Social Question

jfos's avatar

To second-language speakers: How do you feel about people asking what language you speak?

Asked by jfos (7380points) April 13th, 2010
23 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

I was in class last night when two girls sat next to me. They were speaking a language that was not English. I am fascinated by other languages, and try to expand my knowledge whenever possible. I wasn’t being creepy, but I was trying to listen for what language they were speaking. It sounded very unfamiliar—at first I thought it was French, then Sicilian, then Farsi, and then something Eastern European. Needless to say, I could not readily identify it.

To make a long story short, I was considering asking them what they were speaking, but then I got to thinking. I’ve asked guys working at certain places, i.e. gas stations, 7–11, restaurants, etc. But I’ve never asked a group of girls.

If you are a second-language speaker immersed in that second-language society, how do you feel when people ask what your native language is, or what language you are speaking? If this has not happened to you, how would you feel if someone asked?

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atav's avatar

I grew up in the States, but I speak Mandarin at home. I’m now studying abroad in China and I can pass off as a native. If people ask, I say I speak English, Chinese and a little French. But if people ask which language is my mother tongue, I answer English.

JLeslie's avatar

@atav I think the OP wants to know how you feel when they ask. Many immigrants I know do not like to be asked where they are from. I guess they feel like we (I am American) are pointing out they are “different” not sure. I grew up with everyone knowing where people were from and what country their families came from. I think Americans are more accustomed to this type of questioning than people from other countries. My BIL, he is Mexican, hates when someone asks him where he is from or what language he is speaking. But, I think he is ridiculous.

prasad's avatar

I speak three languages, Marathi, English, and Hindi. Marathi is my mother tongue.

Well, I wouldn’t mind if someone asked me what you said. I have asked this question to many as there are a lot of people here that don’t know Marathi; they have come from other states. At first, I hesitated to ask, but then I got over it.

Do you speak two or more languages?

jfos's avatar

@prasad I only speak English fluently, but I know a little of several languages.

prasad's avatar

@jfos You may learn any language you want. I too like to learn other languages.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I have no problem with it as long as it’s not followed by ‘oooh, Russian – I looooove Russian women, I had this one girlfriend Olga….’

bob_'s avatar

I don’t have a problem with it. Then again, my first language (Spanish) is (generally) pretty easy to identify.

Mmm… Russian women…

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@bob_ shut up, you goofball

bob_'s avatar

* closes eyes, smiles *

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I’ve never been asked that, except on some form or other. I speak three languages fluently and can make myself understood in three others. I just respond in whatever language I’m spoken to in, if I understand. English, French, German or Spanish seems to be understood almost anywhere I’ve been.

bob_'s avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Al suelo y dame 50.

Jack79's avatar

Depends on what language I’m speaking and what situation I find myself into. When I’m speaking English, most people can figure it out quite easily. In other cases (I also speak Greek, German, some Polish and Czech, a bit of Dutch and a few words of Russian and I also used to speak Arabic fluently, but not anymore), it is more complicated. I may feel uncomfortable, as often the question is racially-motivated. In other cases I would rather not answer, or not feel like going into details. And sometimes I’ll proudly tell them what it is and even teach them a few words, if they seem interested.

Berserker's avatar

It’s never been asked to me, because any English person pretty much recognizes French when they hear it, and vice versa. However due to my messed up accent, people who hear me speaking in English always assume I’m Italian, which is very odd. They’re like, so are you Italian? I’m like, uh, no.

eponymoushipster's avatar

I really don’t care. Ask away.

mattbrowne's avatar

Ich habe kein Problem damit.

bob_'s avatar

@mattbrowne Wunderbar!

Love_or_Like's avatar

Tell you the truth I hate it. I was born in USA but my parents are Mexicans. I’m not good in Spanish but I know how to speak it very well. In school people all the time ask me what am I or what langue do I speak and I don’t like to be asked that.
1. I be thinking “Can you tell I’m Mexican or what?” I look Mexican 100%
2. Sometimes I don’t like to be asking that because if I say I’m Mexican people start talking about them. And I hate it.
But sometimes it’s okay. To be honest I don’t like to tell them what I’m. I just feel I can’t explain it. But I’m happy I’m Mexican but I feel some people hate them for some reason.
Not all people are like me.

Berserker's avatar

@bob_ Reminds me of that old commercial where those Vikings find a Wonderbar chocolate bar in a treasure chest. Epic amirite?

bob_'s avatar

@Symbeline Um, I haven’t seen it.

Berserker's avatar

@bob_ Don’t die before you do.

bob_'s avatar

@Symbeline I’ll try my best.

RandomGirl's avatar

I went cross-country skiing for the first time this weekend, out at a state park near my house. There was a couple with their two sons in the beginner class with me, and they flip-flopped between English and a foreign language the entire morning. Toward the end of the class, I was skiing side by side with the mother, and couldn’t resist asking. She told me all about how she was born in Italy, came here for college, married an American, and now they’re raising their sons to be bilingual. She seemed to appreciate someone asking, and being interested. And I really was interested. I think maybe when people just ask, “what language is that?” and don’t stick around to hear the back story, that might be kind of frustrating.

Berserker's avatar

Viking Wunderbar comercial, nearly two and a half years late. you know, cuz it’s epic, ja?

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