maybe it’s just me, but i get pretty uncomfortable when someone speaks to me in mandarin or cantonese in the presence of another person who doesn’t comprehend those languages. it immediately sets up a barrier, and the stage for suspicion.
is what we’re talking about so sensitive that there is a need to exclude our colleague, our friend? are we so insecure with the english language? or is there a feeling of superiority in being able to shut someone out so easily just by changing our language of choice?
recently, a friend vented her frustration about being around her chinese peers because we switch to our “mother tongue” when we get together. we would be talking about work, movies, an amusing event from the day before – harmless drivel – but it’d make her feel a little victimised all the same. she recounted an incident where two chinese colleagues conversed in mandarin the whole time she was in their presence. it was obvious some exchange of knowledge was going on, but she was blatantly excluded from the conversation.
some may feel she was a tad sensitive, but i thoroughly approve of her walking out when she had enough of that scene. in a profession where apprenticeship plays a significant role, keeping wisdom and insight from one another is a sin. to do it employing a difference in culture borders on racism.
i didn’t choose to be most comfortable with english, and this isn’t a rant about people who are able to communicate better in other languages. perhaps it does make work a little less dreary when use a medium we are best acquainted with.
but there has to be a line, a professional line, when it comes to using different tongues at the work place. a little more courtesy. a well-timed, sincere apology for using your mother tongue in front of someone who doesn’t understand.
many of my colleagues display that kind of professionalism; i wish everyone would.