Language Barrier

posted 3 years ago in Family
Post # 3
30284 posts
Honey Beekeeper
  • Wedding: September 2011

@mjp526:  My husband and I kind of have the reverse situation – he’s caucasian, and I’m Taiwanese American.  For the most part, my family is pretty good about including him in our conversations (in English!), but once in a while, DH will get caught in larger family/friend get-togethers where conversations will happen in Mandarin Chinese.  It’s super frustrating for him – I try the best I can to at least respond to them in English so that I can keep him kind of clued in, even if my family/friends won’t just speak in English.  So it’s kind of an understanding that he and I have between us.  Maybe you can work something out like that with your FI?  I know, it’s not the perfect solution, but it’d be a way for you to sort of stay involved without having to raise this as an issue with his family.

Post # 4
2915 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: August 2013 - Wynn Las Vegas

I have no advise, but how rude! 

Post # 5
3635 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: May 2012

@mjp526:  My husband’s family is Taiwanese.  His parents moved here right before the boys were born.  Now his brother is married to a woman who moved here from mainland China.  So you can imagine there is not a lot of English spoken in their house (brother and wife live in parents’ house). 

It pisses me off.  They know.  Over the years they have gotten better.  I just walk out of the room when they all start talking to each other in Chinese or Tainwanese (like I could tell the difference).  Or I stare at them and say “What?  I can’t understand you?”  His mother will answer in Chinese when my husband speaks to her in English – even he gets frustrated.  When she knows I’m around she does use English more.

It comes down to comfort for her, especially.  She is not confident in her English- is constantly apologizing for it.  I keep reassuring her I can understand her perfectly fine (better when she’s living in the US- they’re living in China now and her accent is really bad). 

I guess I don’t have a lot of advice other than stick it out.  I tried to learn some Chinese but I just can’t.  Good for you for trying to learn.  But make it clear that they’re being rude.  Nowadays I just tune out.  Someone will ask me a question and I’ll “Huh?  Sorry – you were all speaking Chinese around me so I wasn’t listening.”

Post # 6
555 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: November 2012

that’s my childhood in a nutshell. My dad is Nigerian, and speaks Igbo and English. My mom was African American; so we all spoke English at home. However, when my dad’s family and friends came over, it was all Igbo all the time. My mom knew that Igbo was a matter of comfort for them, so she let it go. In turn thats what me and my siblings did. Do they mix any English phrasing with Tagalog? That’s how we followed conversation when we cared to, context clues. I know you may feel slighted OP but its a cultural, comfort thing IMO. Everyday, 90% of the time theyre in English only environments, thru school, work etc. When you get home, and feel comfortable, it can be a source of happiness to speak and hear a language that reminds us most of home.

Post # 7
4760 posts
Honey bee
  • Wedding: November 1999

@mjp526:  Welcome to my life.  Moving to another continent helped.  I don’t need to spend so much of my time being ignored becasue obviously we don’t visit them every month anymore.  It’s great.

Post # 8
3047 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: August 2013

@mjp526:  I know this rant is making me come off as selfish but I am beyond frustrated.

I don’t think it makes you sound selfish at all! I think it’s completely natural that you feel disappointed by the fact that they CHOOSE to speak to each other in a language that you don’t understand. My husband only speaks English and when my family meets up they do a really lousy job of not speaking Swedish. I find it so frustrating, as they know how to speak English – they just pick Swedish because it’s more convenient. I find it so rude as we’ve spent so much time/vacation and money to go there to visit them, and then they can’t even make him feel welcome. I try to stick to English myself, so that he at least get part of the conversation, but often we end up just talking to each other. It is heart breaking and so difficult to do anything about. I hope things will improve if we have kids, I’ll teach them Swedish and hopefully that means that my husband will pick up at least some basic Swedish along the way. That would definitely help, because I feel like my family won’t change their ways. 

Post # 9
1327 posts
Bumble bee

When it comes to being with someone who you could have cultural/language barriers with, I think it’s absolutely vital to be patient, tolerant, and understanding.  It’s also very helpful to maintain a sense of humour. 🙂 Getting pissed off, constantly demanding that people speak English/a language you understand, and/or storming out really will not help you.  You need to keep in mind that most probably his family’s not trying to exclude you, it’s just that they feel most comfortable speaking their native language/are not confident in their English/unaware that everything’s flying over your head – yes, even if you are sitting right there with everyone.

My entire family speaks Cantonese except for my Japanese uncle.  We try to include him as much as we can, but I notice that he gets left out a lot.  He doesn’t get angry or aggressive – he’ll try to guess what we are saying, try to see if there are words he can catch, try to take part as much as he can, talk to someone who’s not in on the conversation (usually me because I’ll often try to bridge the gap for him), play with the kids, go do something helpful for everyone, or he’ll find other ways to occupy himself.  When my aunt’s hanging out with his family, she’s a little better off because she speaks more Japanese than he does Cantonese, but for the most part, she does the same for him.

I haven’t met my SO’s family yet, but this is the reality I will be facing as his whole family’s Serbian, they hang out a lot with his SIL’s family who’s also Serbian, and basically I’m the only one who doesn’t speak the language.  Although I don’t have any illusions about being able to speak like a native one day, I won’t give up trying to learn.  It’s a difficult and slow process though (and my SO is not a good teacher), so in the meantime, I will just follow my awesome uncle’s example. 

I will also take every get-together as an opportunity for an intensive lesson and try to pick up as much as I can.  I know I’ll probably miss most of the stories, but I’ll trust my SO to translate the funniest/key anecdotes to me.  Having your SO try to integrate you as much as possible really is one of the most important things.  And I find that being able to talk to people one-on-one when they are away from the group really helps with bonding (plus they’ll have no choice but to speak English when they’re only talking to you) – so I’m all for helping in the kitchen, helping clean up, etc.

Post # 10
1060 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: October 2012

@mjp526: Ai nako. I don’t really have advice but I can totally sympathize. English is not DHs first language so him and his family speak their language when they are together. When we were younger I found it very difficult to be around his family. They were polite to me, but I spent so many days sitting on the couch staring at the TV because I couldn’t understand a thing. It was hard to get to know them when our only conversations were Hi, How are you, come eat now, etc. DH and I have had more fights than I can count on that issue (mostly earlier on in our relationship).

It of course isn’t intentional that they did this, so I tried to put myself in their shoes and imagines a situation where me and my family moved to a foreign country that spoke a different language. Though we may learn that language, when we are at home I would definitely want to talk to my mom/siblings in english. It is exhausting speaking another language all day (at work/school etc).

Anyways, As our relationship matured and we got older, I found that his family made a bit more of an effort to talk to me, get to know me, and include me in conversation. However, when there are large parties they all revert back to their language because it is hard to have 20+ people speaking english just because I am at the party (especially if I am not in that conversation).

Nowadays, when we are all sitting around it has become a mix of their language/english. I am very very slowly learning words/phrases. They will also throw in english words and sentences so I can pick up on the topic of the conversation, or I will ask what they are saying. I’m not shy to ask anymore, and that usually prompts them to speak more english. I also try not to take it personally when they are speaking their language in front of me.

Hang in there!



Post # 12
318 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: May 2013

Start whispering everything you want to say into his ear. 

If you’re not invited to their conversation, they can’t be invited to yours. 

It will annoy them pretty badly. 

Post # 15
1867 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: March 2013

I don’t blame you for feeling frustrated about not understanding – that makes sense. And it totally does get boring sitting around when you aren’t included; I definitely know that feeling.

My husband’s family has a different first language than I do, and in group settings, the conversation is always almost only in their language. Many of them don’t speak English at all or speak very little, so it makes sense. I learned their language as a child but was not fluent at all (and they have strong accents) and the first few years were rough because it was stressful for me to want to interact and not to be able to, and to be largely ignored by them because they thought I didn’t understand. But at the same time, I figured – why should they have to totally change their family culture because of me? It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair for them to have to give up what they are comfortable with. I’ve used the five years I’ve been with my husband to vastly improve my language skills to the point that I can contribute to the conversation and understand about 80% of what’s going on. This obvious effort also lead to those members of my husband’s family who do speak English making a point to speak to me, and for those who don’t speak English to make an effort to speak their language more slowly and carefully so I can follow.

Have you thought about making further efforts to learn the language? Have your husband teach you basics, look into resources explaining grammar etc, find practice vocabulary to look through, start reading basic things in Tagalog. I know it’s not simple (even in my case where I had a basis for the language and it’s similarly structured to English), but it does come along over time.

Post # 16
318 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: May 2013

@mjp526:  Seriously. 

They’ll think twice. And if they call you rude in english, ask them if it was so hard to say something in English (:

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