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okaree in canadian_yank

Language woes

I work with a fair number of fluently bilingual folks, which is great, because it gives me a chance to practice my French.  However, it can also be awkward.
Sometimes, when I'm mid-conversation with 2+ people, the other 2+ will suddenly switch to French.  I don't yet understand spoken French well enough to contribute to or understand the conversation, as they know.  So do I...

  • Excuse myself?

  • Nod and smile even though I have no idea what's going on?

  • Other?

  • What would you do?

I don't want to be the jerky American who demands that everyone speak English, but it seems a bit rude on their part too.  What do you think?



listen and learn!
UofT's got to be one of the most linguistically diverse places around. And YES to the awkward third sentiment. It's like, do they not realize they've switched, or am I not cool enough to be in this conversation any more?
I would just listen, many times people won't even realize they have switched. If asked something directly, cock your head slightly and say "Excuse me?" in a soft tone indicating puzzlement. The normal reaction should be an "Oh! Sorry!" followed by a translation.
I agree with this one. I have a Quebecois paternal family but was raised by my maternal family so I don't speak French. It starts off with a few words they can't remember how to translate, or they are so bilingual they are not entirely thinking about which language it is. You really cannot control it. Often-times I will say a Hungarian word, so use to it I am not aware I've said something people don't understand. Alternatively, because I did attempt French, I learned the French word "Jonquille" but didn't learn "Daffodil" until only a year ago (I'm 25-I knew of daffodils but I had trouble understanding what they looked like, and that they were "jonquilles").

Often I politely cough or I will say something based on a word I know. Usually they'll translate an switch back.
I could see them not realizing, since people in Ottawa often switch back and forth midsentence! It's quite fun to listen to.
I dunno. I've lived in Canada for 25+ years and Eastern Ontario since 1989. I'd love to be bilingual and study/practice every chance I get, but I'm not convinced that such situations happen entirely accidentally. Yes, we should be bilingual if we're living in Canada, but too, those who are bilingual usually know when we're not or when we're not comfortable in French, and so it is basically rude for them to switch up to French in the middle of a conversation.

Keep trying to improve your French language skills every chance you get, but too, don't let people walk all over you because they're bilingual and you're not (and they know it!).
I hear from a lot of anglo Canadians that they'd love the opportunity to learn French, but they just don't use it enough to retain it. And it is tough to learn a new language as an adult (I sure didn't hear any French in NY!), and tougher when you're not surrounded by it.

I don't think they're doing it on purpose (at least I hope not), but it does make me feel like they're kicking me out of the conversation.
In my experience, the Quebecois beef is with Anglo Canadians, not with Americans. The hardcore amongst them resent Canadians who can't speak French, and give them no leeway or accommodation, but they have no such resentment against Americans and are generally happy to use English so as to be inclusive.
I agree that it's extremely rude on their part. One should never exclude someone from a conversation by switching languages any more than one should suddenly start to whisper back and forth with one person in a three person discussion. It's just not done.

Very few parents, however, seem to teach good manners to their children any more.
Every time they break into French, interrupt and say "Whats that mean?" etc.

That way they will either realize they are being rude and switch back to English, or you will learn a shitload of French. Win win!