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I am an Indian citizen residing in India. I am exposed to quite a few regional/native languages, few of which I am fluent in. My preferred language for verbal communication is English at the office.

There are a few colleagues/peers who speak in regional language, most of the time, especially during team/casual discussions at the desk. I respect them for their language choice, but they expect me to reciprocate in the same language and me conversing in English reflects in a different way; And sometimes, a member or two push the conversations in the native language to only check if I can ever speak in that native language. When I sense that, I do end such conversations by saying that I have something important to do and would talk to them later, etc.

If this matters, most of the conversations at the team meetings do happen in English. So, there is not much of a problem there except for conversations beyond the conference rooms.

Problem:

I feel that I might be coming across as condescending or rude while I am conversing in English. It is a mode of communication that I am comfortable with just the way they are comfortable with their own.

Question:

Do I really need to switch to my native language? How do I ensure that my team mates/peers do not persuade me to talk in non-English languages? Or, should I be not bothered about this?

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    Do you notice them struggling with English at all, even if it is at a higher level? – TheRealLester Jul 12 '18 at 18:12
  • @TheRealLester No. Most of them are fluent with day-to-day English conversations. It's just that their comfort level seems to be more with their native language. But, everyone speaks fluent English at the conferences – WonderWoman Jul 12 '18 at 18:21
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If they keep trying to steer the conversation into their native language, keep responding to them in English, and only switch to another language if they do not understand an English phrase or word.

Personally, I wouldn't switch languages even if they do not respond with any English of their own. I speak with a few native French speakers at my job and know enough French to semi-respond to them while conversing. Even if they need to switch to French for a couple of sentences I still respond in English as I am more comfortable with that.

Just keep replying in English and hopefully they will get the hint that you prefer to answer in English. I can't say how everyone will react, as I am not a mind reader, but if you are persistent people will start to realize your position and start to respect your choices.

As noted by AbhigyanC in a comment:

However, over time, the other party may stop using the other language, if they are convinced that you don't know the regional language. This will lead to other consequences, like them teasing you for not knowing a language that you actually know, etc...

To really shut them down, if they start teasing you about not knowing a language that you actually do, respond to them in that language stating your preference about using English in conversations. This will accomplish a few things:

  1. Prove you can actually speak the language.
  2. Restate your preference to speak in English.
  3. Potentially embarrass your coworker. Makes them look a bit childish for teasing you and incentives them to not tease you anymore.

This will shut them down and should get them off your back if they do continue to do so, but take it with a grain of salt. If you know they will react very poorly to being embarrassed, I would not recommend this. Do the same thing as above, but in English instead.

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To summarise;

  1. Tell your co-workers that you find it more easy/comfortable to speak in English, due to whatever reason.
  2. If you are teased/shamed for not knowing a language, speak in that language, and state your reasons for not using that language.
  3. I had made a mistake of switching to that language every time I met a person. That just makes them feel like they can use whichever language wherever they want, and leads to other complications. Don't do this.

A little bit of a story:

I am a fellow Indian, and I've had similar experiences myself. It's a weird habit of people to try and show off their knowledge of their regional language and try to show that you don't know it. However, over time, the other party may stop using the other language, if they are convinced that you don't know the regional language. This will lead to other consequences, like them teasing you for not knowing a language that you actually know, etc...

Taking an example, I have a professor of Maths who is always speaking Hindi, in all his classes. It is mandatory in our school for the teachers to speak in English, so that the students without any knowledge of Hindi can also understand. This is ignored by my teacher, and my fellow students don't really have a problem with it. Because of this, whenever my teacher speaks to us in Hindi, we reply to him in English, regardless of the fact that some of us are well-versed in Hindi. Our teacher often cracks jokes about us in Hindi, which are meant to shame us for not understanding the language, but what comes out of it is that we are considered not to be knowing a language that we know thoroughly. It just feels unprofessional and unofficial to speak Hindi, as English been made mandatory.

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One thing you can try is to have a discussion with them about it. The next time you notice them switching languages mid-sentence instead of continuing the discussion stop and say:

Hey, we all know Some Regional Language but I prefer we talk in English since we're using English in company activities. Would you be willing to respect my choice?

It would tell them that you're aware of it and face the issue directly. They would probably be surprised by assertiveness and agree to discuss the subject directly.

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