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to feel excluded by the use of a foreign language by family members?

(147 Posts)
DonkeyDaddy Tue 11-Mar-14 09:42:11

My wife is bilingual. Her mother has come to stay and whilst I was sat in the kitchen sending an email and my wife was folding some clothes up, my mother-in-law walked in and started talking to my wife in their native tongue, in which they continued to chat. They are both fluent in both languages and could have flipped between the two at will. There was nobody else present other than the three of us.

I felt excluded and not especially well treated. Am I being unreasonable to object? Or am I just being sensitive (or insensitive to them)?

TheGreatHunt Tue 11-Mar-14 09:43:46

You could learn a few words? My bil is married to someone who is bilingual and he's now pretty fluent.

It is rude though.

PurpleRayne Tue 11-Mar-14 09:43:53

They are being rude, probably thoughtless rather than intentional. But you should try to learn your wife's native language.

wadi1983 Tue 11-Mar-14 09:44:23

I use to feel the exact same with my ex husband, he use to talk in there language in front of me was just us. They perfect English.
I felt the same as u!!

Bonsoir Tue 11-Mar-14 09:45:16

You are being overly sensitive. You cannot dictate to your MIL and your wife who are mother and daughter in which language they should conduct their relationship. Why haven't your learned your wife's other language?

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 11-Mar-14 09:45:28

I think you are being slightly unreasonable, and they were being slightly thoughtless/rude. They may not have realized they'd switched, of course. If it were me, I'd just say so.

But I think if you expect them to speak English all the time when you're there, and you live in an English-speaking country, then that is very unreasonable. It's natural to want to speak your other language at times, and sad to deny someone that.

Cleartheclutter Tue 11-Mar-14 09:46:35

I don't understand why it is rude. Why shouldn't people talk in whatever language they prefer to? We have several Spanish people in our workplace and they all prefer to talk in Spanish to each other rather than English - why would anybody get offended?

Is it rude to talk in English if there is someone listening who cannot speak English?


yangsun Tue 11-Mar-14 09:47:12

I think a bit over sensitive. You knew she was bilingual when you married her and I think you should have expected her to speak to family members in their own language. I am bilingual but still feel more comfortable speaking in my mother tongue and I would feel odd not using it when chatting to my mum. Have you not made any effort to learn the language yourself?

BritabroadinAsia Tue 11-Mar-14 09:48:17

No, YANBU. Good manners dictate that if they can both speak English fluently they should do so in your presence, as naturally you will feel excluded by them speaking in their native tongue which you cannot understand.

Is there any possibility that MIL didn't realise you were there?

I'm guessing that you didn't say anything at the time? Maybe a light hearted hey-I'm-still-here type comment might have made them realise that they were (probably unintentionally) being rude?

Bonsoir Tue 11-Mar-14 09:50:37

People who live in plurilingual societies never think it is "better manners" to condescend to others by speaking in a language that is not the natural mode of communication in order for third parties to understand. That would be colossally rude!

SteeleyeStan Tue 11-Mar-14 09:51:13

I think YABU, though only just a little. If it actually bothers you, I'd bring it up with your wife.

I'm bilingual and my mom stays with us a few times a year. Yes, we are both "fluent" in English (DH's language), but it feels totally unnatural for me to talk English to my own mother. Talking in our own language is a Big Deal for me. It's very important and very lovely to have these few weeks in a year when I have the chance to. And while we can both speak English, conversation is much easier in the language we both grew up talking and the language she brought me up talking - as I'm sure anyone can understand.

Having said that, my mom does always apologise to my DH and often worries if we're making him feel excluded and being rude. DH laughs it off and says that of course it doesn't bother him, and I wish he's being honest. We're not talking about him, or talking about anything that would involve him, when we talk in our native language. Mostly we're gossiping about people "back home" he's never met, or about what curtains I think might go best in my mom's bedroom - you know the north-facing one where they put that blue wallpaper up and now it looks quite cold in there, but the warmer tones in fabric somehow also seem to clash...

MsMischief Tue 11-Mar-14 09:52:01

My family do this all the time. I don't even think they know they're doing it. There has been a few times where it has turned out later that they have been discussing something that I could have helped with and when I find out what the problem is- and solve it they will incredulously ask why I didn't say something earlier hmm

I haven't learned their language as it's really obscure.

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Tue 11-Mar-14 09:53:04

However good at English she is it is probably lovely for your DW to slip into her native tongue with her mother while she's visiting and chat easily and fluently. Unless you feel you are consistently ignored or sidelined try and not let it bother you.

If you have DCs will you be bringing them up to be bilingual? It is a nice compliment to your DW and her family to try and pick up some of the language.

TillyTellTale Tue 11-Mar-14 09:55:10

They are both fluent in both languages and could have flipped between the two at will.

Do you speak the language at all? I'm afraid I generally take it with a pinch of salt when monolingual people refer to others as being "fluent". It's a very subjective word, which ignores that sometimes one language is stronger or feels easier for certain subject areas.

exexpat Tue 11-Mar-14 09:57:44

Your wife and her mother have been speaking their native language to each other all their lives - it is the most natural thing in the world for them to use that language together, and it would probably feel very awkward for them to switch into English, no matter how well they speak it. They are not doing it to exclude you, it is just the natural language of their relationship.

If it really bothers you, then of course you should say something, but I would guess you will make the whole situation even more awkward - inevitably they will slip up and speak their own language, then feel guilty and stilted, and will probably stop talking altogether.

Birdo83 Tue 11-Mar-14 09:59:13

It's extremely rude. My family speak a second language too but if I'm with a family member and DH or DC I'll always speak in English to them so everyone feels included. It's just bad manners and not very considerate otherwise. It's not like we can't speak English. If there's something my mum doesn't quite understand I'll say it in our language first then translate for the others.

Merrylegs Tue 11-Mar-14 09:59:53

You do sound a little pouty, tbh. If they were talking and laughing and pointing at you then fair enough, but do you expect that every conversation should also include you? You were doing something else. Perhaps they didn't want you to feel you had to engage.

Birdo83 Tue 11-Mar-14 10:00:03

I think it's extremely rude. My family speak a second language too but if I'm with a family member and DH or DC I'll always speak in English to them so everyone feels included. It's just bad manners and not very considerate otherwise. It's not like we can't speak English. If there's something my mum doesn't quite understand I'll say it in our language first then translate for the others so we're all on the same page.

ISeeYouShiverWithAntici Tue 11-Mar-14 10:02:00

I think it is really rude to speak in a language that one person present does not understand.

It's happened to me. Thankfully my husband recognised that it was rude and so replied to the people in English until they too flipped to English.

It makes you feel bad. Or at least it does me. I recognise that there must surely be people who are perfectly happy to sit and not understand a word that is being spoken around them and if they are happy with that, that's up to them. But not everyone is. I wouldn't do it to someone and I don't like it done to me. It doesn't hurt in any way someone who is truly fluent in both languages to speak the language that everyone present understands, it makes the person who only understands one language feel included. So why would you choose to speak a language that one person present cannot understand when you have the option to speak the language that all people present can understand?

How far along are you in learning your wife's language, OP? That's also an important thing for you to do.

dreamingbohemian Tue 11-Mar-14 10:02:26

I think YABU to expect them to speak in English when they are talking to each other, just because you're in the room. It doesn't sound like they were actually speaking to you.

It's different if, for example, everyone is seated around the dinner table conversing and then everyone switches into the language you don't understand for long stretches. This kind of thing happens to me a lot and yes I do think it's rude.

Birdo83 Tue 11-Mar-14 10:02:35

I wouldn't bother translating a sentence if they were just doing their own thing though.

MooncupGoddess Tue 11-Mar-14 10:05:10

If you were all having dinner together and they spent the whole time talking in their native language then that would be rude... but it's just casual chat, probably about nothing important, and as other posters have said it's presumably the language they've spoken together all their lives and naturally fall into. If you're feeling left out you could always ask cheerfully what they're talking about?

Thetallesttower Tue 11-Mar-14 10:06:08

This might be rude in company say at a dinner or out in a restaurant if two people start chatting in their native tongue, but surely not a mother and daughter in their own homes. My husband is from another country and we do a bit of both- if we are all sitting around together, they speak English, if they are chatting together and I'm pottering about but not joining in, they speak their own language. I often do leave them alone to precisely to do this- it's extremely rude I think to make everyone speak broken English and not be able to converse fluently because you can't be arsed to learn their language!

There isn't one rule about this as far as I am concerned- and why is the onus on them to speak their second language when you don't speak one?

Sillybillybob Tue 11-Mar-14 10:06:51

Have you lived abroad, OP? No matter how good you are at speaking another language, it is a wonderful feeling to be able to speak the language that is most natural to you.

I don't understand why you haven't learnt your wife's language. Surely that would also be polite and considerate?

A pp said they haven't learned because the language in question is "obscure". I don't really get that, I'm afraid. So it's not likely to be useful in many situations. But it would also avoid the problem of expecting everyone else to speak the language that is most convenient for you (I do realise that you weren't saying that you expect that, MsMischief ) I'm just trying to say that the relative obscurity of a language isn't ( in my opinion) a good reason not to try learning it IF you are going to be offended by others speaking it in your presence. If it doesn't bother you, then it's not a problem smile

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Tue 11-Mar-14 10:07:37

Surely it depends on subject matter, maybe they wanted a frank chat about something you'd only feel uncomfortable about.

Btw DD that rash I had cleared up.
Oh good! Did you use up all the prescribed ointment?
Nearly. Your father was helping himself but I told him I need all of what's left for my trip!
Poor Dad. Oh well glad you're okay.
You know how squeamish he is about medical stuff let alone "women's stuff".
I wanted to ask you at dinner last night but I didn't think you wanted it talked about with DH over the dinner table.

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