(Closed) Language Barrier

posted 7 years ago in Family
Post # 17
1310 posts
Bumble bee

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@kittyface:  Word.  I’m also for taking a more constructive, positive, and proactive approach. 

Post # 18
9541 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: August 2013

I can only imagine how frustrating this must be! It sounds like you and your fiance are doing all the right things to try to politely ask them to speak English.

I agree with the idea of having your fiance always answer in English, so you can have a bit more of a clue what’s going on. Or maybe have him stop the conversation, so that he can translate for you. That will likely get annoying, so maybe they’ll switch to English to avoid the delays that translation causes. Or maybe just jump into a conversation with English. You may get some funny looks if you jump in with “I’ve got this really complicated but rewarding new project at work” after the last comment was “Yeah, I really like that new HBO show” or whatever. But it would bring to their attention that you don’t understand what they’re saying. 

Basically these are little ways to try to bring to their attention that you don’t know what’s going on and make it a little bit inconvenient for them, thus providing some incentive to speak English. I wouldn’t do this to aggressively or you’ll piss them off. But it could be something to do when you hit your breaking point and it might ifx things for a short period. And maybe if it happens enough and over enough time, then it’ll get better.

Have you considered just not hanging out with his family so much? Maybe have some time that he hangs out with them on his own so that they can speak their language. Then when you come over, it might be easier to encourage them to speak English, since it isn’t every time they see their son?

Post # 19
177 posts
Blushing bee
  • Wedding: November 2015

@mjp526:  I don’t think it’s selfish either that you’re frustrated with the language barrier. I’m another Taiwanese-American and my BF is American. My parents speak fluent English, but not very well. They will speak English when talking to my BF because the only Chinese he understands is “thank you” and “difficult”. Sometimes they forget and will start speaking chinese and I’ll forget to translate because I’m so used to hearing it and I honestly forget that my BF doesn’t understand. He hasn’t been to many large family gatherings, but I’m sure we’ll run into a few issues when we do.

How often do you see his family? My BF used to not spend much time talking to my parents because he was intimidated, but this created more problems because they felt like they didn’t know him and couldn’t talk to him. We’re working on this by trying to have dinner with my parents once a month. I understand it might not work the same for you since you’re having an issue with larger family gatherings, but just an idea. Also, besides your BF, are there any family members like cousins or aunts that you could get to know one on one? Maybe getting to know family members individually could help you in the group setting. Good luck!

Post # 21
9680 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper

That does sound very frustrating and I can relate. My husband and I are both Russian, but in the past I have dated guys who only spoke English. If my family switched languages, I would just tell them to stop. They were good about it. Usually we only switch to Russian when non-English speaking relatives are around (yes, I’m talking to YOU, grandma) or when we are feeling extremely passionate.

Post # 22
1988 posts
Buzzing bee

SO’s language is German. Mine is Spanish and we communicate in English. So yeah, you have an idea of how complicated things can be at times especially due to cultural differences. That being said, I tend to choose my battles, and try to be understanding. 

His family speaks English too. His dad is not very fluent but he manages to make his points across. See, I am doing my best to try to speak German. And he is doing his best to learn Spanish. But when we are with our respective families, it is natural that while trying to accomodate, inevitably the conversation gravitates towards the mother language of the family. Yes, it can feel a little weird but it is nothing personal. After all, I came to realize this… I can’t have 4-7 people uncomfortably pushing themselves to speak in a foreign language in order to make one person happy. Me. 

When they are together as a family, the way I see it, it is their time as a family. They should be able to communicate however makes them feel more comfortable. When they speak really fast is exaclty because it is so much easier for them to communicate in their mother language. And after all, if they didn’t speak English, it would still be the same situation. But then again, sometimes it’s hard to understand unless you actually speak more than one language and are stuck to speaking a foreign language sometimes and see that it can be mentally exhausting. :-/

That being said, it is your FI’s job to make you feel included. And I’d have a conversation with him regarding expectations. Maybe tell him that you understand it is easier for them to speak all the time in their dialect, but that then he cannot expect you to just sit there for prolonged periods of time. That sometimes the best thing will be for them to get quality time without you having to spend hours doing nothing. 

Post # 23
611 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: June 2014

@mjp526:  My fiance (caucasian) goes to my family’s parties where no one speaks english very well (vietnamese). Because our family gatherings have activities like poker games every christmas with gambling and other activities that don’t really require him to speak but still interact with them its worked out well and he doesn’t feel left out even though he can’t speak the language.

Does his family incorporate any activities in which you can join in without feeling left out? Cooking? Playing a card/board game? 

Do you still feel accepted/warm/welcome at these gatherings even though they don’t talk to you? Or do you always feel like a plus one? It might be more than just a language barrier if they don’t truly accept you. My family always tries to offer food and a place to sit with my fiance and thats as far as it goes because they have a hard time speaking english and those are the only two things they can do to make him feel accepted (this is speaking of aunts, uncles, cousins and extended family)

With my immediate family, my mom and dad have a close relationship with my fiance and my dad has extremely broken english. Do you frequently go to dinners with just you guys and his parents? If so why don’t you start conversations about your work, life, etc so they can talk about your stuff and even if its in tagalong they are still talking about you and telling you stuff directly.

Post # 27
3025 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: July 2014 - Prague

Oh I feel your pain. It really makes you feel crappy when people you know could speak in your language don’t. My own family is all bi- or tri-lingual, and they drift into Czech or French sometimes– most of the time just out of habit, but also if their conversation starts to get heated. They are VERY aware of when people are around who only speak English and someone will usually remind the others to go back to English, but sometimes it still happens.

Keep working on your Tagalog! In the long run this will be your most solid path to bonding with your SO’s family. There are always people who think it is your “duty” or something like that. 

It sounds like you’ve already tried beind up-front about how you feel about all this, with both your SO and even his family. It may be that they just won’t change, and I send you hugs! Eventually they will accept you as family. Try not to let this become a wedge– even though it makes you feel bad. I know it’s not easy, but you will be connected to these folks for the rest of your life. Chin up!

Post # 28
268 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: September 2010

I’m American and he’s Dutch and we live in the Netherlands.  While the immediate family have been very accomidating while I learn the language (which has been very hard since I started at 28 and I have zero talent for languages), the extended family not so much.

Basically, large gatherings go like this. We arrive and immediately the family descends on me to see where my language skills are.  It’s not up to their level and they can’t bother with english so they go back to their own little circle and ignore me for the next 4-6 hours.

For years I told my mother about this and she thought I was being a big baby until my parents were here for Oma’s birthday last year.  Since my parents are part of the family and my Father-In-Law and his siblings were throwing the party, he invited my parents.

We were the first to arrive and my husband and I went to say hello to Oma.  She acknowledged my parents and said a few things in english then switched back to dutch.  I’m sorry, but at almost 90 she gets a free pass on this. 😉

Then an uncle that was at our wedding in 2010 walks up, looks at my mom and says, “What are you doing here?”

After that, more people arrive and acknowledge me and my husband, access my dutch, and go on to ignoring me.  They didn’t even ask who my parents were or acknowledge them in any way.  After about 2 hours my parents went off to explore the town we were in and later admitted that I wasn’t exagerating that.

These days, after 8 years of living here, I probably understand about 70-80% of spoken dutch.  With my immediate family these days they speak in dutch I answer in english and it’s win win.  With my extended family? It’s probably childish as all heck but I refuse to even respond to them unless they speak english.  If I wasn’t good enough for them then, why am I going to make it easier for them now??

As you get better at the language, it WILL become easier and more comfortable.  Also, as for gatherings, don’t go unless you’re absolutly comitting a faux pas (like for me that would be skipping Oma’s birthday.  You just don’t do that and live).  Maybe they’ll start getting it.

Post # 29
273 posts
Helper bee

It’s beyond rude and you shouldn’t have to put up with it. Take a book with you or your phone and when they all start speaking in Tagalog after you’ve asked them not to, take out your book and read. If they get offended, tell them that you clearly weren’t involved in their conversation so you decided to occupy yourself.


As someone who speaks four languages (three of them less than fluently, but competently), I know how frustrating it can be. In my opinion there is NO good reason to insist on speaking a language that not everyone in the group is comfortable with, if a common language exists. If one of my Italian friends who speaks very little English came to stay with me and my flatmates (who all speak Italian to some degree), we would not be holding conversations in English in front of her. And NONE of us are fluent in Italian, yet still we’d try because we care about making her feel included. If your partner’s family are fluent in English, there is even less reason for them to be so rude.

Post # 30
355 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: June 2014

I know exactly how you feel! My Fiance and his family only speak Italian and when I’m around, that is all they speak. I literally have to wait for my Fiance to translate. At least your Fiance has asked them to speak English! 

To be fair though, now when we travel to Italy, I can understand some conversations as when I’m with him and his parents, I sit and listen, so I have picked up somewhat of another language! Yay!!

Post # 31
678 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: August 2014

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@ldyparadox99:  Glad to hear you have made progress with the language- we’ve been to the Netherlands and Dutch is HARD! I thought it would be much more similar to English 🙂 I am also concerned about how FI’s family (Turkish-speaking with little English) will treat my family (USA all the way!) when they meet for the first time at our wedding in Turkey. At least we will have a bunch of other English-speaking friends in attendance to diffuse some of the tension and even out the sides a little.

Anyway, my approach has been to take the high road, be polite and gracious about the whole thing and try my best to hang in there and participate in the conversations to the best of my ability. Keeping a positive relationship now will leave the door open for when your language skills do develop a little more. I only understand MAYBE 50% of what is being said in Turkish (on a good day), so for me that means agreeing or disagreeing with something, adding a word or two, or maybe asking a question. Not much but it shows I am interested in learning and not as English-centric as they assumed I would be. It does get better with time, but I absolutely know how frustrating it gets!

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