My coworkers speak another language at work, how do I handle it, please?

My coworkers speak another language at work, which affects how I relate with them, but I can’t seem to find a way around it.

This is going to my fifth month, working as a junior technician at a Health Technology firm here in New York. I work with 3 other technicians who are Indians, with me being the least in rank and newly recruited.

My challenge is that these coworkers don’t speak English all the time in their conversation at work, including work-related conversations. But they always speak English when they need my attention, in meetings and to our lead technician. I try to ask them sometimes, but in most cases, they say it’s about something else. I am afraid this would deter my growth rate and the understanding of my job as they sometimes speak their native language (I think it's Hindi) while they are brainstorming on projects. Please, what am I supposed to do in a situation where my coworkers speak another language at work?

Q&A with Jane annoying co-worker

Answer

It’s highly unprofessional and disappointing when coworkers don't speak English while having a foreigner in their team. Speaking another language at work is totally unacceptable and disrespectful regardless of what they are talking about. I’m sure they won’t do such around your boss. However, for the sake of keeping your sanity in check, when you work where your coworkers speak another language you don’t understand, it’s important to trust that those discussions have no impact on your work. They will always speak with you when it has to do with your work, but in this case, I understand you’re trying to learn from them.

My first advice is that you to have a meeting with them and politely request that they use English in all work-related conversations, even if they are not referring to you. But you need to assure them of not having a problem with their personal conversations in another language. Give them a chance and follow this up by continually asking them what they have said if this approach didn’t curb their unprofessional behavior immediately.

The next thing to do when your coworkers are speaking a foreign language in the workplace is to talk to your supervisor or manager. That is on a note that your polite talk with them yielded nothing. Tell them about how the situation affects your work and learning process. It’s not strange to inform the appropriate authority about a bad work environment.

The manager may use this opportunity to introduce “a speak English only policy” in your office if it was not existing before now. This is just to ensure that all interactions at work are in English. However, you can complain that your coworkers speak another language at work if you also do the same thing by any means. You must lead by example.

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