(Closed) Language Exclusion — how to cope?

posted 9 years ago in Intercultural
Post # 3
664 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: December 2011

I dont’ have any insights into dealing with this issue. My FH’s family only speaks Haitian Creole, which I’m still learning. They don’t use language to exclude me; they’re just communicating the only way they know. However, I am really interestedin other Bees’ response to this question.

@Elvis: Thanks for asking this question!

Post # 4
3314 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: October 2010

I’m lucky in that for the most part, my in-laws speak English very well.  My Mother-In-Law however, is deaf and has been since she was very very very young and so only speaks a very few words of English.  I’m in the very slow process of learning Dutch because I want to – it’s part of my husbands heritage, and I want to be able to hold a conversation with his mother one day that doesn’t involve translating help or lots of pointing and guessing.

The hard part is that while my Mother-In-Law will try to use the few English words she knows, it’s soooo much easier for her to talk in Dutch, and as you (and Jane) pointed out, once someone starts speaking in the language it tends to take over.  My husband and his family try to make sure that I’m included, but every so often I’ll spend a conversation staring at the ceiling counting the spots or whatever.  It very much depends on me and how tired I am.  If I’m awake enough, then I’ll try the best I can to follow the conversation because how better to learn then to try and understand what’s being said right?  When I’m sleepy is when I tend to get quiet and find something to stare at with interest because my mind just isn’t catching anything.

I have to comment on part 1 of your post specifically.  I couldn’t agree more that learning your loved one’s language is important.  (I’m going to use Jane’s post as an example too)  Learning your SO’s language does nothing to make you lose your heritage, it just means that that’s one more part of your SO’s life that you can be a part of.  I want my husband to have his needed time and space to himself as well, but I truely want to be a part of every aspect of his life that he wants me to and that I can.  For me also, I have amazing wonderful in-laws that I couldn’t be more thankful for having.  I WANT to be able to talk freely to my Mother-In-Law and to both my SIL’s who’s English is MUCH better then my Dutch for the moment, but is still broken at times.

Being Dutch is integrally part of who my husband is, and even if he’d lived here for most or all of his life, that would still hold true.  I don’t expect my husband to give up his Dutch heritage now that he’s living in the US anymore then he would expect me to give up my American heritage should we move to the Netherlands at some point.  I want to remember, honor and respect BOTH heritages to any children that we should have.  

When my in-laws were here for the wedding last year, we all actively worked to make sure that the English speakers weren’t being left out by too much Dutch and that the Dutch speakers weren’t being inundated with too much English.  I think it’s a constant thing that you have to work at.  I’m not sure that there is a better solution then that!

Post # 5
376 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: October 2012

I almost hate commenting on this because to me this is a dead horse. For others entering this situation or still feel hopeful its not. So here’s the short of how I feel about *my* specific situation. My Future Mother-In-Law doesn’t like me. I don’t know why but she doesn’t. If I learn Dutch, become rich, win a noble peace prize, the woman still isn’t going to like me. Its been hard making my own peace with that, incredibly hard because its not the relationship I want with her. I am fortunate to have a good relationship with my Future Father-In-Law at least.

I think my Future Mother-In-Law has some weird hang ups having moved to this country and been a housewife. I do feel like that is *part* of what I am bumping into… but the language isn’t a barrier, its her attitude towards me that is the barrier. I met my Fiance grandmothers– neither spoke english at all, but I felt welcomed and warmed by them- they were more sweet to me than I anticipated  after experiencing so much meaniness from his mother.

I think people tend to focus on the language because its big thing you can point at it and say THAT THERE, but that is a symptom not the cause. Treating the symptom won’t fix the problem. There is soooo much that transcends language. I can tell how my Future Mother-In-Law feels about something more accurately than my Fiance who understand every word she says in Dutch. He misses the body language and the tone of her voice and goes solely by her words. If I can pick out a noun I understand the situation better. I could give examples of that, but lets just say, my Fiance and I discuss conversations after and events happened that showed my interpretation of feelings was correct. If someone wants to welcome you, spend time with you, and get to know you that will transcend all language barriers. That is why I feel strongly that she is only using her language against me because it is the most convenient means to exclude me. If I conquer that she will use another means. It is her attitude that is the problem. And foiling all her attempts to exclude me is just going to get her more upset. That’s been my experience with her anyway.  Our relationship will not change because I learn a language because whatever the problem is—its not that. I strongly believe that. I have some  *gusses* as to what the real problem may be but I will not get into that now.

My point being is if someone cares about you and wants to make a good impression language will not create the problems such as I must deal with. I feel  my situation is very complex and people see language as a quick fix. Its not. There are unfortunately no easy answers when someone isn’t interested in her son getting married, values traveling above all her family, and made clear she isn’t interested in grandchildren.

Post # 6
5993 posts
Bee Keeper
  • Wedding: May 2010

my inlaws are greek and ive felt no need to learn the greek language (just as my husband has felt no need to learn italian).   i have trust in my husband that if she should rattle off negatively about me in greek that my husband would stand up for me and when in their home we mainly speak english, even though my inlaws struggle with it so sometimes so hubby is the interpreter. at big family gatherings there is a lot of greek spoken but again hubby interprets when needed plus most people try to speak english to me

thankfully i have a good Mother-In-Law who has always been respectful – i wish others had the same

Post # 7
376 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: October 2012

@eloping: You make another point I don’t often think about but has played a big role in me choosing not to learn Dutch. I love my Fiance, so I say this with love, he’s not always aware of verbal implications. I worry that something will get past him and he won’t notice it to correct it… if that makes sense. He’s an IT guy so he’s shy and doesn’t always pick up on things.

Also, my Fiance parents placed him and his sibling in situations that were life threatening when they were younger. The parents think these events are funny cor ute stories of their children. I would be mortified if something like that happened to my children and just ashamed. There is more than one event. I know kids will be kids, but the fault was clearly with the parents.

Part of why I want all conversations to be in English is so they don’t promise to do something with the kid that I find outright dangerous. This includes just going into another room to play with nail guns or what have you. Since I don’t always know why people are leaving a room (because its said in dutch) I could assume it might be to play with blocks but it might be something not age appropriate. And I’m not making up the nail gun thing.. it was one of the life threatening situations that involved my Fiance in elementry school, falling off a roof, into thorn bushes to get away from his silbing that was shooting nails at him. Ergh.

In short, I don’t trust them. I need to know what is going on.

Post # 8
871 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: February 2016

I’m learning Greek, I want my kids to be fluent and the odds of that happening are crazy low if I solely depend on Greek school and small conversations at family parties. We plan to speak only Greek when I am pregnant and teach the kids Greek before English.

Yes everyone speaks Greek around me, it is not meant to disclude me they are speaking in their 1st language. My Future Mother-In-Law asked if it bothered me and I said no, it doesn’t infact even things I have not yet learned I understand. If anything it is helping.

@eloping will you and your FH teach your kids Greek and Italian? As I said we are teaching them Greek first, English second and after that we will start in on Italian(my dad’s side) and French (taught in school and Future Mother-In-Law is a french teacher)

Post # 9
674 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2011


“Yes everyone speaks Greek around me, it is not meant to disclude me they are speaking in their 1st language.”

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. I think this is precisely what some people need to understand. It is not the job of your fiance’s family to speak your language to you; they might not know your language, they might not feel comfortable using it, they might just want to converse in their own language. At the same time, it’s not your job to learn theirs. However, if you do want to communicate with them, you might want to try; after all, there’s only one of you and presumably more of them. Plus, you’re the one trying to fit in.

My parents’ English is not very good, though they do try, but I can’t fault them if they use their own language in front of Fiance now and then. And I certainly can’t expect my extended family to learn English just to converse with him.

Also, I’m not very fond of the excuse “if my parent used his/her native language with us, the other parent would be excluded”. Presumably the sorts of things you would talk to a two-year-old about are not the sort of things that one would be offended about if they couldn’t understand. And by the time the child is old enough to have adult conversations, presumably they already speak their parent’s native language so that communication can occur between the entire family in a mutual language.

p.s. sorry about the long rant.

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