for language teaching is the right thing to do.

    1. DietCokeQueen*

      I agree with this as an English speaker working in an entirely Spanish speaking population. The power dynamics between English and Spanish in certain parts of the U.S. are extremely complicated, and coworkers might feel obligated especially if you just jump right in. From what’s been explained to me it can be a humiliating, shameful experience that puts the burden on the native speaker to “perform.”

      1. BadApple*

        Eh, I understand where you are coming from but I work in a similar environment. A lot of people are rightfully proud of their language and culture, and intercultural exchange is good. Assuming that OP has a normal level of social awareness, since they studied the language in depth, it is important that we don’t project a social power imbalance in a specific country onto cultural exchange as well.

    2. Kotow*

      I agree generally, and if it truly would be “practicing” rather than “using the language even if it’s hard,” then paying for a language teacher who can give feedback is the better step. I don’t think struggling to follow full conversations between native speakers who may not know a non-native is listening is indicative of an inability to carry social conversations but generally agree that it’s better to make the mistakes and the awkward sentences before they “count” in a spontaneous conversation at work.

    3. Allonge*

      I think there is something in the power relations aspect, but – there is only so much you can get done by paying someone to teach you a language. Actually speaking with native or proficient speakers is essential to learning. Now, OP needs to be careful that the work of their colleagues does not suffer overmuch! I don’t see a lot of harm in asking to join the break/lunch convos in Dothraki, though.

      I am from a culture that tends to appreciate foreigners learning our language, which probably impacts this view. Also, I would not like it if it turned out that someone understood 70% of what we were talking about and never said a word.

      1. SS Express*

        That’s true, but you can also pay someone to actually speak a language with you, or trade with a native speaker who’s looking to learn your first language

        1. Allonge*

          Sure. It misses the point for me, because the idea is to talk to and listen to people who are not paying attention to how they are speaking and in which cadence and using which terminology.

          Look, again, if there is any sense that OP’s colleagues do not want to do this, then it’s better to avoid. For a lot of people though, it’s not exactly a hardship to speak their own language (they do it anyway, in OP’s case) and listen to someone butcher it a bit when it’s about what they did on their weekend / plans for their holidays, or when coordinating easy work issues. OP should not expect to be corrected and should keep asking about terminology and grammar rules to a minimum, if not zero.

          I just want to avoid the impression that in all cases this is a Big and Socially Unaware and so Terrible Ask, because it’s really not – it can be, but not everywhere. And culturally, there are plenty of places where people speaking the local language can create an exclusionary culture in their company, so the social awareness is not a one-way-only thing either.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            The latter part is key. The OP is at a job where most of the employees chat during the day in Dothraki. If the OP is not allowed to even attempt to participate, that’s a really isolating work environment. If trying to join in without being totally fluent is rude, the other employees should be willing to switch to English to include the OP for at least part of the day.

            FWIW, I work in an environment that has English as the work language, and at least four very different languages with significant numbers of speakers. The default is to use English in group conversations with mixed languages, and other languages when in smaller groups, or for short clarifying conversations.

            1. Amaranth*

              I think that OP might want to mention to her colleagues she is trying to learn the language and would love the chance to practice, and ask for suggestions. They might address her more in their language, she could start off small with greetings and thank you, ordering lunch, etc. Or they might advise outside places to practice – but I think its a positive thing that OP is interested in the local language. And, then they know OP might understand some of the lunchroom chatter so that wouldn’t be an awkward revelation down the line.
              OP, I went through language training in the military and speaking was considered more difficult than writing or reading or listening, so give yourself a break. Several weeks isn’t too long at all, you’ve been learning! Try watching television in Dothraki, or find some language lessons and respond to the questions out loud in your room so you get used to simply speaking. I was also terribly shy about speaking Dothraki in front of native speakers — they all wanted to practice their English — and it really hurt my ability to become fluent. Don’t pass up the chance!

            2. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I’ve spent time outside English speaking areas but never enough to get fluent. One thing I’ve done is practice the Karthaki sentence “I don’t speak Karthaki well, but I am trying to learn.”
              I bought one of my old favorite novels in Karthaki translation to read in the break room and it was a good conversation starter.
              With my Karthaki co-workers, I’ll use greetings & farewells & thank yous, and follow their lead on which language to use after that.
              I send emails/IMs in Karthaki when it’s simple to ask and I anticipate a simple answer. (“What is the deadline?” vs. discussing client preference)
              One last thought. You say you are new. When they give you corporate manuals or websites to read, ask for the Karthaki version to read first. Industry jargon can be the hardest thing to pick from a generic language resource. If everyone’s talking about a specific widget, your corporate materials will help you learn that vocabulary.

              1. BethDH*

                Seconding the suggestion to read a book in the language as both a way to learn and a conversation starter. I did this when I was trying to get from a very specific vocabulary to the point where I could have bus-stop level small talk at work.

                1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

                  I listen to hip hop in the multiple languages I speak as an easy way to keep my brain clicking in those. The speed at which they move provides a great deal of lifting for staying conversational when I don’t have the day-to-day interactions.

                  Just be careful on some of the word choices!

                2. quill*

                  And if you can’t hack a whole book (even if it’s a translation of something you already know, or a kids book…) there’s always magazine articles.

            3. Smithy*

              On whether or not its rude to not be speaking in English around the OP – that’s likely going to depend heavily on the workplace. I worked in a trilingual nonprofit, where English was only included because of how dominant it was for our donors.

              Ideally, my role would have been filled by someone with greater skills in the other two languages, but it was such a hard to fit role that my professional skills, basic language skills combined with native English were the best they could find. So when I’d sit around people talking in the other two languages all day, it was coming from a very different place.

              From what LW3 has said, it doesn’t sound like the power dynamics with English are as heavy – but there can be loads of dynamics in place where rudeness isn’t necessarily at play.

          2. Colette*

            Yes. I’m learning French, and multilple coworkers have offered to talk with me so I can practice. They are happy to help – and while it’s intimidating for me, it’s great to have that opportunity. People like helping people, including learning a new language.

            Now, I wouldn’t suggest the OP start trying to hold work-critical conversations in her second language, but break-room chat should be fine, if her coworkers are willing.

    4. lilly*

      I grew up speaking a strong local dialect of my native language, speaking to non-native speakers requires me to switch to a more standard version of the language, which isn’t difficult for me but feels like a piece of my identity is missing. OP might want to think about situations like this

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Or the native speakers could say, “Oh, that’s a different dialect than mine,” since they undoubtedly have the upper hand in terms of familiarity with the language. This doesn’t need to be adversarial.

        I’m in the US. I used to work with a guy who came from [somewhere else] and was learning English. He hadn’t realized, though, that UK English and accents, and even regional US English and accents, are as different as they are, so sometimes he would ask us about things on YouTube and we’d just explain to him that we don’t know what that phrase means, either, but let’s look it up, or, give us a minute to decipher that guys’ accent because he’s from rural Yorkshire and we’re in Texas and they’re pretty different.

        1. Anononon*

          That’s funny because when I was lived in Italy, I had the opposite experience. I had several people ask me if I could understand British English (I’m American). Part of it though may be that historically, different Italian dialects could practically be different languages.

          1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

            Let’s not even begin with Swiss, Austrian, and German. They’re like three siblings whose parents dressed them in the same clothes but as soon as they’re outside of the house don’t want anything to do with each other.

          2. dealing with dragons*

            linguistics is hairy. Swedish and Norwegian are probably just dialects of the same language but we lumped Florentine and Neapolitan into Italian. Why? Politics is a lot of the reason.

            1. allathian*

              They aren’t just dialects of the same language, there are significant differences in vocabulary and spelling. Both languages have gendered nouns, and opposite genders for the same noun, that’s recognizably the same word, can trip you up. For reference, I’m a Swedish-speaking Finn. Spoken Norwegian is a lot easier to understand for me than Danish, although I can read both languages about equally well.

          3. quill*

            When it comes to romance languages in nations that didn’t really fully settle into their current borders until the late 1800’s, this comes up a lot.

            Actually I think the (relative!) homogeneity of english is kind of a fluke. Being an island, the borders stayed pretty fixed. If you don’t count the fact that the UK has Wales, Cornwall, and Scotland, which each have their own languages that were NOT related closely to english originally and were not exported.

            1. Anononon*

              Yeah. From what I’ve been told, one of the big factors of the unification of Italian into one language across the county was TV, which is nuts that it was so recent.

                1. allathian*

                  Franco was in Spain, but I guess you meant Mussolini?

                  Broadcast radio has been around for more than 100 years, I’m betting that’s what started the unification.

    5. tamarack and fireweed*

      Cambridge Comma makes a point that is well-taken. (I’m speaking from having learned two foreign languages to fluency in the countries where they’re spoken, plus a smattering of other languages.)

      There are a few questions to ask first before jumping in with both feet.
      1. Is the status of the speakers of the language at work and in society inferior to that of LW4? (Are they paid the same, are peers and have essentially as good advancement prospects?)
      2. Can speakers of the language expect discrimination in society?
      3. Were speakers of the language historically punished for speaking it (eg. in school)?
      4. Is the language particularly culturally sensitive (eg. a threatened language with very few speakers)?

      The more questions LW3 would answer with “yes” the more lightly they should be treading.

      On the other hand, though, LW3 says that their competency in the language was a factor in them being hired, so it sounds that there is a firm link between the language and what the work is dealing with. This could provide an opening. If the language naturally comes up in the course of the work you do it is likely quite acceptable to point to a document and ask “can I ask you a [language] question? this document says “XXX” which I think means [whatever]. Is this the normal form? I was kinda expecting a different ending, like [XXY], from my grammar class” – at least to some colleagues (choose wisely! find the ones who enjoy this sort of thing – and if there are none, it’s again “proceed carefully” time).

      The more LW3 is dealing with an egalitarian situation, or even one where the language is one that marks higher status at work (eg. LW3 works for Nokia [or some other large European company] in an office where a sizeable percentage of the staff speaks Finnish [or whatever the language is], and speaking the language is linked to having a closer relationship to senior management in the company’s home country), the more it is fine for LW3 just to be open, pick a few co-workers that are particularly nice and approachable, and ask “hey – you probably know I’ve been working on my [language] – but I’m shy to use it. I might use it occasionally if that’s ok with you. Feel free to correct me.”

      The social ramifications are very different if, presuming a North American perspective, the language is Spanish or Arabic vs. French or Norwegian. Hindi, Japanese, Korean and Chinese (etc.) have again a different set of pitfalls. French in Canada is again a different animal. Be very very careful when it comes to indigenous languages – you should be building a genuine trust relationship first before making any cultural requests.

      And never should the language practice amount to significant labor on the part of your coworkers! Either it’s a fun thing you share, or it’s strictly within the work use of the language. It’s not a substitute for instruction.

      This said, an actively studying intermediate learner will very quickly get to picking up the gist of informal overheard conversation. And if we’re talking about a peer-group workplace (ie. no status differences by language) and people have a good, collegial relationship, then this can be quite unproblematic. In any event, there is no “too late” or “weird” about someone getting better at a second language.

      1. Washi*

        I agree with all of this. I worked in the US but in a Russian-speaking team, and I was already fluent when I joined, but we had this exact same situation with a new person who had a slightly different job where fluency was not required but familiarity was a plus. My colleagues were thrilled when she tried to speak Russian with us, even though she too struggled even to follow basic conversations among the team when someone wasn’t speaking directly to her. The only thing that would have been annoying is if she had insisted on everyone speaking Russian rather than English or jumped in on every single conversation.

        On the other hand, I had a different job where there were several Spanish speakers who would regularly speak Spanish to each other. I’m learning Spanish, but it didn’t feel right to me to jump in at any point with my halting Spanish because the dynamics felt pretty different and for them to have their language time as a kind of bonding space seemed more important. And really, since I didn’t always follow their conversations, just listening was practice enough!

      2. LW3*

        Oh wow, it didn’t occur to me that I should be a bit more specific about what the language is, but looking at the comments, that would have been useful. I still don’t want to specify — anonymity is good! — but Finnish would be a good example of the kind of language that it is. The fact that I can speak/understand a little is definitely considered a plus in this work environment. A “good, collegial relationship” between most employees would be accurate.

        I also do not want to ask, nor have I ever intended to ask, anyone to help or correct me! I can do the technical stuff on my own; I have books, films, grammar books, etc. It’s more, can I practice at lunch? Is it weird if I respond in Finnish while we’re eating lunch? Do I let them know I can understand what they’ve just said?

        1. UKDancer*

          I think definitely let them know you can understand and start joining in the conversations. Apart from anything else it stops them from saying anything that might be offensive. It also conveys the impression that you’re trying to fit in.

          If you’re speaking with 2 Finnish colleagues over lunch I don’t think there’s a problem suggesting they use Finnish. You may not follow everything but it’s good to get the ear in.

        2. Ganymede*

          It would not be weird! If you can try to show that understanding them gives you pleasure and satisfaction – maybe make a bit of a game of it (Duolingo works in part because it is gamified!) I am sure your colleagues would be delighted.

          I worked in Denmark on an entirely English-speaking project for a few months, and the Danes I knew just assumed I would never learn it because it’s a tough language which is also no use anywhere else, so they are used to people being unmotivated to learn it. I learned a little and the reactions were always good, in spite of their opening assumption that I wouldn’t even try, and their slightly off-putting assumption that nobody could learn it! (I’ve forgotten it all now, it was years ago.)

          I am fluent in French and can use a bit of other Euro languages, it’s always a little daunting but fun to try them out. I spent the whole of last year on Duolingo and other resources learning German, and just need to take the next step of finding someone to converse with, which I know will actually turn me into someone who *speaks* German, not just someone who knows what it sounds like!

          Good luck – “Feel the fear and Do it Anyway”!

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            HAhahahaha oh man, Danish is a beast. I worked there for a few months (and for a very major Danish company for years) and people were really just pleased I could pronounce my street name correctly-ish. But it’s amazing how far, “Hi, it’s nice weather today, isn’t it?” goes.

        3. Lora*

          LW3, another thing you might ask them, which they may or may not know about: many libraries and community groups run a (real life or virtual due to pandemic) [language] speaker group that gets together once or twice a week and speaks only that language. For German speakers it’s called a Stammtisch (literally standing around a table, hopefully with sandwiches and coffee), but I know my nearest city library also hosts a few hours per week for people who want to chat in Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin etc. and I wouldn’t have known about it except for friends who happen to be native speakers who hang out there to help people learn new languages. Some university clubs also have events open to the public for speakers of specific languages, or there might be a “society of [country]” type organizations that offer conversational groups or language learner meetups.

          Definitely there’s nothing wrong with saying, “hey, I speak Dothraki but need more practice, I don’t suppose you might know of any Horselord Society events or meetups where I could work on my conversation skills?”

        4. Chilipepper Attitude*

          I think you are overthinking it? I hate being told that myself so sorry for saying it.
          Can you just start saying morning greetings in the language, say goodnight, maybe say simple things like, finished? if you are waiting to use something. Things like that.

          Then if you start responding in Finnish while you are eating lunch, it feels more natural.
          Does that make sense?

          1. anon for this today*

            I’d second this. Think about those power dynamics for 45 seconds to 3 minutes, and then just start talking if you feel alright about it. It’s way condescending to be like “Oh I have been pretending I don’t know Spanish while listening to your conversations because I feel you are an oppressed person because of your socioeconomic status” (from my point of view as a Spanish-speaking very white person who worked in Los Angeles restaurants with folks who were happy to chat and joke in Spanish, and taught me lots about work, restaurants, and life — they were all older than me and I was definitely a junior colleague, fwiw). And as a person who speaks one of the Scandinavian languages under discussion, most people are fine practicing with you at work. People are in general happy to practice a bit, as long as 1) they don’t have to switch dialects 2) they don’t have to slow down, avoid topics, avoid conversations with friends, avoid joking, 3) you don’t fetishize the language/culture. So someone who wants to speak the Scandinavian language a bit is cool with me, someone who won’t stop talking about runes or Elvish or however they got to the Scandinavian language is kind of annoying, someone who butts into every conversation is annoying (whatever the language!).

            1. anon for this today*

              And to be clear, by “practice” I mean “speak words” — no tutoring, language books, corrections, etc. I didn’t know there was such a distinction for some folks between “practice” as “do the thing” and “practice” as “receive structured instruction”. I mean “practice” like “am I allowed to try to use chopsticks in public to eat my own lunch in Guangzhou if I’m not yet adept.” Switch to a fork if you’re slowing down your companions, otherwise just go for it, how else are you going to learn?

        5. Smithy*

          This really helps to know – I was once an English speaker in a nonprofit where there two additional languages spoken, and the power dynamics were such that it would not have been appropriate to ask anyone to help me practice my language skills.

          That being said, lunch time or asking someone to coffee where you speak in Dothraki/Finnish are good entry points. In addition, writing emails that require short answers in the native tongue or responding to emails is another area where you can flex your muscles. Especially around anything medium to lower stakes – like agenda points for an internal meeting.

          Lastly, embracing internal brown bags and any other presentations in the language will do wonders for internal jargon. My language skills remain pretty intermediate – but I have some super niche professional jargon related to my job that increases the confidence in others that communicating with me won’t be a waste of their time. Even if there are words that don’t have great translation into English – dropping them into otherwise English sentences can increase familiarity/bonding with coworkers.

        6. EventPlannerGal*

          I think that, although it probably feels a bit intimidating, it’s going to be a bit easier if you sort of take the lead rather than waiting until people say something to you and responding. I would do things like casually greeting people first in Dothraki before they can greet you in English, saying “hi everyone! How’s it going?” or something equivalent in Dothraki when you walk into the lunchroom, that kind of thing – just start some small talk to make it clear that you really can use the language. IME if they don’t feel like it they might just reply back in English, but it at least makes it clear that you want to talk!

        7. Mr and Mrs Kitty*

          Honestly, I think a lot of people here are bending over backwards to be offended on your coworker’s behalf.
          Meanwhile, in real life, I have had multiple experiences of both coworkers and random people (literally people walking past me on the street) realizing that I speak English and they excitedly ask if they can practice with me. It’s not a big deal.

          1. Ooh La La*

            Agreed. The problem I’ve had is more with non-native English speakers wanting to talk to you in English so they can practice, which makes it hard to get your own practice time in! But that may not be an issue with LW’s coworkers, since it sounds like they’re pretty fluent in English. For social conversations, listen, show when you understand, try to respond in their language, and everyone can have fun with it!

          2. RagingADHD*


            I’ve been in many different situations where there was a language difference, and I have never, ever encountered anything but a positive response when I try to bridge it. I have also encountered situations where I *didn’t* try to bridge the gap, and the other person was very annoyed at having to speak English to this ignorant American.

            Now, sometimes that response is the equivalent of “Oh, bless your heart” and the person starts speaking English out of pity. But they were much less annoyed, and gave a warmer/more helpful response.

            All this about how deeply offensive it would be to attempt another language sounds like it’s coming from another planet.

        8. tamarack and fireweed*

          Yeah, that makes it *a lot* easier because there’s much less baggage than there could be. This doesn’t mean that one or two of your colleagues may not have any interest in including you – that’s just interpersonal stuff, status stuff, individual interests (just because someone speaks a foreign language in country X doesn’t mean they’re interested in languages and language learning).

          But to go back to your OP, it’s definitely not too late. Just start small, build affinities, find the ones who think it’s fun to converse with you in “Dothraki” and who enjoy telling you about their language. You’ll sure get odd bits of information (“huh, now that you ask, I think the plural of that should be X, but in my family we always called it Y. I think this is because of my grandmother came from [region] where they have a dialect that has different words for these things. In writing I’d use X!”)

        9. allathian*

          I’m Finnish. There are approx 6 million Finnish-speakers in the world, if you count minorities in other countries, 5.5 million live in Finland. Most Finns would be flattered by a foreigner attempting to learn our language and would be willing to help, if only in social chats around the breakroom table during a coffee break (it’s an institution here). Since about 1960, English has been more or less a compulsory subject in our schools. Most people with a high-school diploma speak at least some, and the younger and more educated someone is, the more likely they are to be fluent in English. But if you move to Finland and want to understand the culture and people, some Finnish is absolutely necessary.

    6. hamsterpants*

      Understanding overhead conversations between native speakers is a pretty advanced milestone for language comprehension! I can’t even always understand such conversations among my colleagues in our shared native language!

    7. Save the Hellbender*

      Came here to say this! Lots of people love their language and want to share it with you — but for a lot of other people, breaktime chats in a language might be a refuge from a majority culture. I hope OP is aware of the social and cultural dynamics that could be going on! If OP is in Vaes Dothrak, the situation is very different than King’s Landing.

  5. Delta Delta*

    #2 – Remember that letter a few weeks ago where the person was told no humor was allowed at that workplace when she made a joke about the copier? This seems to be the polar opposite (or is how that job started off, went awry, and turned into the no-humor zone). Very curious to see an update if the LW gets an interview.

    1. Maggie*

      Oh man, which would be worse? I think I’d pick the no humor place over jokes being made at my expense.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Oof, I couldn’t survive in the no-humor place. For the “jokes at your expense” place to be worse (for me), it’d really have to be frequent cruel jokes.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          They put it in the employment ad though!
          I can only picture “This is the only way we can get people to laugh when the CEO’s son and veep makes fun of their name–hire explicitly for this quality. So it’s going right at the top of the ad.”

          1. hbc*

            My guess is that the last person who left was a (relative) stick-in-the-mud and they’re making the common hiring mistake of trying to hard not to hire the same type of person. An employee from the No Humor workplace would probably feel attached by a joking, “You forgot the name of the customer you met two years ago? It’s like you don’t even care!”

          2. meyer lemon*

            I’ve seen enough job posting lines that have seemingly nothing to do with the actual job that I will reserve some judgment about how meaningful it is. It’s possible the posting was put together by an intern who didn’t really think through how it would come across, or the majority of the posting was copied and pasted from another source and wasn’t vetted too closely. I agree that the LW should try to get an interview and see whether someone puts a whoopee cushion on their chair.

        2. Mannequin*

          I just would end up getting fired from the no-humor place for making jokes at my own expense.
          I’ll take my chances at the other place- I have a thick skin & a quick wit and can dish it right back out if I have to, which they might not find as amusing, LOL.

          1. allathian*

            Yup. I can take jokes at my expense, as long as they’re verbal. And provided I can make jokes at the jokester right back. I won’t sit back and take it quietly if I’m the butt of jokes but I’m not allowed to take my revenge.

            Pranks though are a different matter. I detest pranks and have nothing but contempt for pranksters.

      2. John Smith*

        Depends though on how far these go. There’s always some ribbing go between me and my colleagues, but it’s light hearted, inoffensive and no pranks as such. Wel all give as good as we get and it really keeps morale up. If it’s more than friendly banter, I’d be weary and I think what the LW describes is going to be a lot more than that.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, if this issue is serious enough that they’re putting it in the job posting, not even waiting until an interview to bring it up, I’m 99% sure these aren’t really jokes but just outright insults. I would run fast and far from this company.

      4. Nea*

        I’d pick no humor over jokes at my expense too, because the comments might be at my expense, but I sincerely doubt they’d be actual jokes.

      5. lilsheba*

        For me any joke being made at my expense is a big fat nope. I don’t like being embarrassed like that.

      6. Librarian1*

        I wouldn’t be able to handle either. Unless the jokes made at my expense are more the types of lightly teasing jokes that my family and close friends use to tease me about my quirks or whatever.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        I get that vibe too. And they totally can be! Like, putting STUDENT DRIVER stickers on the forklift, or one of those bird call clocks in the break room but with the faceplate swapped out for a plain one, or the SDS for Caffeine on the executive coffee maker… (um… I may or may not have done any or all of these things)

        It’s the wording “including at your own expense” that sends this into red flag territory for me. Sounds like an office where pranks are directed at individuals, rather than just sort of left laying around for a community laugh… And that something has landed VERY wrong, to the point where they need to have that in the job description!

        1. JustaTech*

          At one time I put a sign up on the window of my lab that was in the style of the signs at the San Diego zoo, the ones that say “please do not bother, harass, harry, annoy … the animals”, except I replaced “the animals” with “the scientists”.

          I was making a joke at my own expense (and I checked with the other people who used the lab before I put it up). But making a joke at your own expense is so very not the same as laughing when other people make jokes about you to your face.

          1. allathian*

            My former boss used to have two coffee mugs at the office, “Keep Calm & Carry On” and “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps”. I never could figure out if she used them at random or if she picked them according to her mood that day. She was always very to extremely stressed out, though…

      2. EPLawyer*

        I read it that way too. We are a totally bro culture and you are expected to go along with it rather than us growing up and acting like reasonable professionals. If you don’t go along with it, you are the Fun Police.

        1. Zephy*

          I assumed it’d go one step further and not only are you expected to go along with it, but also to just take it lying down. We can dish it out but we can’t take it and if you fire back at the CEO’s son you will be summarily fired.

          1. Zephy*

            (my kingdom for an edit button!) edit to add: especially if the applicant is any combination of not-white, not-male, not-able-bodied, not-heterosexual, not-upper-middle-class, not-neurotypical, or not-a-natural-born-citizen.

          2. Librarian1*

            Yeah, this is what I assumed. It would be a bunch of white straight able-bodied cis men who are christian/from christian backgrounds, etc making fun of people who aren’t like that.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      How about this in the interview: bring up that part of the ad and say

      “Whoever wanted that in the ad must be a total d#$@^*bag. Or really really stupid.”

      Then while they gape speechless, say “What? I was kidding! Can’t you take a joke?”

    3. Kne*

      I read that description and immediately thought “We like making sexist/racist jokes and don’t want to hire people who wouldn’t be OK with that.” As a white male, myself, I’ve spent a lot of time around other white men who can’t seem to understand that these aren’t “just jokes.”

      1. Anonymous Today*

        It’s run by lions. They like to make jokes at the hyenas’ expense. Except lions’ jokes generally aren’t funny to hyenas, what with the power imbalance and all.

    4. Alleira*

      Interestingly enough, the employer related to LW2 is a law firm (just google the sentence – the listing comes up). So I sincerely doubt that this is a place where racist or sexist jokes are made routinely, but I’m not going to say never because lawyers can be remarkably stupid sometimes.

      Being a lawyer myself (but not at this firm), I am guessing this is someone’s attempt at humor falling flat. My perspective on this is that when you work the kind of long hours that lawyers work, you really need to be able to relate to your colleagues and a good sense of humor about yourself, and particularly your own mistakes, is invaluable. Don’t spend a million hours beating yourself up about your mistakes; learn from them, remember them, laugh at them, and move on. I don’t take the sentence to mean that you should be comfortable being mocked by others, but instead that they hope you take issues in stride.

      THAT SAID … it is probably best not to put that in a job ad and to evaluate it on a case by case basis at the interview. I find that you can generally tell if someone has a decent sense of humor by the end of the interview. To me (a person who hires people), a sense of humor is basically required because I work in a high-stress environment. I agree, however, that the wording is highly subjective and somewhat problematic (as demonstrated by the question and the responses in here) and good candidates might opt not to apply (LOL: no, they’re 3Ls so they would apply to work in the pit of hell if it gave them experience. Ask me how I know!). Better to not try to stand out from the crowd and see what someone’s like in person.

      1. I*

        This! I’m really surprised people went straight to insults—I’d read that ad as saying they’re looking for someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously/is flexible enough to roll with whatever happens.

  6. Kotow*

    LW3- So, I’m not sure thinking about how you would respond if someone were a struggling English speaker is the best way of looking at the situation. With native English speakers, we’ve heard so much struggling English throughout our lives that it’s not a surprise to hear it by the time we’re adults. Awkward phrasing, vocabulary, using the wrong word which requires context to understand is something we can easily work around. The same is not true in other languages. I’ve found this with Polish and Ukrainian that native speakers aren’t necessarily used to foreigners learning their languages so it isn’t always a smooth transition particularly at the early stages where you have a definite speaking ability but it’s extremely hard to do it.

    What types of conversations are happening in Dothraki? Is it technical jargon or is it more water cooler fun talk? If it’s fairly basic conversations, you could make it clear that your coworkers can speak Dothraki around you (often people will default to English if there’s someone who they don’t think knows the language). But it will be on you to initiate the conversation in Dothraki and keep it going.

    What worked for me at the early speaking stage was: working out what types of conversations I would initiate (that was the hardest part, once I got going it was much easier) and memorizing prepared questions and comments. At that level, you can definitely have basic social conversations, but you have to prepare for them in advance. It’s a lot of work but it eventually gets easier. I actually think conversations between native speakers are among the hardest to follow! But if you persevere and continue initiating and maintaining the conversations in Dothraki, it may eventually get to the point where it’s easier for the Dothraki speakers to speak with you in their native language rather than switching between their native and foreign language.

    As a side note, I’ve never liked talking about language “practice” with native speakers who didn’t sign up to be tutors. Practicing the language and getting corrections is critical, but it’s better to use actual language tutors for that purpose rather than coworkers who didn’t volunteer for that role. Ultimately you want to use the language in natural conversations rather than practice it! And keep reading and listening! It truly will help with comprehension and it will eventually start to make sense.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Kowtow, I’m really curious about what you said about Polish and Ukranian language speakers and your experience learning them/conversations when you were learning. Do you mind elaborating?

      How did those language speakers react to beginner and intermediate attempts to speak those languages? I’m curious but I also want to be more sensitive in my own, very slow, language learning journey (not learning Polish or Ukranian but I think its something to be aware of).

    2. LW3*

      Interesting note about the word “practice”! I want to make it really clear that I am absolutely not expecting — nor wanting — any of my coworkers to “tutor” or correct me. By “practice,” I do mean “use from time to time, where appropriate.”

      1. Nanani*

        It sounds like you’re approaching it with the right attitude. Just be very very VERY generous in interpreting signals that it’s not a good time for accommodating your language level.

        I’ve been in the situation of having people ranging from random strangers to restaurant staff to colleagues I only barely knew deciding I was going to practice Language with them and it is grating when all I want to do is get through this routine interaction, not be this stranger’s small talk practice target, you know?

      2. TreeHillGrass*

        LW3 this is just another example of this commentariat taking things WAY too far in regards to social justice and getting rabid about a boutique issue, or applying a major issue to something inappropriately. It is completely normal to ask if you can practice a second language with a group of people and I hope you will disregard these “but” comments and go ahead and ask.

      3. Master Bean Counter*

        You seem to be approaching this with the right attitude. Quick simple conversations in the language. If the other person wants to talk further, they will let you know.
        I am learning Spanish. My work place is very bilingual. Any efforts to reach across the language gap to the non-native English speakers have always been met with good reactions. Just as I try to be as gracious as possible to them when they speak English. Acting with kindness, empathy, and grace are appreciated no matter the language. And OP it sounds like you have got that down.

      4. The Hon. Catherine Bingley*

        Yeah, it’s really weird the way some folks are interpreting that. I was recently in France (I’m from the US and a native English speaker), and have an elementary grasp on the language. Every conversation I had in French while there was practice for me. Many people switched to English when they realized I was an American, and one waitress actually excitedly said “oh! Americans! It’s been so long since I could practice with Americans!” I wasn’t tutoring her, she wasn’t tutoring me — we were just conversing. Did she correct my pronunciation a time or two? Sure (and I was grateful!). Did I teach her some American colloquialisms? Yup! But still, we were both practicing and neither tutoring.

    3. doreen*

      I’m not sure why it seems that people are distinguishing between practice and natural conversations when natural conversations can be practice. When I was long ago trying to learn a second language that was commonly spoken in my neighborhood , I practiced by having natural conversations with native speakers – if I went to a store or a restaurant where that language was spoken , I tried to conduct my business in that language . I tried to converse with neighbors in that language. I wasn’t looking for corrections , just to gain familiarity.

      1. LW3*

        Right. As a language learner, I feel like *all* instances of using or hearing a language are practice. Honestly, corrections can be really jarring when I’m not expecting them, and I would never ask for that in the middle of a conversation where I’m just asking about someone’s weekend.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Exactly! If I am speaking a new language and am completely unclear, I’d hope that somebody would ask clarifying questions (just as you do with anybody who is unclear!) or let me know if I’ve accidentally said something offensive by mispronouncing a word/using something I didn’t realize was slang, but I wouldn’t ever want somebody to fine tune my grammar.

          1. anonymath*

            Agree and as someone who has worked a lot with non-native English speakers (and lives with some), it’s a total jerk move and very tiring to always be correcting someone’s language. Heck, that’s true when everyone is speaking English. I don’t think the LW is expecting this and folks should drop that idea.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, absolutely agreed. That said, I do think that most people would be happy to give a heads-up, if the language learner accidentally said something offensive. I think it would be cruel not to.

              I’m a Swedish-speaking Finn, and at one time I and a coworker had an agreement where we’d go for coffee or lunch so that she could speak Swedish with me. It’s one of my native languages, she took it in school and worked in Sweden as a young adult, but her skills were fairly rusty. She asked if I’d be willing to do Swedish lunches or coffee breaks with her, and we went about once a week. About once a month or so she’d buy me a coffee at our favorite coffee shop as a thank you, and both of us were happy with the arrangement until she retired two years ago. For context, Swedish is an official minority language that had a high status in the past when it was the language of the educated classes and government, but this is no longer the case. I’ve had dirty looks on public transit for speaking Swedish with my son, but it’s never gone any further than that.

      2. Me*

        This. When someone is practicing their language with me, I’m not tutoring them. I’m talking to them.
        I’ve never had the expectation that I’m going to correct them or somehow teach them anything. At most, I might have been asked what the English word is for something they were trying to come up with. I don’t care about their grammar. It’s just a conversation. Not a tutoring session.

        The comparison with being an English speaker and having a non-native speaker practice with you isn’t about how you are going to teach them. It’s about how in that situation you’d (I would hope) be happy to converse with that person as a way to help them improve and be patient with them if it takes them longer to get a phrase out.

      3. Smithy*

        I think the emphasis on “practice” is why there often is so much encouragement to use the language when shopping, in banks, at the doctors – etc. Essentially, get in your language repetitions of “hi, how are you, gee its busy today, yes I’d like bread, to make a deposit and for you to look at a funny mole”. In all of those situations, the person on the other side is ultimately being paid to meet your needs – part of which are communication. And if those moments take some extra time because speech is slower and maybe all of the vocabulary isn’t there – so be it.

        At work, it’s more of a favor of your colleagues to perhaps slow down their speech, think of whether or not they’re using idioms or jargon, etc. It’s not so much about correcting someone else’s speech, but modifying their own. At lunch someone might be very happy to do so, but also on their lunch break wants to unwind and that may include using slang, speaking as quickly as they choose, etc.

        I used to live and work where most of my conversations were with people who spoke English as a second language. And eventually adjusting my speech patterns was more second nature – but whenever I’d meet someone who’d ask me to speak slower it was work. Just have a conversation with someone where they keep asking you to speak slower. It’s really not that easy.

        Not that engaging coworkers won’t be happy to do it on occasion, but it’s good to keep in mind that it is still work.

        1. Allonge*

          I suppose the part I don’t get is why people (not just you) assume that this would be a request to slow down and speak without idioms.

          For an intermediate learner, the whole point would be to listen to and participate in the ‘normal’, idiomatic, real-speed language and slowly catch the terminology that nobody teaches you at school. Not by expecting the colleagues to have a footnote for each term, but by picking up some things one by one, looking stuff up later and if absolutely necessary, asking some questions as things happen (sorry, I did not catch that – did you mean X when you said [fancy term for X]?).

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. Welcoming intermediate learners to participate in a conversation is a whole different ball game from helping those who have barely any vocabularly at all.

    4. Alianora*

      That’s a great point that English speakers are more exposed to people learning (or even just having an accent) than most other language speakers. Definitely tracks with my experiences speaking French in France. I was at a level where I could follow conversations fluently, but I still had a slight accent and made occasional mistakes. People reacted very differently from how I react when I’m struggling to understand someone’s accent – I think they just are not as used to having to try. And with Parisians, there’s maybe a cultural attitude that you must speak the language exactly like Parisians do, or it’s not even real French.

      1. Ann Non*

        It seems funny to me that so many people assume that English speakers are fine with non-native speakers speaking English. At least in my experience, when speaking in the UK outside of London, many MANY people act like they cannot understand me when I pronounce things with a sort of general Transatlantic accent. And they make it clear that I am inconveniencing them by not dropping the correct consonants or whatever.

        To LW3, I do think it’s important to let people know that you can understand their language even if you are too shy to join in. Others have suggested you bring a book in the language; they might invite you to join their conversation and you could listen without eavesdropping.

        1. Alianora*

          I didn’t say all English speakers are fine with non-native speakers, just that they’re more likely to be exposed to English learners.

          It’s not inherently the fact that we speak English. It’s that if you live in an area with a lot of linguistic diversity, you’re more used to accents. And that’s most likely to happen with English speakers because English is so common as a second language.

          1. anonymath*

            I do think that varies quite a bit across the US. When I taught at US universities, I did have to always note that foreign TAs/TAs with accents teaching first-year students were quite likely to get very poor teaching evaluations regardless of quality because kids from some areas (esp rural areas, in my part of the US) had never been exposed to an accent of any kind other than Peppa Pig and tended to blame the TAs for their problems. By second semester the students had acclimated and this was no longer a problem of the same magnitude.

      2. allathian*

        I’m Finnish, and both Finnish and Swedish are fairly collaborative languages and interruptions are considered impolite at best and rude at worst. French is a language where you indicate engagement by frequently interrupting the speaker. I was pretty fluent when I went to France for 6 months (2 trimesters) as a college student, but only felt that I was genuinely accepted to be truly fluent to the point that some people asked me if I was Belgian because they couldn’t place my accent when I started interrupting others in conversations in the French style. Language skills aren’t just a matter of pronunciation, grammar, and syntax, but also about communication patterns.

  7. HA2*

    #5 – it’s true that there aren’t any “you should move on” signals, but there are definite strong “we’re not going to give you raises” signals. Your boss has had a full year to raise this with the new CEO, and they haven’t, which is a signal all on its own.

    1. Elena*

      Also, this sounds like a “pranks” type of culture, which I personally enjoy but not everyone does. So if you hate having jokes or pranks pulled on you id consider this a helpful warning about what kind of culture is already in place

    2. Gammagirl1908*

      Agree. They very well may not want you to go anywhere. Lots of workplaces would be delighted to keep you in your job forever!…at your exact same salary.

      I’ve heard of workplaces that never give raises, period; workplaces that only give raises when you go out and get a competing offer; and workplaces that only give raises when you are legitimately trying to resign. LW5’s employers may not want her to leave, but they also may not be planning to get up off more money.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      A year and a half, by my reckoning. That rather jumped out. Yes, the pandemic slowed a lot of processes, but at the very least what they are saying is that employee compensation is really, really down their list of priorities. Act accordingly.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This could be a good time for the “If you knew that in a year, nothing would have changed: Would you stay? Or start putting out resumes now?”

        1. Artemesia*

          This and you know the answer. Once you are repeatedly rebuffed for a raise, it is clear, they are not interested in making it happen. Time to at your leisure and at your pace start looking. And this is a time when lots of hiring is happening and so it may be an excellent time to rethink. I know several people who are in good well paid jobs that have some issues they haven’t been able to resolve who are now looking to make a move in this very fluid hiring situation.

    4. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I also got a no-raises vibe from the CEO saying that the job “would be a great stepping stone to something.” If “something” wasn’t strongly implied to be at that company, then it sounds like a place that knows it doesn’t pay market, isn’t planning on paying market, and is fine with people leaving if they find better-paying jobs.

      I worked at a non-profit like that once. They didn’t pay much, but were fairly impressive to have on a resume. So people would come in early in their careers then leave a year or two later. You could see that as being too cheap to pay experienced professionals, or as embracing a role of training new practitioners, depending on how charitable you feel. But that was a non-profit; for-profit companies don’t merit the same benefit of the doubt on low pay, IMO.

    5. Knope Knope Knope*

      Yeah I think the strongest signal OP’s manager is giving is that they don’t have the pull to effectively advocate for a raise. Maybe the new CEO will be more open to it so that could be a good thing, but this is just the reality of middle management. I’d give half my team a raise this year if I could. In reality it depends on how the company performs and if I get any discretionary say in raises at all and I’m in a pretty senior position. If I can’t get the money, I can’t give it.

  8. Double A*

    LW 2: I wonder if by “jokes at your own expense” they mean something more like you don’t take yourself too seriously and have a sense of humor about yourself. I bet there is some razzing and teasing on this team, though, so it would be worth sussing out more what that looks like. If it’s an otherwise interesting looking job and you would be okay with some teasing in a workplace, I’d still apply and try to get a more specific sense of the culture during an interview.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      During the interview I’d ask them for examples of the worst jokes the company culture considered acceptable.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I wouldn’t ask worst joke they find acceptable, because any place that puts that in the ad, their idea of a worst joke is really bad.

        This is place that bullies and then when you complaint they say “Only joking.” Like that makes it okay.

        I would ask for examples of typical jokes at one’s own expense in the workplace. Gives you a much better idea of what they find funny.

    2. Lacey*

      Yeah, I can see a previous employer wording things the same as in LW2’s letter, but all the would mean was that it’s a culture where people are able to laugh at their own mistakes and move on – and they pull the occasional super mild office prank (like your desk might be decorated when you come back from vaca).

      On the other hand, I know people whose employers would have meant, “We need to be able to harass you all day” which is a bit more of a problem.

    3. hbc*

      I bet a really good question of the hiring manager (or other upper level person) would be something like, “I’m interested in the joking culture since it was mentioned in the posting. What’s an example of a joke about you that shows the kind of atmosphere here?” A bully manager wouldn’t be able to answer that, but someone who is actually self-deprecating would have no problem with it.

  9. Language Lover*

    LW #3

    I have a strong opinion on this one. I don’t know if it’s right but it’s strong. Your coworkers are not your language teachers/tutors so don’t use them in that way.

    Pop culture reference: My favorite moment from Emily In Paris (an otherwise terrible show) is when Emily tried to “befriend” her French teacher and invited her out for coffee after class. The French teacher looked at her and quoted her hourly price.

    Depending on your skill level, turning them into a tutor is kind of what you do if you choose to “practice” a language you’re less proficient in when you already have an established and efficient communication language with English.

    When I studied abroad, I had my teachers and travel hosts who accepted the responsibility of helping me learn the language. I was paying them or they made it clear they volunteered. But if I walked into a train station and it became obvious that the clerk at the counter was a better English speaker than I was a speaker of their native language, I felt it was rude to continue to try and speak their language. The clerk had a job to do and had to do it in the fastest way possible. He wasn’t my unpaid labor.

    Practicing the language is why I sought out language exchanges or even friends who couldn’t speak English. See if there are culture or language groups in your city or online.

    Now, I do think listening is fine. You can let my coworkers know that you enjoy listening to their conversations in Dothraki because it helps you pick up more of their language. Some of them might even volunteer to speak with you over lunch. I just wouldn’t ask. Make it an “enthusiastic buy in” situation instead of a polite acquiescence. And don’t expect them to be up for it continuously even if they agree one time.

    1. Yennefer of Vengerberg*

      Sort of agreeing here. I did a couple of semesters abroad to learn one language and moved to a foreign country and learned another. The thing is… you feel awkward because this isn’t really the right way to become proficient at the language. You can’t go from cold turkey never speaking to anyone to speaking to coworkers in a professional setting (even if it is just around the water cooler.) My recommendation would be to spend some time improving your language outside of work first, by speaking to real people, not reading. Depending on where you live and the popularity of the language (sounds like it’s pretty popular) there are both paid and free alternatives available. Check Meetup or your local library for language hang outs. The people who go to these things are supportive and patient. If you can’t find anything in your area, there are online versions of this as well. Get reasonably fluent and comfortable speaking the language first and then speak to your coworkers as a way of perfecting your language.

      Some people might say, what about people learning to speak English. And all I can say to that is it’s totally different when you’re forced to learn a language and CANNOT communicate with people any other way (speaking as a refugee and child of immigrants here).

      Also… be kind to yourself. It’s hard putting yourself out there and learning a new language. It gets easier the more you do it. Find a safe and easy place to start.

      1. Language Lover*

        Some people might say, what about people learning to speak English. And all I can say to that is it’s totally different when you’re forced to learn a language and CANNOT communicate with people any other way (speaking as a refugee and child of immigrants here).

        Right. If the co-workers had a hard time speaking English, then bringing up the Dothraki skills would be appropriate because the purpose would be to find the best way to communicate even if it’s choppy. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the issue.

        And I do feel for the LW. I have been in situation where I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to practice the other languages I speak only to realize that it might not be an appropriate place to do it.

      2. LW3*

        Just want to add here that it is not a popular language. I do have a wealth of learning resources, but finding other people to speak it with would be difficult outside of going to the country where it is natively spoken.

        1. Anon language learner*

          LW 3: I’m in a different but not totally dissimilar position. My partner abs her family speak a language that is very difficult to practice where we live. No one else speaks it anywhere near us, no one teaches it in this country at all though it is widely spoken elsewhere, and there is virtually no media available in it available here (and yes I know how to use the Internet). I think the key is paying attention to your co-workers’ responses. My partner is in theory up for practicing but just doesn’t like language very much (think mathematician), while I’m in a language-adjacent field in my native language (think copy writer). She quickly loses interest in helping me learn. Her family doesn’t speak English much and lives in their country of origin. Even when I practice with them, they prefer to use English with me, though I speak their language as well as they speak English. This is obviously really complicated and gets into dynamics different from your own, but based on my experience, my advice is to prioritize the work relationship and pursue the language as it fits into that .

        2. Yennefer of Vengerberg*

          In that case your best bet might be to find an online exchange buddy. A person who speaks your desired language and who wants to practice their English. You meet how ever often you like and speak English half the time and the other language the other half. If you google it you can websites that help you set this up…. worst case scenario you can make a post on an online forum and meet someone there. If you’re a gamer you could also join game servers for that country. Maybe others have some other ideas?

        3. dealing with dragons*

          Is there a local group/club you could join? I’ve learned German and while I know it’s quite popular there is a local German American club who has coffee meetings where people get coffee and talk German. Not sure if you could do that locally or online?

          Watching movies also helped me. I took a German film class and there were no subtitles so I was pretty well forced to pay attention to figure out the plot. Honestly if you could find a college that teaches it and snoop on the courses and what the textbooks are that could help, especially at the 400+ level.

    2. LW3*

      I should have made myself clearer, I guess! I absolutely do not want to put the role of “tutor” or “corrector” on any of my coworkers. I’m not new to language-learning, and I have an absolute wealth of resources I can use if I have questions. This is more… as I work on my fluency, can I say add a few sentences to the conversation in Dothraki at lunch? Is it weird if I respond in Dothraki while we’re eating lunch? Do I let them know I can understand what they’ve just said?

      Also, some have spoken about power dynamics between languages, and that’s not an issue here. My coworkers speak English fluently and they are excited about my connection to the language. If I’d caught a whiff of “ugh, I don’t want to engage in Dothraki with this new, un-fluent person,” I wouldn’t be writing this letter at all, but that’s the opposite of the welcome I’ve received.

      1. Colette*

        I think it’s totally fine to test out your skills in the workplace, provided your coworkers don’t mind.

      2. Renee Remains the Same*

        I took a foreign language in college, one with a completely different alphabet and sentence structure, similar to Russian. Despite several years, I never became fluent (actually, I got worse as time went on!). If I were in your shoes, I would drop a few words in conversation. Just saying “thank you” when someone gives you something or Hello, how are you, when you walk in first thing in the morning. Simple phrases that will let people know that you know a few words. It also might be handy to have the phrase, “I’m learning the language” or “I don’t know many words” if they should start speaking to you speedily in Dothraki. It’s an easy way to signal to folks you’re open to speaking Dothraki and practicing it, without the pressure of a full on conversation.

      3. Kyubey*

        I think joining in on conversations in Dothraki should be fine, a lot of people here seem to assume you’re trying to get free labor from them or tutoring help, but that doesn’t sound at all to be the case. You want to engage in conversations in Dothraki with them (which they are already having) not making a request for them to speak it with you in situations where they don’t already. This is hardly asking for free tutoring or labor on their part, assuming you don’t ask for grammar lessons or complex explanations too often.

        I say, go ahead and join or ask to join in. Maybe next time you see them conversing in Dothraki, go over and say something, and add in “just practicing my Dothraki, feel free to continue on!” to explain yourself, but I imagine most people won’t mind or judge you for it.

      4. Blackcat*

        “My coworkers speak English fluently and they are excited about my connection to the language.”

        I would just ask, given everything you’ve said. When I was a teacher, the Spanish teachers (all native speakers) just started speaking Spanish with me when they figured out I understood Spanish. They *liked* speaking in Spanish with each other, but wouldn’t do it in large groups because they didn’t want to exclude others/be rude. Once they figured out that it was not, in fact, rude to just speak in Spanish with me, they did so, even when I struggled to keep up (or responded in “Spanglish”). It wasn’t so much that anyone viewed this as them “teaching” me, but rather me not requiring that they switch into English to converse with me.

        If Dothraki is a language being spoken around you regularly and you’d be participating in random office chatter (“How are you today?” “What did you do this weekend?”), I think it’s a lower bar than say, trying to “conduct business” in Dothraki. If you only speak English with them, they may feel like they *have* to speak English with you. For all you know, they may prefer to speak Dothraki with you, the way my colleagues preferred Spanish with me.

      5. MtnLaurel*

        IF that is the welcome you’ve received, then go for it! It might be easier to begin with leave-taking, so there’s not as much pressure for a conversation. So try doing “have a good evening” to begin and see the reaction. This will gradually start you in speaking and give you confidence.

      6. Librarian1*

        It sounds fine to me! I studied abroad in Sweden, a country where pretty much everyone knows more than enough English to have a basic conversation in it and where most people can have pretty involved convos and everyone was pretty excited to hear that I was trying to learn Swedish. I know it’s not quite the same because you aren’t actually living in that country, but you used Finnish as an example and Swedish is pretty much the same in terms of power dynamics and how many people speak it around the world. That’s a long winded way to say that as long as your coworkers are interested in that it’ll be fine. Swedes loved when I threw in some Swedish words or sentences.

    3. Andy*

      > But if I walked into a train station and it became obvious that the clerk at the counter was a better English speaker than I was a speaker of their native language, I felt it was rude to continue to try and speak their language. The clerk had a job to do and had to do it in the fastest way possible. He wasn’t my unpaid labor.

      It is not rude to try to speak their language, unless they indicated they are unwilling to or your lack of knowledge makes it too slow. Speaking local language in these common interactions is also common advice. Especially French tend to appreciate you trying to speak French in my experience. This is frankly, absurd to call this for unpaid labor. You are not asking them to fix your pronunciation, you are asking for a ticket.

      > My favorite moment from Emily In Paris (an otherwise terrible show) is when Emily tried to “befriend” her French teacher and invited her out for coffee after class. The French teacher looked at her and quoted her hourly price.

      I haven’t seen that scene, but it more of come across rude then anything else. One can turn down coffee invitation politely. Also, it is also not that unusual for adult students to invite tutor for socialization, usually as celebration after last class or something like that, if the said socialization happens it is nothing like the class. At least in my experience, it is then normal social with mix language.

      I have seen the same dynamic even in sport groups where paid trainer also went for beer after training.

      1. Lacey*

        That’s the opposite of my experience in France. They would just look at me condescendingly and repeat what I’d said in English.

        But, I have a friend who had more of an experience with people being delighted that she was trying – she was much more fluent though which may have made a difference.

        1. Not a student of French*

          It could also be region or luck. I have not studied French but have traveled there a lot. More rural areas that see fewer English speaking tourists were generally appreciative. In big cities, and especially tourist destinations, I had more of the condescending irritation you described. I’m not sure that skipping the attempt would have been better, though. A big part of this dynamic is letting people vent their irritation at you for being a foreign tourist.

          1. Alianora*

            Region definitely had an effect in my experience. Outside of Paris, people were very encouraging, even if they had a harder time understanding my accent. In Paris, there were plenty of friendly and encouraging people, but also some irritation and condescension. I also got a lady who tried to coach me on the correct way to pronounce vowels, which she did pretty abruptly, so it took me by surprise, but I actually appreciate that she took the time.

        2. Nanani*

          That’s Paris for you. They do this even to native french speakers with a non-Metropolitain dialect, though English gets particularly withering stares.

      2. KiniBR*

        “I felt it was rude to continue to try and speak their language.”

        There are also places where it’s rude to expect natives to speak English for you.

      3. Language Lover*

        It is not rude to try to speak their language, unless they indicated they are unwilling to or your lack of knowledge makes it too slow. Speaking local language in these common interactions is also common advice. Especially French tend to appreciate you trying to speak French in my experience.

        That was my point. It’s a good idea to start off in the native language but, depending on skill, sometimes it is more efficient to switch to English. I’m not saying it can’t be frustrating.

        And France can be hit or miss about how appreciative they are.

        I haven’t seen that scene, but it more of come across rude then anything else. One can turn down coffee invitation politely. Also, it is also not that unusual for adult students to invite tutor for socialization, usually as celebration after last class or something like that, if the said socialization happens it is nothing like the class. At least in my experience, it is then normal social with mix language.
        It’s not rude to value your time. It was a full class. The teacher was the one person Emily approached. The only reason she was likely approached was because she was the French teacher.

    4. Allonge*

      But if I walked into a train station and it became obvious that the clerk at the counter was a better English speaker than I was a speaker of their native language, I felt it was rude to continue to try and speak their language. The clerk had a job to do and had to do it in the fastest way possible. He wasn’t my unpaid labor.

      While this is a perfectly fine opinion to have and implement for yourself, there are a lot of shades of grey here. Are you arranging a two-month trip with tickets needed for every other day? Are there a billion people standing in line behind you? Speed/efficiency matters.
      Do you need to ask for two tickets to [city]? Go ahead and try your reasonable-level language skills.
      If the clerk switches to English, it’s best to follow. Otherwise though? They are doing what their job is in their own language like for everyone else. The fact that you get something extra out of it does not make it unpaid labour.

  10. Tin Cormorant*

    #4: I used that exact story when quitting my job due to being miserable and stressed about 6 months ago, in fact. Didn’t give any details, just “family emergency” and saying I’d still be available for remote work for 2 weeks but I really couldn’t stay past that. With Covid going on, it’s especially believable, and nobody questioned it. I definitely recommend it.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I think I used ‘for personal reasons I can’t do this job anymore’.

      (I was seriously thinking of deliberately crashing the car so I wouldn’t have to go to work – that’s when I knew I was in serious trouble).

      1. Grey Coder*

        In the beforetimes, I used something like “taking an opportunity more aligned with my long term goals”, which sounds like climbing the career ladder but actually the long term goal was not murdering anyone. (Happy to say I am still on track to achieving that goal.)

        But “family emergency” is fine. Memorize your phrasing and repeat as necessary. Don’t be lured into elaboration — “I really can’t discuss the details” is enough.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Agreed, no more information. My boss at the time (a disgusting ableist/sexist git) kept asking ‘but what is it REALLY?’ and ‘we can’t help if you don’t tell us where we went wrong’ but from experience I knew he was just trying to find anything to twist into ‘my’ fault.

          (That was the firm that told me that they had no obligation to cater for my disabilities because they’d ‘be cured if you lost weight which you’re refusing to do’ among other hair raising shockery. Absolute sewage outlet of a firm)

          1. pbnj*

            Good thing you got out of there. I agree at this point no more information is needed. If it’s reached the point where you’re willing to walk out without another job lined up, it’s too late or impossible for them to change anything.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I’d also add it’s rather cathartic to have a pretend conversation/letter about exactly WHY you’re leaving with no job to go to afterwards. I still go over (often alone in the car) exactly what I’d have loved to have said to that git of a boss – 30 minutes of inventive profanity shortens a lot of car journeys!

              (Needless to say never do this in front of people you work with)

              1. Grey Coder*

                Oh, I fantasized for months about what I would say to the Serious Fraud Office if they ever asked me about the place I quit. Never had enough evidence to shop them myself but they were definitely shady.

      2. ErinWV*

        I never had a job that bad (and glad you got away, Keymaster) but your comment reminds me of a time I was working a bad job, dragged myself out of bed and peeked out the window into my driveway. I couldn’t see my car. My thoughts went from “Car stolen, oh no!” to “I don’t have to go to work today, yippee!” That’s when I knew the job was really bad, that I would basically sacrifice my car just to avoid it.

        P.S. Car was not stolen, just forgot I parked it in an unaccustomed place the night before.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I once knew it was time for me to quit a job when my dentist told me I needed a root canal and my first reaction was “You mean I don’t have to go to work today? That’s great news!”

          OP, do what you have to do to keep hold of your mental health and just keep repeating your stock lines over and over until your notice period is over and you’re free. Hold on to the idea of that freedom! It’s so close and you’ll have it soon!

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      All great advice here, OP4, and remember that “No” is a full sentence. Good luck!

      1. Mandycake*

        I left a toxic long term contract temp job for a permanent position on the first work day after the new job was a sure thing. I told the manager I was leaving that day (leaving out the new job and that I was taking two desperately-needed weeks off in between) and she nearly choked. The director called me in and grilled me about the reason for leaving. I just kept repeating that I was leaving and it was my last day. She even asked me what it would take to make me stay. She was desperate since they thought I was covering for the dept. over the holidays. I did tell the contractor company that no paid time off in more than a year made the decision very easy.

    3. Bee Eye Ill*

      I recently left a terrible boss but did at least get another job. When they asked where I was going, I refused to say. Just said “I’d rather not say” and left it at that.

    4. DrRat*

      One thing to remember is that a boss this mean isn’t going to be a good reference for you, no matter what. You could work 100 weeks in your remaining time and polish his car with your shirt, and he’ll still be a terrible reference. So – you don’t have to give notice at all. You can take all your stuff when you leave one day, email an “I quit” email with the address to send your last check, and basically be done. Is there an HR you can speak to if you need to COBRA your benefits or anything?

      Or, you know, you could just spell out your resignation in cod. https://www.askamanager.org/2017/10/resigning-via-cod-a-glorious-out-of-office-message-and-other-quitting-stories.html

  11. Filicophyta*

    LW3 I’ve been in this situation. Start small and low stakes. If someone walks in and everyone says ‘Good morning’ in Dothraki, you can do the same. When you are all making coffee and someone asks for the sugar, pass it and say ‘here you are’. When you are waiting for the photocopier/whatever equipment, you can check ‘Are you finished yet’ to the person there. Bit by bit people will start saying simple things to you in Dothraki too and it will gradually build up.

    I wouldn’t ask other people to ‘practice’ with me for reasons that have been pointed out by other commenters.

    Good luck!

    1. LW3*

      I’ve been trying, but even this makes me a little red in the face! I’m sure it’s about building up tolerance for those moments, though, and getting used to them.

      1. Colette*

        Speaking a language you’re not fluent in is really hard, especially when you aren’t forced to use it! It might be good to pick one colleague and ask if they’d be willing to talk with you in Dothraki on occasion – that will help get past the intimidation factor.

        1. Allonge*

          And of course if you don’t speak, you never become fluent. It’s hard, but really worth it!

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Yep, this is the bit you just have to get up your courage and do it! It’ll be a bit embarrassing but you’ll feel better once you’ve actually gotten over that stage.

        Think of it this way, which is more uncomfortable, feeling embarrassed for 5 minutes because of a “goodbye” in the other language, or feeling kinda guilty for weeks because you never do?

        I agree that simple greetings or very simple phrases like yes or now are the easiest entry point.

      3. cosmicgorilla*

        Think of these small phrases like a warm-up. You’re warming up your vocal cords, warming up the foreign language part of your brain. Actually speaking the language, actually generating it, is one of the hardest parts of language learning. You can have all the resources in the world, and they don’t do you any good if you aren’t actively generating it. But once you start, you WILL find it easier over time.

        I know you said you’re shy, but even people who don’t struggle with shyness have anxieties over speaking at first. It can be so hard to get over that hump, which is why using these small phrases can be so useful.

        Other thing I’d suggest, while I think practicing speaking out loud is so important, is form a response in your head in Dothraki to things you hear. That at least gets your brain in the habit of thinking in Dothraki, even if your lips aren’t following.

        And do tell your colleagues you’d like to respond occasionally in Dothraki! Odds are, if this language is not a commonly studied one, they will be THRILLED. I study a not so common one, and ANY attempts at speaking it are met with “OMG, your teapotish is so good!” They’re not used to folks being interested in their language.

        1. Reba*

          Co-sign this! It’s a great way to think of it. And once you get some greetings and stock phrases flowing easily, it will get more fun and much easier to generate new sentences too. I know for myself, at some point I was able to somehow… just get over worrying about making mistakes in my non-native languages. I make mistakes! Oh well!

          LW3, I think you are worried about your colleagues’ reactions to this (thinking it’s weird) in part because *you* feel embarrassed and unsure about it. While the observations here about power dynamics are good to keep in mind, to me it sounds like you are in an ideal situation to practice everyday speech! And, the fact that you didn’t use it at first but would start using it later actually makes total sense, it’s not at all weird that you would give it some time to get to know the workplace and coworkers before trying your Dothraki!

          Just pay attention to your coworkers’ signals. You may find that some people are better interlocutors for this than others, while others may be impatient or just uninterested. But I really doubt people will be offended.

          I like Alison’s advice to commit yourself to doing this. Maybe there is one coworker that you have a particularly good rapport with so far, and you can start by mentioning it to them?

      4. Emilia Bedelia*

        If just generally speaking makes you nervous, you could try defining a specific period of time that will be your Dothraki-speaking time. For example, “I’d like to try speaking Dothraki with you all more. At lunch today could we make it “Dothraki only”?” An hour long lunch might register differently, mentally, than a whole day of surprise language encounters.
        Setting a time period will also help your coworkers as it’s more clear what you are asking for – if someone asked me, open ended, “Can you help me practice my English sometimes?” I’d wonder what they were expecting. Once you have more confidence in speaking, it’ll be easier to expand and speak more in that language in other situations as well – and if your coworkers get a sense of your fluency in the informal break times, they’ll have a better idea of how much you are capable of, for better or for worse.

      5. have we met?*

        Building off an idea I saw upthread where the poster said they practiced canned phrases with market cashiers and the like, and eventually built up their “cans.”

        I wonder if this would lower the stakes even further, by having these early, wobbly conversations with Dothraki speakers that you don’t have to see regularly. Are you in an area where Dothraki is spoken regularly? Or, is there a local Dothraki market where you could attempt a few test phrases?

        Practicing “Hello, how are you?” and “I am fine, thank you” a few times with friendly strangers might make it easier to start speaking these beginner phrases with co-workers.

      6. Sandman*

        It really is difficult to grab onto that courage, but I think you’re exactly right here – so much of language learning is about pushing through the discomfort of actively presenting a less-polished version of yourself to people. I’ve found a lot of comments on this thread a little surprising, to be honest, with the assumption that speaking to someone in their native language would be somehow offensive (although the power dynamics thing is interesting, I learned something there). I’ve lived in two countries in Asia and one in the Middle East and also worked in an office in the US where most of the other staff spoke Spanish, and have never encountered someone who was offended if I tried to speak their language – quite the opposite. Obviously you switch back to English when it makes sense, your comments make clear that you realize that, but in my experience people are pleased when you try to connect with them in their language.

      7. Foxgloves*

        Definitely about building up tolerance- and when approaching colleagues about this, I’d recommend using a phrase like “I’m trying to improve my confidence in speaking [language]”!

      8. azvlr*

        There are defined levels of language proficiency, so it may be helpful to identify for yourself which level you feel you are at. It’s very normal and ok to only listen at first, and gradually move from responding to the new language in English (of course, don’t be creepy about this and avoid eavesdropping) to short phrases and responses when you are ready. Your pronunciation may be horrible, but often the only way to get past the embarrassment of that is to actually speak.
        It sounds like you are in a good environment where your efforts will be interpreted favorably. Good luck!

    2. Nanani*


      Try responding to specific people in Dothraki and get them used to the idea of using Dothraki with you – shift the normal. It will also make it more likely that they will initiate Dothraki conversations with you and skip the awkward “is it a good time to accommodate non-fluent conversation level” dance.

  12. Budgie Buddy*

    For OP 3, work may not be the best setting to practice Dothraki. Your coworkers may like to chill and speak their native language over lunch and leveling down for a learner could be tiresome.

    I also have the experience of being an English speaker in a non-English speaking company, and the people I worked with did find it quicker to switch to English than always slow down for me.

    However, it can be helpful for them to know you can switch to Dothraki or understand some Dothraki sentences. Even in a work context. So maybe asking proactively if you can use some phrases is the best way to go.

  13. July*

    I also worked at a place with an entire new language and people often spoke to me in English as well, so I kind of empathize with you on slightly knowing bits and pieces, enough to get context but never speaking it back since I know my grammar will be all over the place. However, some commenters have noted that you can’t just put others in a position where they’ll have to correct you and all since that’s on you to learn after all. But what you can do is just slip it in convo as Alison has suggested, for the sake of conversing but not ‘learning’ since what I’m trying to gather from your letter is that you also wish to be acquianted more with your coworkers which is a good thing!

    They might correct you on certain word usage or grammar sometimes but it shouldn’t be an expectation from them.

  14. Barbara Eyiuche*

    3. Don’t think of it as practicing Dothraki. Think of it as speaking Dothraki. Just start with simple things, like greetings and small talk about the weather or the weekend. Practicing implies they are teaching you, which they may not want. Just speaking in a friendly way at the level you can handle is fine.
    Different cultures do have different attitudes to a non-native speaker speaking their language. Whenever I say anything in my husband’s native language, for example, people are surprised and shocked. The usual response is laughter. They usually like it though.

    At the very least, say a few things once in a while so they know you have some knowledge of their language. It’s amazing what people will say about you right in front of you when they assume you don’t understand.

    1. Asenath*

      I agree. Try speaking the language. The greatest barrier I had to learning a foreign language was exactly the one OP mentions – when I had chances to speak it with native speakers, I didn’t do so. In my case, I was afraid of making mistakes and not sure that the native speakers would accept my efforts. This doesn’t mean OP should use the co-workers as instructors, or try to carry out important work discussions in a language OP doesn’t speak well, but that OP should start participating in greetings and casual conversations, and expand the use of the language as seems natural. Maybe a co-worker will even ask “Do you want me to make corrections, or are you working on fluent speech”, but that’s not required or expected. I’ve observed that although people who speak a second (or third, or fourth…) language fluently generally, but not always, have had formal lessons, they ALL seem to jump right at any opportunity to speak with a native speaker when they are learning. I wish I’d been better at that. The few times I got up my nerve to do so, the native speakers were generally kind and patient and encouraging – well, except for the one who lectured me on some political issue and my language skills weren’t good enough to respond in kind.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I’m seeing a lot of replies along the lines of “Practicing implies they are teaching you,” and I don’t understand why. I’ve always understood “practicing” to refer to just doing something repeatedly and improving your skills simply by doing – “practice makes perfect” almost as a counterpoint to the idea that you need a teacher to learn.

      Clearly if so many people have this reaction it’s safer to avoid using the word, so I’m not trying to argue that point, but I am very curious where the difference comes from.

      1. Reba*

        I don’t have an answer, but share the same observation! I thought it was clear from the letter that the Op3 is not looking to have people, like, drill her in conjugations!

        In the context of language learning, at least in my experience “practice” has always meant “try to have conversations in real life.”

        1. ecnaseener*

          Maybe some people did picture drilling…you can “practice” flashcards and stuff.

    3. LW3*

      “Practice” seems to have been a poor word choice.

      The reaction to you speaking your husband’s language is spot-on! That is the kind of language that this is. In my experience, speakers of this language aren’t terribly used to English-speakers being able to say much in it, but they are generally delighted by it (and find it very funny) when we do. I think that may be part of the reason I’ve been shy about it, actually. It’s not a hostile response, but it does make me a bit embarrassed!

      1. Allonge*

        In my experience this kind of reaction goes away after a while – if you get a group of people to talk to you in Dothraki, they will get used to it and include you in normal conversations as time passes. And yes, people who speak one or more foreign languages have their own experience with being not very good at it and are really unlikely to judge you for making mistakes!

  15. Jen*

    LW3, I have done this semi-successfully, but it did take me a few years! For context, my native language is spoken only in my country, I use English at a near-native level and I understand French well enough, but I am not good at speaking it; my coworkers are French and speak English mostly at an intermediate level.

    I started off slowly, just letting a few people know that I do understand French and they can forward me untranslated emails. I visited the France office a few times and told a few people that I can understand part of their conversation and I would like to be immersed more, but I can only answer in English. Most of my contributions were polite laughs – I noticed that, the moment I spoke English, they switched to English too! It went on like that for a few years, because I was embarrassed by accent and utter lack of any vocabulary. I speak very fast in my native language and in English, so slowing down in French was downright painful to me! (Even my boss remarked that my entire demeanor changes.)

    Then, finally, I was on a team where I was the only person from my country, so I told them that I would like to hold our daily meetings in French. They were happy that they didn’t have to speak English first thing in the morning, I was happy I got to hear French and I could say a couple of sentences. Since they were talking about things we worked on, it was not that hard to understand the conversation, and I could fairly fill in the blanks if I didn’t understand a word.

    Everyone was very nice and seemed very impressed at my efforts, so I started getting more comfortable… and at one point it finally clicked that, if *they* can speak English even though they are not that good at it, they will definitely not laugh at me for being bad at my *third* language!

    What also helped a lot was having 1-2 friendly French coworkers who I could ask occasional vocabulary and grammar questions, and the fact that my boyfriend speaks fluent French and knows a lot of slang. This way, I could figure things out without having to interrupt a conversation and ask the person to rephrase their sentence or translate it to English.

    1. Jen*

      Oh, and when I decide to start writing in French to a new person, I usually just warn them that my grammar is probably crap, but that I’ve accepted it. I don’t ask them to correct me, I just tell them to please tell me if they don’t understand me. I just want to hold a fluent, grammatically incorrect conversation, not pass any language test.

    2. April*

      “my native language is spoken only in my country, I use English at a near-native level”

      Well now I’m half-assuming you’re Icelandic :D

      (You don’t have to say, it’s none of my business! There are plenty of countries where hardly anyone outside of it speaks the language, Iceland is just the one I’m most familiar with, because I lived on an American military base there as a kid.)

      1. Ana Gram*

        Oh that’s funny- I assumed west Africa for exactly the same reason! Now I’m curious.

      2. Jen*

        Lol, I’m just a Romanian who loves languages! My job is to write content in English, so my coworkers are aware that I speak/write it very well (except my accent, which is not very good!)

        1. Agnes*

          OP3 – this brings up a good point. If you’re a foreigner, or in a very international office, there is likely a lot of chitchat about learning languages, knowing English, etc. You might start with the person who seems most interested in that. People who like languages and have learned a lot of them are often most patient with newbies (their English is usually very good, so you might think they would look down on your Finnish or whatever, but they get it and are interested in the process.)

            1. Jen*

              Putting myself into the shoes of the native speaker of a minority language (e.g. if you were learning Romanian), I would be afraid that you don’t understand everything and I’m losing you, so it would be helpful if you emoted a bit more than usual, just to show that you’re following along. That’s what I try to do with my French coworkers and it seems to work! I bust out the “je comprends, s’il vous plait parlez Francais!” every time they suggest going back to English :)

            2. Language learner*

              LW3: Given this context, I think you can set aside the many comments in this comment section about appropriating languages and exploiting colleague’s unpaid labor by attempting conversation in their language. If I were you and read this whole comment section, I might conclude that I was right to be nervous and even more reluctant, but I think most comments suggesting that are assuming a different context.

              1. Alexis Rosay*

                Agreed! It sounds like co-workers will likely appreciate your efforts to learn their language since it’s not a super trendy one, as long as it doesn’t make their work take longer. To that end, I personally would start with working on the morning chit-chat in the language and work up from there.

                Also, do you have access to TV shows in the language? Watching TV was what made the biggest difference in developing my listening skills in my second language.

  16. Boadicea*

    LW3: I might be you in a few months! I’m not shy but been worried about this too. Maybe I am “shy in Klingon”, which will be my analogue of Dothraki.

    Frankly I love practicing (rather than/of course as well as speaking) English with anyone learning, because it’s fun, entertaining for both, and costs us nothing. It’s not at all like unpaid tutor work, because language tutoring is a skilled job that not just anyone off the street could walk into with no effort.

    1. Language*

      I feel like there’s “practicing” and there’s “practicing.” There’s practicing like you’d practice basketball, where the primary purpose is to improve and you receive a lot of dedicated, in the moment feedback, and this of course is too much to ask coworkers.

      But there’s also practicing to use, where no one’s giving you feedback, they’re just engaging with you in Dothraki. So long as these are either 1) short-ish (you asking about the weather while waiting for the copier) and/or 2) low-stakes (not a budget meeting), and you switch back to English if you’re out of your depth, this seems a reasonable thing to ask, provided your coworkers are your peers and not reports, ofc.

      Source: I took short assignments abroad early in my career, in four different countries/different languages. It was really usual/expected to learn a bit of the language and use it with local coworkers, though again on low-stakes stuff like greetings or convos over lunch, not planning meetings. In most cases I was also required to learn the language via classes, and those formal sessions was where I got feedback.

      1. LW3*

        Thank you for this! “Practicing” seems to have been a poor word choice. I think of any and all uses of languages I’m studying to be “practicing,” because that’s what it will be until I hit fluency. For me, the word doesn’t imply that I want or need feedback or private tutoring from somebody. Your copier example is really what I want to be able to do.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I’m trying to imagine what speaking Klingon shyly would be like. Less head-butting?

    3. LW3*

      Ooh, good luck to you! I will say that it has been really fun to hear this language spoken around me on a regular basis. I love the immersion.

  17. Observer*

    Please do have a conversation with Phyllis. But the problem has nothing to do with “timing of and reasons for requesting off”. The timing is not terrible, and the reason – had PAM asked for herself in a normal manner – is perfectly fine. And saying no if you needed to would have been fine, too, by the way.

    The problem here is that Phyllis has absolutely NO standing to be making time off requests for any other person. Her opinion of whether Pam is “forward enough” or not is really not relevant. Pam is an adult and she decides if she wants time off. And if she wants off, she is the one who asks for time off. It’s that simple.

    It’s also wildly inappropriate for her to be making public pronouncements about someone like this. What she’s saying is pretty gross to start with, but that’s between the two of them, unless Pam comes to you because Phyllis is making her nuts and she needs some help in shutting it down. But you do have standing to address public behavior of this sort. And I think it’s really necessary for someone to tell Phyllis that she needs to treat her coworkers like competent adults and that she cannot publicly make pronouncements and judgements about other people’s schedules, social life and out-of-work activities.

    And, please let Pam know that you understand that she had nothing to do with this email, it doesn’t affect your view of her and that you realize that Phyllis was overstepping. I can’t imagine how I would react to something like this in Pam’s place. But I do know that I would NOT be happy!

    1. LW1*

      I definitely get what you’re saying. In the end, it’s none of my business why someone requests off. If was a sickness or mental health day, asking for time off that late wouldn’t be a problem. But I make the schedule two weeks in advance, and give staff the opportunity to request off right before making the schedule, so I felt it was a little unreasonable to request off to go to the movies (which you can do any time, it’s not like it was a once in a lifetime event) when I gave staff the chance to request off just a couple of weeks ago.

      At this point, I have no idea if Pam knows about the email. Other commenters have said I should bring it up with her, though. I would not be happy, either. In all honestly, I would be mortified. Not to mention, Phyllis was just wrong. Pam does come off very shy and quiet, but she speaks up when she needs to and she has come to me about other things in the past. In the end, Pam did ask to leave early the day of (which I said was fine), so Phyllis’s inappropriate email wasn’t even necessary.

  18. Emma Dilemma*

    Alison I think you need to change your answer to the language question. The comments are giving really good advice.

      1. Emma Dilemma*

        I think it should be clear if you read all the comments that have already explained this, but ok. Alison said people would probably be happy to help and it was fine to ask. But as a lot of people have pointed out, it’s actually not that simple, and this is a fairly privileged assumption. There are lots of comments above that explain in more detail.

        1. Myrin*

          Basically all of the comments you’re referring to presuppose that OP somehow expects her coworkers to actively teach her Dothraki when that is not at all the situation presented in the letter.

          OP is already at an intermediate level, she has “been doing a ton of Duolingo and reading Dothraki newspapers and such, hoping to beef up [her] vocabulary so that [her] listening comprehension will improve”, all on her own without involving the coworkers at all, and it seems like her primary reason for wanting to be better at Dothraki, apart from her own interest in the country, is to connect with her coworkers and to better integrate with the place after a toxic experience.

          1. Chilipepper Attitude*

            I think Myron is correct that the OP does not sound like she is intending to ask her coworkers to take on unpaid tutoring.

            But the comments here do make many good points that are not reflected in Alison’s answer. She typically does quantify her own answers. Like, what I just said is true if you are just expecting coworkers to chat about the weather once a day but if you are expecting them to take on the role of active tutor then here are some things to consider and here are the reasons.

            I learned a lot from the comments that align with what Emma Dilemma said and value hearing them before I do something inappropriate.

            1. Chilipepper Attitude*

              Sorry, that was to Myrin, I did not notice the autocorrect on my phone before I hit submit.

        2. LW3*

          This is on me; I did consider that the kind of language it is might be relevant, but I also wanted to retain my anonymity, so I didn’t go into detail. Balance of privilege is not an issue in this situation. Somebody in the comments mentioned Finnish as an example; that would be a good stand-in for Dothraki.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Which just goes to show how tricky anonymization can be.
            Finish would be the dominant language for Nokia employees in 2020….but a Finnish immigrant to Sweden in the 1960s faced a very very different situation.

        3. fhqwhgads*

          The comments detailing that don’t seem to be addressing remotely what she’s asking for tho. She knows the language, but probably better at reading it than speaking it. What she’s asking about is really something closer to “do you mind speaking to me in Dothraki instead of English? And please don’t think I’m an idiot if when I respond in that language I sound like an elementary age person.” She’s not asking them to teach her or tutor her. Just to use less English with her.

        4. Kyubey*

          I think these kinds of comments are getting a bit derailing; wanting to join in on conversations in Dothraki/Finnish etc can hardly be considered labor on the part of the employees. They already speak in Dothraki frequently among themselves. LW wants to join in or occasionally converse in Dothraki instead of English, which is not really hardship for any of the employees imo.

          Problems regarding privilege would make more sense if she wasn’t in THEIR country perhaps; think of a group of employees in an English-speaking country who speak Spanish, and an English speaker wants to join in on their convos to practice Spanish. This would fit a privilege problem, because then she’d be imposing on their group and expecting them to be happy to converse with her and there’s a power imbalance here. (maybe they have few opportunities to converse freely in Spanish and now she’s here wanting to practice)

          LW, ignore the people who seem to think conversing with your coworkers is wrong or imposing somehow.

          1. Kyubey*

            Whoops, I just realized I misread the letter! So she is not in their country. In any case, she made it clear that it’s a white person language so guess she’s still good.

    1. jeez*

      That’s amazingly presumptuous. Maybe she stands by her answer? She doesn’t write answers by popular vote.

    2. Sandman*

      I disagree. The comments bring up some interesting points regarding power dynamics, but in my experience with language learning in a few different countries as well as the US they’re centering edge cases. Fair to keep in mind but not normally relevant.

      1. Alison2*

        These comments are so strange. I’ve been in this exact situation and the humility of being a language learner helped me bond with people a lot.

  19. Magenta Sky*

    “What to say to an awful boss when you’re quitting without another job lined up”

    Good riddance?

    If he has a history of being abusive to people who give notice, unless you have a contractual obligation to give notice, it’s optional. Yeah, it might cost you a reference in the future, but what are the odds that a boss who acts like that is going to give you a good reference anyway? It you want to be a consummate professional, give notice, and when he gets obnoxious about it, tell him flat out “I’m not going to tolerate abusive behavior from you. If you don’t treat me like a professional, I’ll leave right now.” And mean it.

    1. Happy Lurker*

      I believe I read an eloquent statement here on AAM some time ago about toxic workplaces giving up their right to the truth when they ask crazy things. So, OP if you think it would be easier to lie and say you are starting a new job on X date and cannot extend your notice period, then do it. Also, Allison’s advice of family emergency is excellent.
      Once I gave notice without anything lined up and I let them know. I wanted them to know they were a sh!t show, but I don’t think it had any impact. In retrospect I should have just told them I was starting a new job. That place continues to be toxic to this day.
      I am sorry you are in this situation and hope your notice period goes smooth. Please come back and update us! Best of luck with some time off and your next job search.

  20. Tau*

    I’m really surprised at the amount of pushback LW3 is getting. Obviously she shouldn’t insist on it, but just asking “hey, I really want to improve my Dothraki, would you mind speaking it with me every now and then or would you rather stick with English?” When she says herself she’s at intermediate, not beginner, level? When it’s the dominant secondary language and spoken a lot around her?

    My context for this is that I’m learning Spanish and have/have had a bunch of coworkers from Spanish-speaking countries. People have generally been super happy to help me practice (and by “practice” I really mean “speak casually when English would be easier”, not that I’m roping them in as a language tutor), sometimes switching to Spanish just when I let them know I speak it at an intermediate level, and one work friend from Mexico actually told her friend (also from Mexico) that I spoke some Spanish when he joined the company so that he was IMing me in Spanish from the start… I offer German practice as a trade since we live in Germany and most of these people are taking German classes, but they haven’t generally taken me up on it (possibly because it’s easier for them to find the opportunity). Most of the time people seem delighted I want to use their native language, so I’m really puzzled by all this “don’t even ask it’s an undue burden” stuff. Is this a US thing?

    OP: one way to dip your toe in might be IM, assuming that’s commonly used at your company. If you ask a Dothraki speaker you have a good relationship with if they mind using Dothraki when IMing with you every now and then, that’s a much smaller step than using the language verbally – and if you’re already chatting in Dothraki on and off then it becomes a lot easier to make the jump to speaking it as well.

    1. Allonge*

      I think it may be a US or an English language thing, yes, because it’s really puzzling for me too. Unless it’s a misunderstanding of what role this aspect of language learning plays.

      I live in the Netherlands but I am from another part of Europe, I work in an English-speaking but multinational company. When I started learning French (by going to language school), all French speakers who learnt about this spontaneously offered to talk to/with me in French in low-key situations – and I would do the same for someone learning my language. It’s really normal!

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        As a European who now lives in the US (and has lived in various countries): You’re probably underestimating the social minefields that can be attached to that. As Europeans we are so used to everyone in the public school system learning at least two, if not four or so languages, and for many to a reasonable degree. And you may be thinking of the situation where there’s a bunch of Swedes, Germans, Poles and Spanish happily exchanging their languages, as many many of us have experience with from our 20s…

        … but in the US, and even across the English-speaking world, the incentives and opportunities to learn languages is just nowhere as common, so even just learning languages has a status / class label attached. And then the non-English languages tend to be those of people whose cultures were victims of colonialism, who were, often are, treated quite badly and who may just not be on an equal footing to the LW professionally . They don’t tell us whether they work for a US office of Alcatel and are dealing with comfortable middle-class French colleagues, or whether we’re talking a charitable non-profit serving Spanish speakers in the US, and a partially Latino staff. The situation would be completely different.

        TBH, though, I think as Europeans we often *are* nowhere near as sensitive about this as we should be. If you think of the languages of recent immigrants – especially refugees and even more especially those who already get stigmatized and exposed to racism – I would be a lot more careful and first make sure we have an actual trusting relationship and the other person genuinely enjoys the language-trading.

        This said, *especially* with cultural backgrounds that are being stigmatized showing genuine interest and seriousness about their native language (all the while signalling awareness of the context) is often very well received.

        1. Tau*

          Thank you! That was hugely helpful in understanding what’s happening in this comments section (and means the OP should absolutely adjust based on their context – this is clearly a case where the “Dothraki” is too much abstraction).

          And yeah, good point on your second-to-last paragraph – and thinking about it I’m careful to only ask to use the language when the power dynamic is equal (as it is for my coworkers). If we had an office cleaner from a Spanish-speaking country and we got talking, I might mention the fact that I’m learning Spanish but I’d never explicitly ask to use it with them. And I could see how this could work very differently for e.g. Turkish or Arabic in Germany, or minority languages such as Platt or Sorbian.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            Yes! But on the other hand I find it an interesting ethical and cultural challenge to in fact build those bridges. Because ideally we want to find a way to build them! It doesn’t help the Sorbian or Arabic or Berber speaker that they’re not even included in the language exchange … but we need to find ways to do it that aren’t an extension of colonial attitudes or put burdens on them.

            I’m in fact using Duolingo’s new Yiddish course (my spouse is Jewish and has in fact studied some German – my native language – since we got together, and we’ve both embarked on the Yiddish). That’s not super sensitive but a lot more than Finnish or French!

            And I also work for an institution that serves a sizable percentage of indigenous students and have pondered enrolling in one of the language classes. One of the instructors is outstanding, and she serves everyone: youth and adults from her particular tribal background (language preservation – some are down to single-digit fluent speakers, and even some of the the stronger ones are in the hundreds only), Italian exchange students, non-indigenous community members… Me taking advantage of the language offer incrementally increases the reach of this threatened language and gives everyone one more person to practice on, but on the other hand I could easily be taking up too many resources that should rather go to this cultural community, which is already under a lot of stress. So treading lightly is the order of the day. (I’ve been asked “why would you like to learn [language]”? and my answer was along the lines of “I’ve moved around quite a bit in my life, and always thought it was the right thing to learn (at least one of) the language(s) attached to the place where I moved to.” That seemed to be a relatively ok approach.)

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I don’t understand the vehemence in, as I’m writing this, almost all (!) comments pertaining to #3 – Alison’s answer would’ve been exactly my response as well.

      I feel like there might be some sort of disconnect where people understand OP’s use of “practicing” – which is really not at the heart of the letter, I might add; she uses the word exactly once and in the sense of practicing languages in general – as some sort of demand or like she wants her coworkers to actively teach her Dothraki which… honestly, if you read the whole letter and actually try to get a feel for its “vibe” is so clearly not the case that I remain as baffled as you, Tau.

      User “Language” above says it very succinctly: “But there’s also practicing to use, where no one’s giving you feedback, they’re just engaging with you in Dothraki.” and that’s exactly what this letter is talking about.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I used to have a German colleague and I asked her if we could use German for low stakes conversation at the tea point so I didn’t forget all my German from lack of regular use. I wasn’t asking her to teach me German or correct my grammar, I just wanted to keep it active. We used to have Kaffee und Kuchen every so often. Spoken language works better when you’re speaking it. You’re not asking for them to be an unpaid language teacher, you’re just asking for them to use the language with you in social situations.

        When I worked in Brussels (in a predominantly French speaking company) I had a Portuguese colleague ask if we could have coffee in English from time to time so he could practice his English and that was fine with me. We had coffee, discussed current affairs or what we were reading and it was moderately pleasant. I didn’t correct his English unless he specifically asked me and I never felt like a teacher. We were colleagues using language X rather than language Y at a particular time.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Well, yes! No problem here! But I think it’s quite telling what social setting you have in mind. For *this* setting, it’s all good. But would you have acted in exactly the same way if say the language was Soninke and the person was an immigrant from Mali in a substantially inferior position at work?

          (I think a lot of commenters imagine that this may be about Spanish in the US. A much more socially fraught situation than the one you have in mind!)

          1. LW3*

            Can confirm it is not about Spanish in the U.S. The language in question is spoken only in Europe.

        2. Ana Gram*

          I think the difference is your similar social standing, though. The custodian at my building is from El Salvador and it’s pretty clear he’s using us to practice English. I would never do the reverse. And he’s aware that I speak a decent amount of Spanish. I helped him navigate a government website and we did that in Spanish but, because of the power dynamic, I’d never ask him if I could practice Spanish with him. He might not feel comfortable saying no.

          1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

            I’ve spoken in Spanish to a good handful of native speakers, sometimes utter strangers, as a white girl in America and it’s just never been that fraught. Granted, I never ASKED for a conversation-I can totally see how that could be weird. I just…said good morning to them in Spanish. And they greeted me back in the same language and often asked if I habla Espanol, so then we had a short conversation in my iffy Spanish. The general response I got was avuncularly positive, like they thought I was cute for giving it a go.

            I just want to push back that speaking a foreign language is this risky thing only to be done by the most culturally adept. That doesn’t seem respectful to me, it seems isolating.

            1. NoviceManagerGuy*

              I’ve had some nice conversations with Puerto Rican grandmas at the playground while kids play. They spoke no English and I did a little bit with my limited Spanish. Thinking about privilege is important but making every interaction fraught so you don’t talk to anybody not in exactly the same situation as you is no good.

              1. Tau*

                Yeah, when there’s no other language you have in common or if all other options one of the two parties is less fluent in, it’s a no-brainer. Just speak it. More communication is better.

                I think the point where you need to start being cautious of power differentials is when you want to shift to a language that is “suboptimal” in terms of ease of communication – OP’s case of wanting to speak intermediate Dothraki when her coworkers are fluent in English. It’s possible the other person is fine with it, possible they even prefer it, but it’s also possible they’d rather stick with the language that involves less hassle and less chance for misunderstandings, or they have some of the issues other people have brought up involving minority languages and the like, etc. At that point you want to be sure it’s easy for them to say “nope, let’s stick with speaking X with each other”.

              2. 1.0*


                I’m a person of color. I appreciate that more and more people are making an effort to understand class, race, gender, and power, but I’m really looking askance at some of the advice in the comments section.

            2. Teach*

              YES. As a Spanish teacher, I’m kind of horrified to read how many people think that using a second language with native speakers is offensive. I hope no one ever makes any of my students feel this way. I encourage my students to use Spanish at every opportunity, as do I in my personal life! Of course there are obvious situations where if you have to be pushy to be able to speak the language, you’re being rude, but in normal circumstances there is no reason to be worried! Lowering the affective filter (which is just jargon that means “making people comfortable speaking in front of others”) is half of the job, so watching these commenters all RAISE the OP’s affective filter just hurts me to see :(

              1. tamarack and fireweed*

                I really don’t think that people think such a thing at all.

                What I do see is people being aware of the context of this being an advice site. And advice lands at all people. I too have had tons of informal language exchanges with people of all walks of life. I enjoy it. They enjoyed it. But… a whole lot of people will take the answer they get at an advice site and then just apply it cookie cutter style.

                So while *I* have had and continue to have a lot of harmless fun communicating, my actual written advice will not be “oh, it’s great, just go ahead” even though that’s how I go about it – because I’m writing in a place where maybe 10-25% of the readers can be expected to be formulaic thinkers, assholes or at least inexperienced! So instead of 20% on caveats and 80% on raving about how great it is (as I would be with trusted friends) I am very very conservative and spend 80% on caveats and 20% on singing the praise of language learning (to which I have devoted considerable time and effort!). I don’t want a single person barging into a culturally sensitive situation with a demanding attitude based on *my* advice! (Now *you* wouldn’t do that, nor would I and anyone experienced in these situations – but before you shake your head about what comes across as negativity, please consider that there might be thought and consideration behind it.)

                We should all be very aware not just what we say but in which context. I think with social media being what they are, that’s just necessary.

        3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I loved working with a hispanophone programmer for the same reason (as your German colleague). She was from Mexico City, and because I came to Spanish by way of Latin, I’ve been more comfortable with Castellano than Español (think the difference between American and British Englishes). We would also code switch frequently to cover holes in vocabulary in one language that didn’t exist in the other. It was downright hilarious to watch others try to hijack a conversation between us.

          During that time, my Spanish was better than it had ever been since I graduated (perhaps ever) from current use, and she told other programmers (who told me after her departure) that it helped her feel like part of the team and that she could bring her whole self to the office.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Yes, I’m with you on that. Unless I’m really misunderstanding this entire letter it seems like the issue is that the OP already speaks this language reasonably well, if imperfectly, and just feels nervous about how to bring it up at this stage. I’m not sure where everyone is getting the impression that she expects or wants her colleagues to tutor her. People use “practicing” colloquially to just mean “actually speaking this language in real life” all the time, so the response seems kind of misdirected.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          This is how I was reading the letter too and it makes sense to me that LW would feel a little awkward about potentially speaking their native language “clumsily” to them. If Dothraki is the popularly spoken language in that locale, I would expect them to appreciate her initiative. How many stories have we heard about entitled Americans going abroad and expecting everyone to cater to them by speaking English?

          1. Koala dreams*

            Yeah, a lot of responses reminds me of the stereotype of the American who demands that everyone speaks English. It seems more arrogant than mindful. From the description, I’m not sure if the company language is English or Dothraki. If it’s Dothraki, then it takes effort to switch to English. Of course, that doesn’t apply if the company language already is English.

      3. Tau*

        I think some of the comments about potential power dynamics in play have cleared this up for me. Agreed though that the pushback on “practicing” felt especially odd, and the assumption that OP must want their coworkers to act as language tutors for them…

        …ironically, literally three days ago I had a conversation with my Spanish teacher where she told me horror stories from when her students asked Spanish-speaking friends about Spanish grammar and got completely wrong answers! I was nodding along ruefully since my experience has been that native speakers with zero foreign language teaching qualifications or experience are some of the worst people possible to explain things about their language since they work totally based on intuition/subconscious knowledge and translating that to explicit rules takes work, skill, and knowledge. (I say this having been the native speaker in question a bunch of times.) Given everything OP said I’d assume they just want to speak the language.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes I can believe it.

          I’ve a Polish colleague who asks me to proof-read and check his formal presentations if he’s making them in English because he’s self conscious about his English. His knowledge of the language is excellent but sometimes there are ways he puts things that don’t quite work idiomatically and I correct these. I can’t always tell him why I put things a certain way, I just know it intuitively.

          Also dialect is a key thing. I learnt German initially from family friends with a strong Platt dialect and idiosyncratic expressions. So when I went to school and learnt proper High German my accent was completely wrong and I had picked up dialectal phrases and pronunciation all over and it took a bit of time to learn the correct way of writing and speaking.

        2. Gumby*

          native speakers with zero foreign language teaching qualifications or experience are some of the worst people possible to explain things about their language since they work totally based on intuition/subconscious knowledge and translating that to explicit rules takes work, skill, and knowledge

          Yep. I learned a number of things about *English* in my Spanish class. Like the subjunctive – we do have it in English, kind of, but it wasn’t taught in any of my English classes. There are things that you pick up when learning a language because you are immersed in it without necessarily understanding the grammar reason behind it. Which is fine and great, but means that merely being a native speaker doesn’t qualify you to *teach* a language.

          Thus while I am happy to be an English conversation partner (an actual volunteer thing I have done through an organized program at a local university, mostly with international grad students / post docs / spouses), I am completely unqualified to be an English tutor or teacher.

      4. ecnaseener*

        Ah yeah I commented on this above but should’ve saved it for down here. A ton of responses equating practice = tutoring, to the point that I wonder if there’s a regional difference or translation quirk such that for some speakers the word “practice” means what I would call “practice and get feedback.”

        1. Tau*

          I’m seriously wondering if this is a regional thing or cultural difference regarding how foreign language learners act now, because so many people have made that jump. When I personally say “practice a language” I mean “speak it when there’s another language that would be more efficient”. I would actively avoid getting random native speakers to act as language tutors for reasons stated upthread (they tend to be very bad at it).

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes definitely. I tend to assume practice means use in a setting with people. If there’s an element of feedback then I’d consider that to be study.

            So for example I have coffee with a German colleague to practice German where we have coffee and chat. I take a class in German literature and discussion to study German and expand my knowledge of key themes in German literature. I expect the tutor for the class to give me feedback. I don’t expect my colleague to do so.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Yes. Conversation gives you immediate feedback simply because if you say something wrong, you are responding may say “What?!”

    3. Ilovelanguages*

      I feel this may well be a US thing, but perhaps because of the UK’s proximity to mainland Europe and it’s many wonderful languages my view is different. I studied languages at university and I’ve got near native fluency in a couple but as I love learning languages I tend to try to pick up those that are most frequently used around me. I’ve worked in many places where English (for one reason or another) isn’t the dominant language in the workplace although all the business was conducted in English and I’ve never encountered co workers who felt unduly burdened or offended by my attempts to interact with them in their native languages.
      Most people will default to English around English native speakers but I’ve yet to meet someone who is upset by an attempt to use their native language instead. If they’re trying to improve their conversational English they’ll usually tell you!

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Whenever I’ve been to France, I’ve tried to use the language in stores etc. but always found that people would respond back to me in English. At the time I wondered if it was because I sounded as bad as Del Boy Trotter (for commenters not familiar with the old UK sitcom Only Fools and Horses, this character likes to think he can speak French, but he gets it wrong, like mixing up bonjour and au revoir). A former coworker once suggested that maybe they were trying to practice their English with me, and I thought “okay, I’ll take that!” But if most people do tend to default to English, that’s most likely what it was.

        1. Tau*

          There’s a thing which a few people have mentioned in the comments where people often have a lot less experience with non-native speakers of their language than non-native English speakers and that can affect things. It actually takes real effort for me to stick with German when speaking to people who have a noticeable accent, including people where I know their German is better than their English, just because I’m so used to English being the lingua franca used to communicate when we don’t have a native language in common. I imagine this is even more extreme for smaller languages with even fewer foreign speakers.

    4. Forrest*

      All the languages mentioned in this thread are major European languages with a government and a state behind them, and none of them have really been marginalised or violently suppressed within Europe. Which means most of the time bi- and multilingual people will have experienced learning new languages as a positive, both socially and economically, and are very likely to be positive about helping people learn it.

      That’s not always the case with languages which have been suppressed, or which are shared by migrant groups who’ve been forced to learn a majority language and may have had their native language diminished, disregarded or actually been punished for speaking it. That changes the power dynamics a lot! A minority language or a language spoken by a migrant group can be intensely personal and fraught in all sorts of ways. And people might not want to be able to work in their native language with other native speakers but not deal with all those dynamics with someone from outside that culture and shared understanding.

      So I don’t think this is just a US thing: there are similar dynamics with Irish, Welsh and other minority languages in Europe, as well as with languages spoken by migrant groups. I’ve been an English person in Ireland and learned a bit of Irish, and the same thing applies. I have a lot of friends who are Irish speakers of varying degrees of fluency (including a few who come from Irish-speaking families and did their whole education in Irish), and they have experienced *tons* of negative and ignorant comments about Irish from English people, as well as being aware of just how violently Irish was (and still is) suppressed. They all think it’s great that I want to learn Irish, but it’s just good manners for me to be aware of the fact that what’s a fun game on Duolingo for me has a totally different weight for them. There are lots of speakers of minority or marginalised languages who are *thrilled* to share them, but there are plenty of other people whose attitude is, “OK, so we got beaten up at school for speaking this language and the teachers were on the side of the kids doing the beating, but NOW it’s cool and I’m supposed to help you?”

      I don’t think this means OP is wrong to ask, but languages are culture: they are intensely personal, there are tons of power dynamics, and not every language meets every other on an equal footing. If she’s studied this language and works in an organisation where there are a large number of Dothraki speakers, hopefully OP’s aware of those dynamics and knows whether speaking to her in Dothraki is likely to be something that her colleagues support or not! If she doesn’t, hopefully there’s someone who she can ask and trust to give her an honest answer. But it’s absolutely something to be aware of.

      1. Tau*

        Thanks, this was really helpful to understand the issue. And yeah, thinking about it again I’d step really cautiously in situations concerning a minority language, languages that have been historically devalued/oppressed, languages belonging to refugees, anything where there’s a real power imbalance, etc.

        Probably the US/European divide is that when US speakers read “I’m a native English speaker working for a company where almost everyone speaks Dothraki”, US people are more likely to envisage the sort of Latino-immigrants-in-the-US situation where there’s likely to be a power dynamic (and there’s a power dynamic about the language in the overall culture) while Europeans are more likely to go to the sort of multinational setup with a lot of international employees who speak the majority language of their country that’s common over here and usually fairly unproblematic sociolinguistically speaking.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes very helpful. I’d not considered power imbalance situations where one should definitely tread carefully.

          I definitely had the situation in mind where there was a multinational company with people speaking a range of languages and no socio-linguistic issues who are on a fairly equal footing. Then again my strongest foreign language is German (which I learnt very early in life) and I’m using it with colleagues doing similar jobs in the company so issues around status and power imbalance don’t tend to apply.

        2. Myrin*

          That was indeed a very helpful and comprehensive reply and like you, I obviously envisioned a very different scenario from many other commenters which explains the discrepancy.

          With that being said, I’m willing to bet that none of the proposed hypothetical sitations of the “power dynamics”/”indigenous language”/”oppressed minority language” variety apply to this specific situation.

          From her whole letter, OP comes across as very sensitive, aware, and thoughtful – the letter doesn’t at all read like someone who wouldn’t already be aware of these issues. So given its tone and what seems to be OP’s main concern – that she’s let her timidity get in the way of showing her Dothraki skills from the get-go and that she now fears that it’s too late – I think we can assume that the possible problems mentioned in the comment section aren’t in issue in OP’s workplace.

          1. Andy*

            Quite a few “oppressed minority language” conflicts were all about suppressing that language out of existence. I cant help, but making it uncomfortable to start communicating in those language is … only helping to make that language go away.

            As someone who speak formerly oppressed minority language and culture, it seems to me that the result is similar, just different tactic.

            If someone wants to cancel language oppression from big language groups toward smaller one, that someone should focus on making the small language easier to learn. Instead, the recommendation is making it harder to learn that language while making it easier to learn big languages.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I met a Dane on a short airline flight once. I mentioned that I have friends there and have begun picking up a little bit of the language. His eyebrows went up, his face brightened, and he practically cheered “That’s good for Danmark!” We chatted for the rest of the flight.
              But a friend from France didn’t want to speak French to me because I would pick up his strong regional accent.

            2. rototiller*

              You make a good point. There are some odd implications in these comments. People may mean well and have good points about sensitivity to power dynamics, but if the result comes across as pressure to just speak English all the time… I mean, whose agenda does that serve exactly?

              What language to use in a multilingual setting is very situation-specific, but OP seems to understand their situation quite well already. There’s no reason for them to re-analyze all the social dynamics before acting if they can just ask people what they’re comfortable with.

              (And FWIW, I find it a bit suspicious that some of these “sensitivity” arguments have included examples of virtuous behavior like “speaking English while travelling abroad” and “socializing less with my Spanish-speaking coworkers.”)

        3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

          Yes. Recently I was listening to an interview to a group of podcasters, and the interviewer said once or twice someone like “Connor is Welsh, but fortunately he speaks English” and I felt so uncomfortable.

      2. Andy*

        As someone who is from one of back in history suppressed language group: I have never seen *anyone* interpret an attempt to communicate in our language as an attack. For that matter, attempt to learn about our literature and history are recommended way how to at least pretend you want to treat us with respect. All of that stuff is seen as flattering and generally people like you *better* for trying it.

        People will try to switch to English, to practice their English or simply due to trying to make it easier – to facilitate the communication. But the reaction you talked about, well maybe happens with Irish, but definitely would not be usual everywhere.

        1. Allonge*

          My language has been both oppressor and oppressed in history, and this is also my experience – the only offensive/problematic “language learning” I can think of is when someone only wants to learn swear words or pretends to be surprised that a language has a word for ‘computer’.

          OP3, at intermediate level, is way beyond that. It takes at least a year to get to that level, and a lot of dedication (and yes, a certain socio-economic status, but money itself does not get you language skills if you don’t apply yourself).

          None of this is to say that awareness is not important. It’s just that sometimes there is very little to be aware of. And not learning a language is not going to help anyone’s fight against oppression.

      3. Terrysg*

        I’m an Irish person with a small amount of Irish, and while it attracts a lot of apathy I haven’t come across any active suppression of the language. Strangers learning Irish are seen as an interesting anomaly but it’s not a problem.

        Being English does change things though.

        Short film about a Chinese man in Ireland who learned Irish but has no English.

      4. anon for this today*

        Sure, within some countries and areas there is definitely this dynamic (“OK, so we got beaten up at school for speaking this language and the teachers were on the side of the kids doing the beating, but NOW it’s cool and I’m supposed to help you?”) but I also know people from families where that beating landed (and am from such a family myself, in fact) who are in general happy when people try the language. Sometimes I’m not — when it’s being fetishized, in my view — and I think that’s common. If one comes into the conversation with the attitude, “Oh, you need to teach me your cute exotic language! It’s so primal, so much *closer to the earth* than my civilized language” then for sure it lands wrong. If on the other hand you just want to converse and back off if it’s not welcomed, it’s fine.

    5. LW3*

      Thanks for this advice! Unfortunately we don’t use IM, but it’s something I might be able to slip into emails in certain ways (greetings and so on; emails that are more “thank you” than “let’s get down to business.”)

      I understand where people are coming from — there are languages where one would want to tread lightly in a situation like this. But this really isn’t an office where me using Dothraki at lunch or another casual time would be found a burden. People have been really excited about my connection to the language — and also, I think it can be a bit annoying for people to have to switch to English socially just because I’ve walked into the room.

      1. BRR*

        After reading all of your replies and having worked in a similar type of office myself, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. If you’re concerned about “suddenly busting out your Dorthraki,” you could say how you’ve been devoting more time to Dorthraki since starting your job. I get that it feels a little embarrassing and I would feel the same in your situation. I think it will be a “grit your teeth” thing. Maybe start by figuring out which ways you are comfortable using Dorthraki in the office and go from there?

    6. Person from the Resume*

      Honestly, this does not feel like a work question to me. Lots and lots of people are nervous, shy, embarrassed to practice speaking to others in a language they are not 100% fluent in. In the office I would try to have social conversations in the local language. Don’t make a big deal about it, just do it. I’d stick to English for work to ensure nothing is lost in translation, but maybe when you get comfortable that could change too. The “trick” to doing something you’re nervous about is just to do it. There isn’t a trick.

      I lived in another country. So many people apologized for their English when speaking to me when their fluency amazing especially when compared to my basically non-existent French. I was really too shy to try to speak French.

    7. Alianora*

      Honestly I agree with you. I’m in California, in an English-dominant city, and I worked somewhere where so many of my coworkers and customers were native Spanish speakers that customers just assumed I spoke Spanish.

      I spoke practically no Spanish when I started, but my coworkers were all happy when I made an attempt. Or was able to put in an order by listening to them speak Spanish with a customer. I mean I think the dynamic would have been different if I had a different attitude, but I was clearly trying my best to communicate and not expecting anything special from them.

      1. Alianora*

        I’ll add that my understanding is this is very very common in the food service business. Not in food service anymore, but “Restaurant Spanish” is totally a thing. I’ve never worked with someone in food service who took offense to an English speaker using broken Spanish.

    8. Sandman*

      I almost feel like it’s a “this comments section” thing more than a US thing even. In the US we’re definitely less accustomed to trying to speak language other than English – majority culture, anyway – so maybe some people have attached freight to it that just isn’t there? I don’t know. These comments are very different than my experience as well.

    9. 1.0*

      I’m also mystified by this. Hassling a total stranger into drilling you on vocab is not a great look, but having the occasional clumsy conversation in a different language with someone you have a friendly working relationship with is absolutely and categorically not that!

      Also seconding the IM suggestion – I find writing easier than speaking, since I have a little more time to think. Also morning small talk can be a good way to ease your way into it – I will sometimes preemptively think about what my answers would be to something like, “how was your weekend?” so I don’t feel like I’m stumbling in completely unprepared.

      I’m in a similar boat to you, OP – I lost my native language when I learned English as a kid, and now I’m trying to get it back. I’m in that excruciating stage where I can sort of express myself, but all my awkward phrasing and pronunciation is incredibly obvious to me. Unfortunately, the only way out is through; I hope we both get where we’re trying to be!

  21. Dusk*

    #1 Aside from all the other weirdness around this email, I just wanted to point out this detail: “The employee, Phyllis, sent this email to me and other staff who would be working with Pam on the evening in question”

    So this email got sent to multiple people? Including peers of Pam? I mean the whole request is odd and inappropriate but this just makes it more odd, especially if Pam herself wasn’t a recipient.

    Anyway, I hope OP1 talks to Phyllis and explains that this request was inappropriate and unprofessional – parents and partners shouldn’t interfere with work schedules in this way, let alone coworkers. I think it would also be a kindness to let Pam know about the situation as well, in case she isn’t aware and her other colleagues might bring it up.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yep. Although it’s possible that’s the norm in their workplace, to ask your whole shift in addition to your boss when you want to miss a shift.

      If that’s not the norm and Phyllis just randomly decided this message should go to the whole group rather than just the boss…so, so weird.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yep. Although it’s possible that’s the norm in their workplace, to ask your whole shift in addition to your boss when you want to miss a shift.

      If that’s not the norm and Phyllis just randomly decided this message should go to the whole group rather than just the boss…so, so weird.

    3. Observer*

      I mean the whole request is odd and inappropriate but this just makes it more odd

      Yes, it’s so totally inappropriate, and the OP absolutely has standing to address this. Not just standing, but actively SHOULD. It doesn’t really matter WHAT the request was. What matters is that she made the request on behalf of another person, without being asked I’d say, and in a very public fashion. Totally out of line, and the OP needs to shut it down.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      Yeah – the inclusion of other people in the email makes me feel like the response should be to everyone – as in, “Phyllis, we don’t use our words this way, and we don’t make requests on behalf of other people for time off. We especially don’t undermine our colleague to their teammates.”

      My guess, though, is that the teammates are rolling their eyes at Phyllis’ latest antic to get her son married off to Pam, who is doing her best to tactfully fend off Phyllis’ machinations….

    5. LW1*

      Yep, me +3 of Pam’s colleagues.

      I’m interested in “learnedthehardway’s” comment that I should do a “reply all.” What do other people think about that? I can’t imagine other staff would ever do this, and I always feel weird calling people out publicly. But, I also see the benefit of it as mentioned in the comment.

      I said this elsewhere, but I’ll also say it here: there are some details I didn’t include that make me think it’s not a matchmaking situation. I could be wrong, but I do think it’s just Phyllis trying to be nice.

      As far as our workplace norms, staff do tend to check with other staff before they come to me with requests like this. In our line of work, someone may have a meeting or group session that others don’t know about. So it would be like saying, “Hey, I was planning on taking lunch at noon, is that cool with you?” And then either getting the response, “Actually, I have a meeting so the service areas won’t be covered, can you go at 1 instead,” or “That’s cool.” So in this case, she was making sure that all service areas would be covered even without Pam’s presence. So it was just everything else about the email that was baffling. lol.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I might reply all with the parts that are relevant to the others, eg “I’ll talk to Pam about this separately” – and maybe it’s relevant to everyone for you to include “for future reference, please don’t request time off on anyone else’s behalf” – but I would call Phyllis out on her wording privately.

      2. Tau*

        My thought would be to either not reply all or to respond with a bland “We only accept time off requests from the person in question” or similar (if you think there’ll be confusion about whether Pam is actually working or if you’re worried other recipients will think this sort of thing is acceptable). If you want to bring up how this was inappropriate and undermining definitely don’t do it on the reply all, IMO. Praise in public and criticize in private and all that, and keeping these other people in the loop just raises the chance for this to blow up and embarrass Pam (even more).

      3. Leenie*

        If the event hadn’t already occurred, I may have done a Reply All just saying that if Pam (or any employee) wants time off, they need to ask for it directly. Just shut it down in front of everyone without commentary. But now that the movie date has already passed, I’d bring the email up to Pam, so she knows what happened (since it impacts her). I’d also take Alison’s advice of telling Phyllis the email wasn’t appropriate, and asking her to read it from a different perspective.

        What a wacky situation. I would have been taken off guard, as well.

  22. anon for this*

    #1 – please check in with Pam and make sure Phyllis hasn’t been pressuring and badgering her to go out with her son.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think that’s the boss’s responsibility, though. Pam is an adult and can say no herself.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      Not sure about that… as a boss, unless this was interfering with work I’d stay out of it

      1. Observer*

        That’s the tricky thing here. Phyllis has definitely turned this into a work thing with this particular shenanigan.

      2. anon for this*

        It is interfering with work, did you not read the letter? Plus if one employee is harassing another in any form it is the bosses business.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          I would address it with Phyllis, but personally I wouldn’t comment on Pam’s dating life to Pam unless she brought it up

    3. Artemesia*

      The son part sort of sailed over my. head when I read it. But yeah — this is a mother trying to manipulate her co-worker to go out with her son and probably trying to manipulate her son into a date with someone she has chosen. Awful. The boss needs to shut this down with Phyllis absolutely but also needs to protect Pam from this.

    4. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I had a well-meaning older male coworker who thought a female coworker and I would make a good couple, and he was constantly badgering her to go out with me. I tried to get him to cut it out because I was scared to death of getting in trouble with HR if they thought I had put him up to it. Luckily, she never made an official complaint about it.

    5. Mockingjay*

      Sounds like Pam wasn’t interested / refused to go out with son but Phyllis isn’t giving up on the “great match.”

      Phyllis is violating several boundaries with Pam and with coworkers. Her email was extraordinarily manipulative in the guise of sweet reason – “I just want to give poor Pam a pleasant evening.” I hope LW1 shuts her down.

  23. Amanda*

    I don’t agree at all with all the comments about not speaking Dothraki with your co-workers. I work at a university in Sweden, and my English is way better than most of my colleagues’ Swedish. Understandable – researchers who move across the world rarely prepared by learning Swedish just in case. And of course it’s faster when we speak English with each other, but how will people learn Swedish if we never speak it?

    My suggestion to the letter writer is to start small with greetings and short questions. It’s also not weird for a conversation to change language midway, this happens all the time when people a bilingual. Best of luck!

    1. Blomma*

      I’m currently taking a Swedish language class (in the USA) and my teacher said pretty much the same thing :) Swedes will switch to English when they hear your rough language skills but it’s ok to stick with Swedish because how else can you learn!

        1. Blomma*

          (My dad was born in Sweden and his entire side of the family is still there so I’m learning Swedish mainly to be able to communicate when visiting family. Much lower stakes than work!)

  24. Roeslein*

    LW#3 – What you’ve described here is probably the main barrier I have encountered to learning new languages as an adult (that and time availability, of course). I have found the magnitude of the challenge varies a lot depending on where you are and which language you are learning. Are Dothraki speakers used to dealing with language learners? Is the culture welcoming of foreigners wanting to integrate into Dothraki society, or does it treat them as eternal “expats” who are expected to stay in their bubble?

    I’m in Europe and have spent most of my studies / working life in various countries where my native language was not the majority language. I have found that native speakers’ reaction really varies a lot depends on the local culture. For instance, I never had issues getting Italians, Germans or most recently, Poles to speak their native language with me, even when my own skills were still quite poor. But the Netherlands were a nightmare in that regard! Even though I spoke fluent Dutch and had lived there for years, they kept replying in English unless I specifically asked to speak Dutch every. single. time. It felt very “othering” – after 4 years of living there, I was still just the “expat” and it was clear I would never be part of the in-group. That is a big part of why I left the country in the end. (That and not getting a single interview in my field, even though I was getting interviewed by >50% of the firms I was applying to in the same field in other countries.) Funnily enough, I never had this problem with Dutch-speaking Belgians / Flemish people, who are more used to non-native speakers speaking their language.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Admittedly us Flemish people being more open to others learning our language also has to do with language politics – for a long time the higher strata of society all spoke French and Dutch speakers were looked down upon (see the movie “Daens”, for example) . If you intend to move here we definitely do expect you to learn Dutch and we will do what we can to help you learn it, especially because it shows you are trying to integrate and don’t feel like you’re above us so why would you bother learning our language.

  25. The Other Nigel*

    LW3: I would at least mention to some of your coworkers that you are learning Dothraki. It would (I think) head off any outrage down the road when you start speaking Dothraki in the office. “How long has she been listening to us?” is a question that might otherwise crop up.

    I knew that my German was getting better when a coworker told a joke in German, and I chuckled along with everyone else.

    1. Forrest*

      The first time I understood a joke in German it was really misogynist, and I was like, damn, do I laugh because I’m proud I understood or grimace because that was gross?

    2. Carlie*

      That was my first thought. At the least, make it known that you are learning. You don’t have to make a big announcement, but do the little phrases in the language as Filicophyta recommended upthread so they realize.

    3. LW3*

      They do know, but I get the impression they think I understand less than I do. So I’ve been trying to show them that I actually *can* follow along with certain conversations by doing things like laughing at jokes (when I understand them, of course). As I don’t want anyone to be shocked that I’ve heard them say something that wasn’t meant for my ears!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Good! I came here to say the same thing The Other Nigel did. As a native Dothraki speaker, who at times worked with one or more native Dothraki speakers, who liked to chat in Dothraki amongst ourselves, LW3, for the love of dog, please let your coworkers know you can (sort of) understand them. The things I sometimes heard coming out of my teammates’ mouths were definitely not things they would’ve said if they knew their non-native Dothraki-speaking coworkers could understand. As long as they know, you’re good. That they assume you understand less than you do, is on them. You told them that you understand, that’s the important part.

  26. Gruniorowa*

    As an expat who is slowly immersing myself in a third language, I informed my colleagues that I’m learning their language so they wouldn’t speak bad things about me when I’m around :) I still conduct most conversations in English though, because it’s faster. For vocabulary, I actually prefer listening: I started with audio books I already knew in another language, then those I didn’t know, then podcasts. The pathway from listening to speaking is shorter than from reading to speaking, at least in my experience.

    1. Vila*

      LW3 – I totally disagree that there’s some kind of time limit to jumping into the language. You won’t become fluent overnight! And not everybody benefits from jumping in the deep end. Personally, it took me several months before I could have a full conversation with my colleagues, and even longer to have a casual conversation. Don’t beat yourself up for not jumping in when you can’t even follow a full conversation yet! Just be patient with yourself, take in what you can, respond when it feels right and you will improve.

      It sounds like your pride has been stung because of this, which I totally understand. I think focusing on building your self confidence and relations to your new coworkers now will help you later on, since you’ll be more comfortable practicing with them and making mistakes. But as previous comments have mentioned, you’re not entitled to their effort! They’re individuals, not language resources, and some people are happier and find it easier to accommodate for language learners more than others. Some people may want to use you as a way to practice English, who knows? That’s something you’ll know more about once you get to know your coworkers better.

  27. Mare*

    I am going to make this much simpler for you than what I have read in the comments so far. A foreign language teacher told us something while in college that I have tested over and over again and see proven in myself and others. The best thing you can do to become comfortable in another language is listening. Take every opportunity to listen to the language. You did not say what language this is but you can stream shows, news and movies in multiple languages now. Don’t get hung up on not understanding everything. Listening is key. Don’t read subtitles…just listen. A lot! For me, I watched a popular tv show in the language I was learning every day. At first I did not understand a word but eventually I realized I understood everything. Obviously I had studied like you have in order to have the basic grammar and sentence structure. Do this and eventually you will start to feel more and more comfortable in the language and I would not be surprised if you found yourself chiming in at work without much thought.

  28. Neosmom*

    OP#4 – I have so much empathy for you. I was in a similar situation six years ago and after 8 weeks of toxicity I hit a breaking point and showed up the next day with a letter of resignation in hand. It did not explain why at all, just that X date (two weeks later) would be my last day. Hold firm, provide no explanations, and be scrupulously professional during your notice period. You will be fine and both you and your customer will survive the transition. We’re rooting for you.

  29. hamsterpants*

    #2 I have a hunch that the company is full of young white guys, leaning toward a startup that doesn’t have proper HR. “We’ll make fun of you and expect you to like it” sounds like a perfect recipe to exclude and marginalize anyone who is different from them, up to and past the point of being legally actionable. Do report back!

    1. londonedit*

      Yes, it sounds far too much like ‘It’s just banter! We’re just having a laugh! Don’t be so sensitive!’

    2. Blarg*

      Yea, I read this as “we are going to bully you, and we expect you to pretend to enjoy it.” Shudder. It’s a preemptive, “we were kidding. OMG, why can’t you take a joke?” Followed by “not a good culture fit.”

      1. hamsterpants*

        It’s not illegal discrimination if they put it right in the job listing, right? Right??

    3. Rayray*

      This is what I was thinking. Over the past ten years or so, you see a lot of “hip” companies that post silly job descriptions. This reminds me a lot of the kind of posting looking for a rockstar ninja or a ping pong master. It’s very “Hello fellow kids” cringe trying to appeal to a younger crowd.

    4. Girasol*

      My first thought too! Somebody got fed up with racism or sexism and raised a stink, so now they want a new employee who will accept the excuse “Just kidding! Can’t you take a joke?” It’s transparent when a job posting says something off the wall like that. You can imagine what that last guy did and what drove him to do it. It’s like running the company red flag right up the flag pole to be sure that everyone can see it.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep, I’d err on the side of caution, assume exactly that, and not apply. They might have meant something else, but I’m not sticking around to find out.

  30. Harper the Other One*

    LW3: it’s never too late! At any point – now, next weeks months from now – you can tell people you’ve been putting in extra work on your Dothraki and you’d like to practice. In my experience most people will be encouraging at any point if you show an interest in learning their native language.

    The only suggestion I’d give is to start yourself off with social conversations in the second language before you start engaging in work conversations. Get your brain used to being in “Dothraki mode” at work and make sure you know any technical terms in both languages before you start discussing work matters.

  31. The little mermaid*

    Oh, the language learning is a tough one. I think you should let your colleagues know that you’re learning the language – just because that would be a polite thing to do. And then I guess it depends on the the type of working relationship that you’ll develop with people. Someone might even volunteer to speak / practice with you sometimes. And some people are terrible to practice with. Not because they’re terrible people – but as with everything else, not everyone is a good conversation / practice partner. And it also depends on what kind of language learner you are.

    I know people who are very happy to practice with and correct language learners and I know language learners who love that (yay, corrections, I’m learning something new) – and language learners who hate it (JFC, just let me get my sentence out and let’s have a conversation). And then there’s people, who find it hard to to converse with people that struggle with the language (e.g. if they don’t have much experience with it can be hard to always guess correctly, when learners use weird expressions / grammar; or they really struggle to speak a little bit slower and more clearly or with a little less slang; or they have a heavy dialect; or some people just simply can’t be bothered – they just want to communicate efficiently; etc.).

    I live abroad and speak 3 languages (native language, the language of the country I live in, English), and I’ve met all the people above (and have been several of them as well). I’m working on a 4. language (native language of my boyfriend) and it’s hard, because we struggle to get away from English. But I have a native speaking colleague, who immediately offered to help practicing, when she heard that I’m learning.

    So yeah, tldr: Depends on your work relationship!

    1. londonedit*

      I agree with all of this. My sister’s partner is originally from a different country, and when she first moved in with them and started learning their language, everyone said ‘Oh, it’ll be great – just get into the habit of speaking Elvish at home! You’ll pick it up in no time!’ In fact, her partner really struggled with that – my sister’s grasp of the language wasn’t yet good enough for proper conversation, and they found it very frustrating having to bring conversations down to an extremely basic level. They are also not a natural teacher, and quickly got fed up with trying to explain to my sister exactly how she’d muddled that sentence or mispronounced that word. When you’re at home, you just want to be able to communicate with your partner.

      I think it would be polite for the OP to let their colleagues know that they’ve been brushing up on their Dothraki, and I don’t think it would be a problem to ask whether their colleagues would mind if they occasionally responded in Dothraki when they’re all chatting at lunch, or whatever. And if someone volunteers and says ‘If you ever want to have lunch together and speak Dothraki, I’d be happy to help’, then that’s great.

      1. The little mermaid*

        Haha, exactly! My boyfriend is trying to learn the language of the country we live in and I’m terrible at helping him! It IS really hard to live together and to have a relationship, if you only can communicate on the level of a 3 year old (which is my level of his native language and his level of the local language). So we constantly end up just speaking English.

      2. Forrest*

        I knew a couple where one person was Spanish and spoke very good English, and the other was a native English speaker and taught English as an additional language, mainly working with professionals. We were talking about language learning once, and he said something casually like, “I mean, I’d never correct M’s errors. If he came to me as a client, I’d know exactly what we needed to work on, but of course I’d never–” M was so offended! In the eight years they’d been together, he’d never thought of N as “professional English teacher who notices my mistakes”.

      3. Chilipepper Attitude*

        This is so true londonedit!
        My spouse is a terrible language teacher. I have never picked up his language and, sadly, he was not able to share it with our child. And it turns out, my spouse experiences my language, English, as his love language. I was worried that he would not feel he could express his emotions in English but it seems he does better with relationships in English. He lived in a British Territory and sort of learned it in school but really learned it with me.

  32. Katefish*

    There have been a bunch of comments about potential pitfalls (or the lack thereof in this specific case) to LW3. But I wanted to chime in on a different note – I spend a lot of time in my third language, which I understand but speak badly. My native language is English and I live in the U.S. I find that bilingual people almost always default to English with me, even if we start in third language. It’s nice when I’m tired, but I’d like to stay in third language more actively, so it can also be frustrating. These are primarily social situations and I know the intent is considerate – they want to make sure I’m not excluded – but I wanted to extend my empathy to LW3, as it’s difficult to make the switch stick.

  33. Julia*

    #1 – I disagree with Alison’s advice on this. I actually don’t think what Phyllis did was so wrong. She wants to go out with a coworker she’s friendly with, the coworker doesn’t really have the nerve to ask herself, so Phyllis is doing it for her. Sure, it *might* be undermining Pam, but it might be something Pam’s grateful for. Lots of people dislike asserting themselves in basic ways at work, particularly with their supervisor – this whole advice column is evidence of that. The best course of action is just to go to Pam, let her know Phyllis put in a request for her to leave early, and ask if that’s actually something she wants. Having a conversation with Phyllis about this isn’t merited.

    1. Colette*

      I disagree. If Pam can’t (or doesn’t want to) ask for time off, that’s not something for Phyllis to get involved in, particularly without Pam’s consent. Phyllis needs to treat her colleagues like competent adults, and this is not doing that.

      1. Julia*

        What’s the worst that could happen from intimating to your boss that your coworker might like a schedule change? Boss goes to the coworker, coworker says “no, Phyllis misunderstood, I do not want a schedule change”. Done. Who cares? People are getting weirdly bent out of shape over something that doesn’t read as that big a deal to me.

        1. Colette*

          You make them look incompetent and overly timid? The boss approves it and the coworker has to use vacation time they were saving for something else? The boss approves it and says “sure, she can make up the time the next day”, forcing her to pay extra for childcare/cancel plans she had been looking forward to? You make yourself look like someone who doesn’t understand professional boundaries?

          BTW, I talked to your boss, you’re off tomorrow but have to make up the time on Friday. You’re welcome!

    2. LW3*

      I’ve just been thinking about how Pam would feel if she saw the email Phyllis had written about her. I think it would be a unique person who would feel grateful after reading that. Even if Phyllis’ actions are merited, I don’t think writing about Pam in such a way is.

    3. Dr. Rebecca*

      “the coworker doesn’t really have the nerve to ask herself”

      …then the coworker doesn’t get the time off. That’s how things work. You have to communicate your desires and/or needs to your boss in order to have them taken into account.

    4. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Asking for time off is not “asserting yourself at work,” it is a basic function of being an employee. If you are correct that Pam is unable to make the request herself because she does not have the nerve to ask, then that is something the manager can work on with her. If the manager is so unapproachable or the policies are so draconian that asking is problematic, then Pam has to decide if she still wants to work there or if she wants to fight those battles.

      And yes, what Phyllis did was very wrong – on so many levels. If she was trying to be kind to Pam, she would ask if Pam wanted her to speak to the manager for her and she would have included that info in the email. And she would not have emailed all the coworkers to say Pam was too afraid to ask them! Pam’s fear might warrant a private convo with the manager, not a public outing of Pam.

    5. BRR*

      Even if Pam doesn’t like asserting herself and is grateful for Phyllis doing it, you still can’t have employees asking things for other employees (and this assumes Pam is actually thankful). As Dr. Rebbecca said, that’s just not how things work. If Pam would like to leave early, that is only between Pam and the LW. Even if the plans involve Phyllis, it’s still only between Pam and the LW. And in this scenario, is Pam going to lose pay or use vacation time? Those things aren’t up to Phyllis.

      If I was Pam I would be very mad. That email doesn’t paint Pam in a flattering light. Not to mention it undermines Pam. The LW should let Phyllis know it’s inappropriate and unprofessional. And if I was the LW I would let Pam know Phyllis sent that email. I would definitely not then ask Pam if she actually wants it off.

    6. Observer*

      it *might* be undermining Pam,

      No “might” about it. It’s totally undermining. And the language Phyllis uses makes it worse.

      She wants to go out with a coworker she’s friendly with

      Since when does that give her any standing to try to manage the coworker’s schedule?

      The best course of action is just to go to Pam, let her know Phyllis put in a request for her to leave early, and ask if that’s actually something she wants

      Absolutely NOT. Even if Pam actually was interested – something which is actually not likely (even Phyllis admits that the whole plan was hers and that Pam only “HINTED” that she’s interested!) – the OP should not do this. In healthy workplaces, people ask for their own time off. The OP should never do anything to encourage people to overstep that norm, no matter who good their intentions are.

      Having a conversation with Phyllis about this isn’t merited.

      You are flat out wrong. The fact is that Phyllis most definitely overstepped appropriate bounds. Even assuming the best and most benign interpretations of the whole thing, it was a massive overstep. Adults need to ask for their time themselves, people need to be expected to act like adults, they need to be treated like adults, and their scheduling (especially after work) should not be made a topic of discussion by anyone but the person themselves. Phyllis needs to cut it out. Today.

      1. Colette*

        And in that vein, if Phyllis wants to do something with Pam outside of work, she needs to have that conversation with Pam. Instead, she’s asking for Pam to get time off so she can attend something she has not been asked to attend, and that she has not agreed to.

    7. Nanani*

      No. Hard disagree. Phyllis is way out of bounds and needs to be told that this isn’t acceptable.
      Pam didn’t ask Phyllis to ask for the time off, it was done unprompted. That reads “Phyllis has appointed herself the dictator of Pam’s free time” and not “helping Pam”.

    8. Terrysg*

      The only time a third party can talk to an employer on behalf of an employee is when the employee is not able to talk to the company themselves. Being in a coma means someone needs to contact the company on their behalf, shyness doesn’t.

    9. GraceRN*

      this whole advice column is evidence of that

      Wow. So…..sounds like you’re already familiar with Alison’s blog. But your take-away from having read her blog is “Coworkers should totally step in to do basic (and required) employee actions like requesting time off for others because not everyone like to do those basic things?” and “managers shouldn’t speak directly with the employee responsible for the problem?”

      Honestly, this way of thinking and level of judgment is exactly how dysfunctional workplaces are built. Please reconsider your approach.

      1. Julia*

        If I were Phyllis I wouldn’t have done it. But it’s really not that big of a deal that she did. Imagine if this happened in person – someone says to the boss “hey, Jane seems like she wants to go out with me tonight but she’s supposed to be closing – would you talk to her?” Not really weird. The fact that it’s in email makes it a bit weirder, but still not grounds to have a conversation w Phyllis about her judgment. It doesn’t rise to that level.

        1. GraceRN*

          Glad to know that if you were Phyllis you wouldn’t have done it.
          I do think there is a lot of differences between the verbal comment you described here and Phyllis’ actions.
          Additionally, it is still problematic if one of my staff were to say this comment to me verbally. My role as a manager is to ensure we have staffing coverage at all times. It is not to ensure Jane gets her last minute time off that she allegedly seem to want. So I will not be using my time to chase down Jane to talk to her. If Jane wants it, she needs to find me at a time I’m available to make the request herself. I would reply “Jane need to come talk to me about it herself. It doesn’t count if only you said it to me.” I wouldn’t have a bigger conversation about this particular comment, but my reply would remain consistent every single time.
          From experience, it could be a bigger problem if this was said verbally. Every manager’s gotten burned with a telephone game gone awry at some point. If I had said to you “No sorry but Jane can’t leave early. Wakeen already asked and I told him he can go.”, or “I don’t know right now, we’ll have to see if it gets busy later in the day. If it’s busy then Jane can’t go, but if it’s light then it’s fine.” But you got busy, got sidetracked and didn’t pass along my reply to Jane, or somehow you only heard part of my reply. Now Jane makes an assumption that it’s all good (because Boss usually accommodates reasonable requests) and she leaves early. The telephone game goes off the rails. Now you, me, and Jane all have an issue. As a manager, it is my role to plan for the “what ifs” and avoid risks like this.
          So to your point, it’s not “weird” but nah I wouldn’t think it’s a good thing.

        2. Observer*

          Imagine if this happened in person – someone says to the boss “hey, Jane seems like she wants to go out with me tonight but she’s supposed to be closing – would you talk to her?” Not really weird

          On what planet is that NOT weird? Again, it’s just a massive overstep for Phyllis to decide that Pam “seems to want to” do this and the make the request for her without ever checking with her. And that’s before you look at the language that makes Pam look like a frightened child who can’t manage her life.

          By they same token, if someone asked “would you talk to her?” I would be floored. Hopefully I would have enough presence of mind to ask “Why would you think that’s remotely appropriate?” In actuality? I’d probably sputter. Because it IS weird. VERY weird. And utterly inappropriate and not good for the person being spoken about.

    10. Dark Macadamia*

      There’s no indication that Pam actually wanted that time off, or that she’s even aware Phyllis is requesting it. Phyllis is being terribly unprofessional, and if Pam agreed/asked her to do this then Pam is being unprofessional too!

      1. SimplytheBest*

        I mean…other than asking for it off herself a few days later.

        Phyllis is in the wrong for talking to the boss for sure, but the infantalization of Pam by the rest of this comment section (she’s being pressured! she’s being taken advantage of! she doesn’t know how to say no to big, scary Phyllis and needs protection!) isn’t much better.

    11. Anonymous Hippo*

      I think what Phyllis did was extremely wrong, and if I was Pam I would be incensed. Even if I really wanted to do the activity, and didn’t want to talk to my boss.

      But, I’m not sure a conversation with Phyllis is needed beyond a stark “Pam needs to discuss scheduling with me directly.” Then I’d have a conversation with Pam so that Pam could address it with Phyllis. And if Pam really did orchestrate or want this because she didn’t want to approach her supervisor directly, she’s the one that needs to be corrected because that’s not at all professional.

      1. Colette*

        I agree that that’s all that needs to be said right now – but I’d also be on the lookout for signs Phyllis is steamrolling her coworkers or otherwise pressuring them into doing things they don’t want to do.

  34. Sharrbe*

    Anyone else want the office in LW’s letter to be consolidated with the company in the letter a few weeks ago that banned joking of any kind?

  35. LW3*

    My thought about LW2 is that the people writing the job description may have been trying to go for something like “doesn’t take self too seriously,” or “is able to admit when wrong,” but gone about it in a really tone-deaf way. However, other people’s ideas could also certainly be the case, so I think the answer will be found in what vibe the letter writer gets from the company as a whole.

  36. Bookworm*

    #4: Just wishing you luck. I was in a similar spot (boss wasn’t toxic but the org was) and with the pandemic, etc. I decided I had enough and the stress was no longer worth it. I am sorry you’ve got an awful ogre of a boss and do hope the transition is smooth as it can be. Also hoping that maybe you’ll get a call tomorrow for something bigger and better. :)

  37. The Happy Graduate*

    LW3: are you me?? Because I’m in the exact same situation! I found so far what helps is that I preface asking someone a question in the new language with “I’m trying to practice my X skills! Do you know where…” and then continue the conversation in said new language. That way it’s clear from the beginning how you want to communicate, and saying it with a smile/friendly tone keeps it casual.

  38. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    I know this is fanfiction on my part, but I keep thinking of “Phyllis” as Michael in the “Dinner Party” episode of The Office where he says everyone has to work late and then says they don’t have to just so Jim and Pam won’t have plans and therefore can’t dodge his dinner party invitation any more. Does “Pam” actually want to go? Has she been using work as an excuse to not go? The idea is cracking me up even though I’m sure it’s not that extreme.

  39. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    I am genuinely shocked that so many commentators are reacting with such vitriol to LW3, especially since it’s clear from her question exactly what she’s looking for and what context the language is in.

    “But what if the language is a historically suppressed and minority language?”

    LW3’s question clearly implies that the language is the majority language in the country that it’s native to and is synonymous with the country itself (since the LW3 swaps back and forth between referring to the country and referring to the language). It’s unlikely that it’s a closed language or a minority language with a fraught political history, like Basque. It’s more likely that it’s a language that shares its name with its native country, like German, French, or Danish.

    “Why can’t LW3 find someone else to speak it with her?”

    It’s clear from LW3’s question that she did not move to the other country; she is in her home country but it happens that many of her coworkers speak a different native language, and that this was uncommon enough that it was put in the job description.

    Also, given the frankly bizarre assumption that “practicing the language” means “expecting anyone she speaks it to to correct her grammar,” I don’t see why the situation would be improved by trying to speak it with anyone else.

    “Why can’t LW3 find a professional to teach her, or read in the language, or do some other kind of standardized learning?”

    She’s already at an intermediate level, is taking a class in the language, and is actively reading newspapers/etc. in the language. Her problem is mostly not comprehension, it is speaking the language to other speakers in a natural setting where she is expected to come up with her own sentences instead of repeating “the weather is nice today” in Dothraki. She’s receptively bilingual, like a lot of people who are at an intermediate or advanced level in reading/writing a language but are shy about speaking it.

    “Why does she expect her coworkers to teach her/correct her grammar/etc.?”

    She doesn’t.

    “Speaking the language in a professional but social setting is not how you learn a language!”

    Language immersion is actually an incredibly common and effective way of learning a language. LW3 doesn’t want to start dropping technical terms everywhere, she just wants to be able to chat with her coworkers socially and not make them feel like they have to speak English to cater to her.

    LW3, your instinct is correct: just go ahead with the bad grammar and get better at it that way. I don’t think it’s too late to start introducing Dothraki in your daily usage; even if your coworkers had no idea that you spoke the language before, I think they’d assume you’d picked up the language from hearing them, not that you’ve been maliciously pretending to only speak English for some reason.

    Also, and this is solely from my experience as the child of an immigrant who speaks the home country’s language at an intermediate stage after learning in a professional setting, but has trouble speaking it: watching Dothraki dubs of movies you’ve already seen in English, like Disney movies, is a great way of picking up a language that’s spoken quickly and with slang and whatnot. You don’t need to figure out the plot, so you can focus on the language. If part of your problem is trying to increase vocabulary and follow quickly-moving speech, that can help a lot. (Also, dubs often have funny-in-their-native-language jokes that aren’t present in English.)

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I completely agree. The commentariat here can be amazingly harshly judgmental at times. I left this place once and came back, but I stay completely out of the weekend threads.

      LW clearly stated what she was looking for. Commenters are making a LOT of assumptions. People just like to be terrible when there’s nothing personally at stake for them, I guess.

      BTW, Alison framed this perfectly. This is less about language and more about shyness.

    2. Forrest*

      that’s a very odd definition of vitriol? I mean, there are quite a few comments saying, “you might need to think about the context of this, it might not be OK especially if there are power dynamics at play here”. Nobody’s saying, “You’re a terrible awful person for even thinking of this.”

      1. Mental Lentil*

        People are making the huge assumption that LW wants her coworkers to act as tutors or teachers and actually teach her how to use the language, which again, she already knows and berating her for this assumption.

        Again, as I point out, this letter is not about language instruction or practice, but about shyness.

      2. Nanani*

        Exactly. I think a lot of us, including me, have been on the other end of this situation with being presumed available for language practice when we didn’t sign up for it, so hackles are raised.
        Add the fact that most of us aren’t reading every single comment – but LW3 is – and it comes off harsh, but it’s not actually vitriolic.

      3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        Quite a few people are assuming – not just without evidence, but in fact evidence of the contrary – that LW3 feels entitled to have her coworkers be her personal tutors, that the language is one where her coworkers would be offended if she even tried to learn to speak it, and that she isn’t doing anything else to learn the language. They don’t need to say she’s the worst ever; they’re just assuming a lot of things that, if true, would mean the LW is culturally and personally insensitive, despite clear evidence that she’s just shy about speaking a language poorly out of respect for her coworkers and the language.

        1. Forrest*

          I don’t think anybody is assuming that — nearly every comment is framed as “here’s my opinion”, or “maybe you’ve thought about this, but if you haven’t—“ or “I think Alison has missed the mark by not saying some about —“ All of these are super gentle and constructive ways of speaking, and none of them make assumptions about what the OP does or doesn’t know. None of them are mean. I think it’s completely off the mark to frame any of them as vitriolic!

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            You seem extremely focused on that one word to the point that you seem to be ignoring the rest of what Book Badger has actually been saying, which I’m not sure is especially constructive. The point is that there are a great number of comments which are making very uncharitable assumptions about the OP’s intentions, whether they’re stated outright or framed as “I’m not SAYING you’re [expecting your colleagues to tutor you/exploiting an oppressor-oppressed dynamic/rudely invading your colleagues’ linguistic safe space] BUT…” – which is not significantly better, especially not when the point has been made dozens and dozens of times over. And all of those assumptions can be proven inaccurate by simply reading what the OP has actually said. It’s silly and it’s rude.

      4. Cat Lover*

        No, but a lot of people are making huge assumptions.

        I also think people are equating “practice” with like… flash cards or something. LW is not asking for tutoring! Idk where people are getting that assumption!

      5. socks*

        People aren’t outright name-calling, but they are being *extremely* uncharitable, bordering on bad faith. There are very few situations where it would be inappropriate to chit-chat with coworkers in their native language, even if you aren’t totally fluent, and there’s nothing in the letter indicating LW3 planned to do anything but that.

      6. EventPlannerGal*

        There are a large number of comments lecturing the OP on the totally unfounded assumption that she wants her colleagues to act as unpaid tutors or that she’s just forgotten to mention some oppressor/oppressed dynamic that would entirely change the context of the letter. When one person leaves a comment like that it’s misguided but I guess possibly helpful to other people who might actually be in that situation? When you have, like, thirty people doing that, it’s rude and unhelpful and, I think, illustrative of a very uncharitable mindset.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I think this is what creates the overall feel — it’s the number of people chiming in, all assuming facts that aren’t actually in evidence and may not be the case.

          One person – probably not a big deal. Multiple people – really shitty experience for the letter-writer.

      7. Myrin*

        I hope you forgive me for being blunt, but is that really the salient point of Book’s comment?
        There are times to nitpick wording or to be a bit sandwich-y, but this is not one of those times.

    3. BRR*

      I’m surprised as well. I only speak English and used to work somewhere where most things, both work and personal, were done in another language so maybe I just have more context for the letter than others. If anything, my coworkers would have strongly preferred to speak/write in Dothraki with me instead of English.

    4. Flance*

      I agree with you, I know this commentariat loves to be oh-so-woke all of the time but honestly it can be frustrating to scroll through the comments where people are making so many – incorrect! – assumptions. I thought LW was perfectly clear in the letter. No, maybe we didn’t know if the language was an endangered one or a minority group but I still don’t think that what she’s requesting is such a big deal. All she wants is a casual conversation sometimes with the group in their language. This isn’t labor for them or oppression, come on people.

      1. Alianora*

        Yes. I commented earlier about working in a primarily Spanish-speaking workplace (although English was our “official” language). As a native English speaker in the US, I was coming from a place of linguistic privilege, but even then no one was *offended* by me speaking Spanish with them as best as I could, or trying to understand their conversations.

        It does feel very harsh that people keep reiterating these incorrect assumptions about the LW, and it kind of feels like they’re looking for a reason to scold her.

        1. Tau*

          Especially because… yeah yeah edge cases don’t fetishize be aware of power imbalances etc. etc. … but overall I would say it is a good thing to want to speak your coworkers’ native language with them instead of forcing them to speak yours? This is in fact a very respectful thing to offer and a lot of people will really appreciate it? Especially when you’re in a workplace where it’s spoken widely and your alternative is insisting a lot of conversations switch to English to accommodate you? The amount of pushback OP got for this is unreal. And she clarified a bunch of the assumptions didn’t apply pretty early on, too!

  40. funkydonut*


    “Please interview there and report back.”

    made me snort-laugh out loud.

  41. 3DogNight*

    LW1 I’ve not seen this addressed in another comment. I would be furious if someone else set up time off for me. I’m pretty particular about what, I used PTO for, and when,. And if this is a case of she gets 3 hours off on Tuesday, but then has to work another 3 hours somewhere else to make it up, I’d be even more angry. You cannot approve this without talking to Pam. (I think you already know this.) This whole dynamic is very weird, and I would call it very unprofessional.

    1. Stina*

      I strongly suspect that Pam no longer wants to go to the movies with Phyllis after being embarrassed in an email like that sent to a number of co-workers. Definitely pull Phyllis aside and let her know that she acted in an unprofessional way that unintentionally embarrassed Pam with her colleagues. Suggest an apology to Pam for overstepping and embarrassing her is a good idea.

      1. Colette*

        There’s no indication Pam ever wanted to go to the movies, just that she “hinted”, and I’m not sure it was an actual hint. I could see someone mentioning going to a movie and replying “I’ve heard of that, I’d like to see it” or “oh yeah, that sounds good” or similar without having any interest in going to the movie with that person.

    2. sswj*

      I so agree.
      I’m fairly shy, a bit reserved, and I don’t really enjoy lots of socializing. I do have friends and have a great time when we do get together, but I’m EXTREMELY protective of my ‘me time’. I also will do all sorts of contortions to not hurt someone’s feelings, especially when they are being kind, and yet stand my ground over my own needs.

      So yes, when someone kindly offers to have me join them on an outing that I don’t really want to go to, I will decline nicely and if pushed will give some sort of vague reason. If I were Pam I would be seriously PO’d at Phyllis assuming and overstepping, and that would pretty well end whatever vague work-friendship there was.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Exactly. I’d be livid. My PTO is limited and this random person just took away a chunk of it, because they thought I was too shy to request my own PTO myself?! The heck? This is on top of the whole way Phyllis is referring to Pam in the email is creeping me out. “We are taking her out”, “she hinted”, “she’s not forward enough to ask herself” like Pam is a child or a house pet without agency of her own.

    4. LW1*

      I absolutely agree. She could literally be messing with someone’s livelihood! So, no, I definitely wasn’t going to grant it unless Pam came to me. (Which she did the day-of.)

      1. 3DogNight*

        Thanks for updating this, LW1! The letter itself is rather unprofessional, but I’d chalk it up to some people are strange. The actual livelihood piece of it worried me!

  42. anya forger*

    LW3, you sound very thoughtful and enthusiastic, and this comment is meant as a general caution rather than one directed at you, personally. If you do approach your co-workers about speaking/practicing Dothraki with them, please be prepared to be gracious about hearing “No,” and if they do agree to help you practice, please don’t co-opt their conversational time into time focused on your language practice.

    I am a semi-native speaker of Mandarin, and have had several classmates and co-workers who were enthusiastic about practicing the language with me. There are dual perceptions of Asians as a “perpetual other” and “all the same” and unfortunately the way people approached me about speaking Mandarin reinforced both stereotypes. One co-worker only spoke to me about Mandarin or Chinese-related questions, making me feel like my identity was flattened down to one dimension – my Chineseness – and I was not being seen or valued as a whole person. He would also press me on cultural or social questions about China, despite my repeated statements that I was not born in China and had never been there. I eventually had to tell him point-blank that I would not be engaging in any conversations related to that topic, after which he stopped talking to me altogether . It really soured what had started out as a cordial professional relationship.

    There were other co-workers in the office I did speak Mandarin with, because we were both native speakers, but not all the time and not in front of English-speaking co-workers. For me, using another language at work is a deliberate and careful choice and I usually use it to show affinity with colleagues, as we are often the only minorities in a given department. It can feel very jarring to have someone step into that space and have to accommodate them, when there are so few spaces that are completely safe and comfortable for me to begin with. Just because there are several Dothraki speakers in your office does not necessarily mean they have the same access to community outside of the company. I would be mindful that you are asking to be a guest in their space.

    Again, I’m not saying you would do these things, and I certainly don’t suggest my experiences are universal. Your colleagues might all be enthusiastic about speaking Dothraki with you, and that’s great! I just wanted to offer another perspective and to point out that people’s relationship with their home languages are complex and carry social and historical weight. If someone does decline, they are not necessarily being rude, they may just be practicing self-preservation in an inhospitable environment. If you show that you see and value your co-workers beyond their potential as language partners, they will probably extend a lot more goodwill toward to your conversational requests.

    1. Lav*

      This is a really good point! (The situation that I’m about to describe is not the same, but it reminds me of something that I went through myself).

      I worked in Beijing for a good 6 years at different companies (I’m from the US). In one company in particular there was one person who straight up refused to speak to me in Mandarin, even when we were in a group with other people who only understood Mandarin. They would always ask questions about the US/ black people (I’m black which was a whole other “issue”), and talk about how they wanted to practice English with me. It made me incredibly uncomfortable because I felt very singled-out/ othered. The biggest issue is that I spoke near-perfect Chinese (I feel very strange saying that but just trust me), and I could barely understand this person’s English. Just a bad feeling all around.

      So yes, if you want to practice a different language with a co-worker/ friend you have to also remember that the person you are trying to practice with is not a tool but in fact an actual person.

      1. LW3*

        Thanks to both of you. I would like to be really clear, though, that I would never see anybody I was speaking a second language with as a tool or as a language partner rather than a person. I feel that the value in learning languages in the first place is to better connect with people, not to wear on and burden somebody.

        Also, it’s a little bit more than having “several” Dothraki speakers in the office — *everyone* at work is a native Dothraki speaker except for me and one other person. Work matters are generally conducted in Dothraki unless they involve me or the other individual. So it’s really full-on immersion just being here, rather than looking to carve out space or find time.

        1. Tau*

          +1 Myrin! Seriously, from everything you’ve said you are fine in your approach, being thoughtful and respectful throughout, and chances are that your coworkers will be delighted to speak Dothraki with you (and potentially relieved that they’re not excluding you by sticking to their native language) as soon as you make clear it’s something you’d like to do. Good luck, and happy learning!

        2. anya forger*

          Hi LW3, I just wanted to say ‘sorry’ if it felt like I was contributing to a pile-on, and also that I think it’s really cool you are so committed to being immersed in this language and wanting to connect with your co-workers. If work matters are being conducted in Dothraki, have you talked with your manager about whether the company would sponsor you finding a conversation partner outside of work? I am not sure if this has already been suggested, and I know it is different from what you were asking about, but I wonder if being in a space that is structured specifically around building up your speaking skills would 1) demonstrate the value of you using Dothraki in the office and maybe encourage your co-workers to speak it more frequently with you, and 2) help with the shyness so you can step into business and social conversations with more confidence at work.

    2. Nanani*

      You said pretty much what I was going to say, but better.

      I’ll just add that LW3 has to keep in mind that their colleagues are there to work, not to be Dothraki tutors (and even if they are, as a coworker, LW is not their tutee) so be -very generous- in interpreting “no” and “not right now” signals.

      Nobody likes being volunteered as someone’s language tutor.

      1. LW3*

        I have to admit I’m starting to get a little bit frustrated at the implication that I’m looking to make my coworkers tutor me for free. I’m not. This is an environment that is heavily Dothraki-speaking and all responses to my (few) attempts have been very strongly positive. I’m looking to build up my confidence to the point where I can use my Dothraki skills where appropriate, not impose on others. If I had even the smallest idea that me working on my Dothraki was an imposition, I wouldn’t be asking this question.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agreed — I’m assuming it’s coming from people who haven’t seen your comments (lots of people don’t read all the comments), but I’m putting a note at the top.

        2. Nanani*

          I didn’t read every single comment like you probably did, so sorry if it came off as a pile on.
          You sound thoughtful about it, so that’s a good sign.
          Best of luck, and I hope someday you get to use your skills in the Great Grass Sea like you born riding.

        3. Wisteria*

          I am sorry you are getting a pile on. Commentors here tend to use a slippery slope from perspective taking to fanfic, especially if anything the slightest bit un-woke appears. I think your intentions are just fine. I hope you build up the confidence you want and find connection with your co-workers in Dothraki.

      2. Cat Lover*

        Where are you all getting this assumption that LW is talking about a “tutor”???? LW is just asking about practicing speaking a language that they don’t speak fluently.

        The dogpiling on innocent questions on the website has gotten really bad lately and I don’t know why. Not everything is a personal slight.

  43. Lav*

    LW3, I know this is hard advice to take but you have to become a little less shy about it! I’m from the US and lived and worked in China for about 6 years. During my 1st job, I was too shy to speak Chinese and I always regretted that because it felt like there was a barrier between me and my colleagues during more social occasions (lunch/ outings etc.) when everyone was relaxed and speaking Mandarin. You’ve only been there for a few weeks so it’s definitely not too late! If you guys have lunch as a group and they speak the language I would chime in where I could.

    Obviously, the difficult part is overcoming your fear! As someone who was once TERRIFIED to speak to native Chinese speakers, I would say you just have to push past it. I use it as a learning opportunity. I had a game with myself where, when I learned a new word or phrase, I’d try and work it into a conversation and see people’s reactions. If they looked confused or laughed I’d know I said something a bit off and keep working on it!

    You can do it!

  44. I'm just here for the cats*

    In #4’s links, did we ever get a second update to the boss that was angry that the LW gave 2 weeks?

  45. Slipping The Leash*

    #3 — I feel for you! Many many years ago, after 4 years of high school Spanish, I got a BA in Spanish Lit – as this was at a southwestern state university about 90 miles from the Mexico border, so not surprising that I was the only non-native speaker in my entire program. I felt like an ass with my clunky from-a-book spoken language skills (though I rocked the written assignments – turns out having good grammar skills carries the day in any language), total lack of a working slang vocabulary and awkward accent.

    The thing that is hanging you up is just self-consciousness (and occasionally frustration at the inability to eloquently express yourself). Think about how you would be encountering a tourist with iffy English skills asking you for directions — happy to help, right? I guarantee you that A) no one but you cares, and B) everyone appreciates when you try and C) if you use a second language in everyday situations you will get better a million times faster than by any other method of learning.

    I strongly, STRONGLY recommend you grab some coworkers, tell them you are wanting to try to expand your language skills, and go have a bunch of cocktails. You will find that you don’t care so much about perfectly conjugating every verb or needing to gesture with your hands to fill in a blank where your vocabulary isn’t up to the task when you’re in a laughing/story telling/relaxing situation. Booze loosens your tongue. I still do the same, 20-odd years after graduating, any time I go to a Spanish speaking country (I haven’t used Spanish in my daily life in all that time, so I definitely get that oh-my-god-do-I-even-remember-how-to-ask-where-the-bathroom-is panicky feeling). Turns out, drinking half a beer and then instigating a chat with the bartender brings it all right back.

    Good luck!

  46. Erin*

    For the non-native Dothraki speaker: I think you might be surprised at what reaching out to a few people to let them know that you want to practice Dothraki will do for you!

    A few years ago, I hired someone primarily for her mandarin language skills. I felt confident in her English skills, and her previous experience as a great fit for the role. It took a few conversations with her to let her know that everyone on the team was ready, able & willing to help her with her English skills if she wanted help at any time, or she could come to me directly. A few people on the team checked in with her regularly, and actual friendships were formed as a result! Also, she ended up helping a non-native Mandarin speaker who had some Mandarin language training and wanted to expand his skill set in Mandarin. It was really quite lovely to be part of such a collaborative and supportive team.

  47. Cber*

    You can also think smaller than whole conversation. Just use the local greeting or equivalent of what’s up. This will let your coworkers know you’re interested in the language and give you an easy rehearsed first line. Your colleagues will understand that you are trying but not yet fluent. Good luck!

  48. Stina*

    LW 2
    See if your colleagues will talk to you in Dothraki during lunch-breaks for practice. It’s a low-stakes time where you don’t have to worry about causing work errors. As you get stronger, you’ll begin to use it in more work situations.

  49. Van Wilder*

    #2 – One thing I wish I could tell my younger, single self is, when a guy you’re hooking up with essentially says, “I’m a jerk – you don’t want me for a boyfriend,” take him at his word. This company just told you they’re a jerk. Maybe they’re really not but they went out of their way to tell you that they are. Walk away.

  50. Metadata minion*

    #2 – the best read I can get from this is that they want someone who’s comfortable with laughing at their own mistakes rather than hiding them or getting overly stressed about minor errors. However, if I were looking at that posting I would pretty much assume it means “this is, at best, a workplace culture where everyone has an affectionately-insulting nickname by their third week on the job (which can be a perfectly healthy culture but is super not my preferred flavor), and more likely you will end up crying in the bathroom the first time you admit a mistake to someone and then will become known as The One Who Can’t Take a Joke”.

    #3 – For me, several weeks into the job actually sounds like the perfect time to be making these kinds of overtures. Assuming your position doesn’t have an unusually short or long learning period, a month or two in is when you pretty much know the names of all the people you’re working with and have a decent handle on the basics of your job. It’s totally understandable that when you first started, you were using all your energy remembering where the third floor bathroom is and playing phone tag with IT getting your account for WidgetManagerPlus set up. Now you’re more settled in and have the bandwidth to stretch your language skills.

  51. awesome3*

    Alison’s request that LW 2 interview with the company and report back made me cackle.

  52. MicroManagered*

    You don’t need to ask that — you could just plunge in — but I suspect you might feel more comfortable if you preface it that way. Alternately, you can just plunge in!

    LW3 I have some experience with bilingual coworkers, where I understood bits & pieces, but they spoke my language fluntly… and I really disagree here. In type of situation, it’s most polite and customary to converse in the language everyone is most proficient in. If their English is better than your Dothraki, it may come off as culturally arrogant that you are speaking less fluent Dothraki to them or joining conversation that may or may not have included you otherwise.

    However, if you have an actual relationship with specific coworkers or you’ve asked ahead of time, it’s completely different! They may really appreciate your interest in their language and want to help you improve if they know ahead of time that’s what’s going on. Maybe they will even be more forthcoming asking questions about how to say something in English, etc.

  53. Filicophyta*

    I’m a bit disappointed to hear it’s akin to Finnish. I was thinking, wouldn’t this discussion be fun if LW3 worked at some super geeky start-up and it really was Dothraki…

  54. Chris Menaster*

    LW3: I worked at a job where everyone else was fluent in a language wherein my level was at best intermediate. I spoke in the other language whenever I could, and they replied back to me in the same language, which helped a lot, since I could pick out the words I understood and infer from context the rest. I also paid attention when they spoke the language amongst themselves, and studied on my own like you are. In this way my skill at the language improved a lot, and generally my coworkers were happy to help me learn.

  55. That One Person*

    For situations akin to LW3 try to view them as seeking new experiences/opportunities since many things in life don’t have to stay the same. Adding a positive spin also helps, like instead of taking too long to broach the subject it was more like you were observing the work environment and getting to know people first for personal comfort. Sometimes people just want to make sure there isn’t someone ready to turn around and be a jerk when we try something for the first time :)

    LW1 – Even if this is a case of one person trying to fight another person’s battles for them, the second person ideally should learn to self-advocate. This could also just be a case of Phyllis wanting to ask Pam, but realizing that there’s a schedule conflict and trying to get it cleared up before offering Pam to join them. Its still weird, but can just remind her that the schedule requests need to come from Pam directly – especially since changing someone’s schedule without advanced or proper notification can be alarming. Best to let Pam have control over her time.

  56. Koala dreams*

    I think your explanations are fine, and you should tell something similar to the co-workers you work close to. If they resent having to switch to English, they’ll be happy to hear that you’re open to learning their language. You’ll also find out who’s interested in speaking Dothraki with you and who wants to stick to English. If you find a few encouraging co-workers, you could also ask if you can join casual conversations in Dothraki and answer in English when you don’t know the Dothraki words. Some people don’t like mixing languages, but many people do like it. It can be easier to communicate when you use both languages.

    Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Reading and speaking are very different skills! If you can only handle simple greetings for now, it’s fine. You’ll learn, and pick up things over time. The important thing is to get started.

  57. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    Acme: We stand behind our products (and employees). Usually from a safe distance.

  58. Rebecca*

    #4. I just did this two after 1 week with a new VP. It was very clear, very quickly that he was a micromanaging, critical, control freak and I have to much self respect to be treated that way so I quit.
    I have a verbal notice saying this isn’t going to work for me then I wrote in my letter, “the culture in the xxxx office has changed to the point that it no longer aligns with my values or career goals”
    The way you treat people as a manager matters and treating them terribly your first day on the job will cost you talented, dedicated team members with deep institutional knowledge. His loss.

  59. Aack tthpt*

    Why is LW4’s boss “he” in Alison’s answer? LW very carefully nongenders them in their letter. I thought all bosses defaulted to female here. I guess only bad bosses are assumed to be male?

    1. Anonymous Today*

      Very often Alison has information beyond what is included in what shows up in print.

      I am guessing that the LW provided details that made it clear the boss is male.

  60. TeapotNinja*

    LW3: As a foreign language speaking person, if someone took the effort to learn and speak my native language to me at work, I’d be thrilled and impressed, even if everything didn’t come out just right. Sprinkle that stuff in whenever you can!

  61. Deborah*

    I find myself curious if anyone would find it objectionable for one employee to contact a boss on behalf of another who is suddenly ill? I got a migraine suddenly at work just before lunch time one day during the pandemic – I was on a meeting remotely with my teammate and I went from normal to basically unable to communicate because I couldn’t think. Our direct manager was out and I was so new I didn’t know where to find his boss. My remote team member (who is not my boss) told me I should go home for lunch and she would call our grand boss and if I didn’t feel better I should take the afternoon off. I was very grateful (and honestly she was expressing company culture and helping me navigate brain fog more than telling me what to do).

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