I enjoy learning languages and in the past few years, have been learning Spanish. A work colleague, who is either new or I have only just noticed him, calls (presumably) his partner during his lunch break in the kitchen area. We're in completely different departments and our paths have never crossed, except during lunch breaks. Even when there are others in the room, he continues his slightly louder-than-normal conversations in Spanish, loudly but not rudely. We have a fair number of bilingual colleagues and a number of visiting clients to our office but to my knowledge, we might be the only two who speak Spanish (though it is evidently his native language whereas mine is English). Our office is based in the UK.

Although I cannot understand everything he says, from what I have overheard, his conversations are often of a very personal nature. They are certainly of the type that many English speakers would find inappropriate to have in an office kitchen full of people, if he was speaking in English. I suspect this is either a cultural difference or he is assuming that nobody can understand him. I suppose it is also possible that he simply doesn't care, but I can't be certain of that.

I haven't shared this info with anyone in the office but my concern is if I do nothing, he risks embarrassing himself in front of someone more vocal than me. He would likely recognise me but we don't even know each other's names. If I directly reveal to him that I can speak Spanish, he would be similarly embarrassed, or complain that I didn't inform him sooner.

Is there a way I can introduce myself and suggest a little discretion to this colleague in such a way that minimises our embarrassment?


3 Answers 3


I worked in an office where I spoke the foreign language of a couple of employees. One day I heard them complaining pretty loudly about something.

I just came up and said quietly to them, in that language, 'Be careful. Others speak that language, too.'

A little embarrassment ensued, but that got the point across better than anything else that the conversation was not private. If you know enough to say that and do so smoothly, that would be an effective way (in my experience) to get the point across.

  • 2
    A little awkwardness is unavoidable, perhaps ripping off the metaphorical plaster will get the point across best.
    – user8671
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 9:28

Having not introduced yourself before may give a simple option to display that you know a little Spanish.

you: Hi, I don't think we've ever been properly introduced, I'm Kozaky
other person: Hi, I'm Bob you: Nice, to meet you. Where are you from?
other person: I'm from Spain, you?
you: That's cool, I'm from London. I actually know a little Spanish, but haven't had too much practice with it.

alternatively, if they aren't from a Spanish speaking country

you: That's cool, I'm from London. I think I've overheard you speaking Spanish, I actually know a little myself but haven't had much practice with it.

Simply stating that you have some understanding of Spanish but avoiding mentioning where you've overheard him speaking it or the context of what you've overheard will allow your co-worker to decide if he wants to conduct his calls a bit more privately in the future for himself.

I think unless he is self-conscious about the subjects he has been openly discussing before he probably hasn't kept track of who was around when he talked about private things on the phone and won't feel embarrassed. Any embarrassment he may feel in the case he is self-conscious at that moment will continue to fade as long as you keep where you overheard to yourself until he may think he got away with whatever it was he said.


Another useful option would be to say "hi I am learning Spanish and couldn't help overhearing you in the kitchen, I would love a native speaker to practice with, would you mind?"

You let them know you understand a little spanish, and hopefully get some conversation practice as well.

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