You’re at the office and notice a couple of your colleagues having a conversation in a foreign language. They’re not interrupting anyone or being disruptive, they’re just chatting. Is it still acceptable?
Bit of a weird topic for today, eh? What with UKIP and all that palaver, a polyglot workplace might seem like a recent phenomenon, but of course it’s been going on for centuries – I can just imagine workers in Roman London grumbling about the Hibernians chatting amongst themselves during their tea break.
What happened is that one of the Euroffice team came across a Yahoo! Answers discussion where Americans were talking about foreign languages in the workplace and this got us thinking. Should everyone in the office stick to English? Does speaking another language exclude your colleagues? Or is this much ado about nuffink?
We’ve got differing opinions on this in the office. Some people feel that complaining about it is really just paranoia that people are talking about you. Others reckon it’s not a massive problem, but it might be seen as a bit rude. One person even told me that, in a previous job, employees were fined £10 if they spoke anything but English. (That seems a bit excessive to me.)
The closest I’ve got to speaking another language in the office is ordering from a Chinese takeaway, so I don’t have any great insight to offer. However, I asked my bilingual mother about it. If she ever had to make a phone call in ‘not English’,she’d explain to her colleagues that it was a personal conversation and easier to convey certain concepts in that language. She did not want anyone to feel excluded. (I believe there’s even a field of study into whether some languages are better than others for specific tasks – is German particularly good for philosophy, for example?)
It’s a tricky subject, so I’m not going to try to come to a conclusion in this post. I just wanted to get the conversation started – whatever the language!