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Background

At my university we have a library building for students to meet other students and discuss/study amongst themselves. It's rather large and people from all sorts of backgrounds can be found here; foreigners included.

Situation

I'm often in this library studying different subjects (usually with friends) and occasionally I'll see a group of foreigners seat themselves in an area around us.

Not always, but frequently enough, I find that they immediately start speaking English with each other rather than their native language. It feels as if it's because of us.

I'll sometimes notice they struggle slightly to talk with each other since they might not be as fluent with English.

Summary

I understand that it simply may be a choice of theirs to do this and that's how they feel most comfortable... but I feel kind of bad; especially when they struggle to communicate something.

If I'm able to, how would I communicate that they don't need to speak English when near me or my friends?

Edit: I feel they do this because of me/my friends since I'll hear them speaking XYZ language then switch over to English once they've settled down. Typically in these situations they all share the language, so it's not like they're trying to be able to communicate with everyone in their group.

  • So, are you in a primarily English speaking environment? And why do you assume they start speaking in English because of you? Are you sure they all speak the same foreign language and them talking in English is not just because it’s the only language they all share? – AsheraH Feb 22 at 5:39
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    This is a huge assumption, maybe they are talking English to practice it and it has nothing to do with you or your friends? – Paul Karam Feb 22 at 6:40
  • @PaulKaram Under some circumstances perhaps. However, it's happened with several different groups and they all almost instantly transition from speaking XYZ language to English once they approach a room of primarily English speaking people. – Anilla Feb 22 at 6:42
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From your OP I understand it, that there is no interaction in between that group and you, nor there is anymore than assumptions of why they decide to speak that language.

Given that, I'd rather provide you a frame challenge on this one.

You shouldn't.

I can't provide any citation on that, but I can give you a handful of examples what to keep in mind, when considering your approach.

As I can very well identify my self as one of these foreigners. And I have multiple scenarios in my mind here, where your without doubt, well meant suggestion would most likely transport the wrong message.

First of all when I had been in a foreign country, I really loved to learn their local language. I learn by failing. And hence I try to make use of any opportunity to practice that language. When being with others sharing my mother language it is already hard enough encouraging others just to respect that I'd like to practice the language. The group could have come up with an agreement to practice the language at certain times or places, where it might fit. If you engaged them and told them they don't have to, you would encourage those who don't like it anyways (or discourage some not feeling as comfortable with being bad in something and making them insecure) to switch back to their mother tongue. And me as the one having initiated the idea would have been very disappointed.

Also it might be that they decided for reasons of politeness given by some cultural background. But also in that case, your request of them stop being polite could possibly come over as intimidating at best, as their pronunciation apparently reveals assumptions of their particular language skill, or maybe even as rude. Better just appreciate their attempts to be polite in that case.

And last but not least thing coming into my mind, they might possibly also just do it, to be able to make new contacts. Passively inviting you or others to join their conversation if you feel like having something to add. This is something I do sometimes, too in such a setting. I appreciate others adding their 2 cents onto discussions I have. And for that reason I usually use a language, that is most likely, most people being present could communicate in. In this case, as well. Your suggestion, despite being meant well, most likely would come over as very discouraging and rejecting.

I am not saying there is no way to do what you ask for with your stated goals. But I couldn't come up with a way my self and rather wanted to provide you an idea of what to consider, how you could be perceived, IF you go to tell them, what you ask for here.

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    Hey dhein, I fear that, in order to be a proper answer, your post is lacking a way for OP to still communicate what they which to communicate (which "please to change your behavior because of me") – Ælis Feb 22 at 15:26
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    @Ælis I didn't think FCs had to tell the OP how to do the thing that the FCer suggests they don't do. An FC should give 'A clear explanation of why the author disagrees with the frame of the question. A presentation of an alternate frame and an explanation of how the new frame will solve the OP's problem'. yes, dhein could address those more explicitly, but they don't have to tell the OP how to do something dhein doesn't believe they should, do they? – Spagirl Feb 22 at 16:43
  • @Spagirl "A presentation of an alternate frame and an explanation of how the new frame will solve the OP's problem" -> Maybe I'm not reading carefully enough but I don't see what the alternative frame is and how it's slow OP problem. I don't say it's not in there but, if it is indeed, maybe the answer should be edited to make that part clearer? – Ælis Feb 22 at 17:22
  • Maybe I misread the Op, but I see it as OP asks how to tell them they don‘t need to. And I am presenting a frame challange that tells OP that they are very likely aware that they dont need to and hence he shouldnt tell them that they dont need to – dhein Feb 22 at 17:25
  • But what if you are wrong? Have you maybe some suggestion for OP to make sure that your assumption is correct? (and maybe what to do if you aren't?) – Ælis Feb 22 at 17:31
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First of all, you don't know for sure that this group is switching languages because of you and your friends. You're also not sure that the whole group speaks the same XYZ language you mentioned.

From my experience, the best way to better learn a language, or anything else, is to practice it. I've been in Paris once and when I used to struggle in French (specially in restaurants), waiters used to speak with me in English but I insisted on talking French to get better.

The group you're talking about could be doing the same: practicing. They also could be using English so no one feels they are being laughed at around them ( I am not sure if I made myself clear here ).

I wouldn't start the conversation with them by saying that they don't need to speak English around you, this could come out as a rude comment, at least for me. Instead, I would start out a conversation with them, and during the conversation I would try to understand why would they speak English instead of their own language.

Since your goal is to let them speak with their own language around you, considering your assumption is correct, one way to bring the subject up is by showing interest in their own language. As you said, you've heard them speaking it before switching to English.

You could approach them and tell them you're interested in their language and would like to know what is it exactly and where are they from. During this little conversation you could ask them the reason they're speaking English instead of their own language and even encourage their learning process since you do see them struggling at one point. By bringing up this conversation you will escape an awkward moment if you were wrong about your assumption.

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    I have known some foreigners who would switch to speaking English around other English speakers hoping that the English speakers would converse with them to give them better practice than they can get on their own. I strongly agree with the suggestion to talk with them and find out from them why they do this to better understand their motive before attempting to suggest they should continue in their own language. – Ed Grimm Feb 22 at 8:11
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    Why do you need to start out a conversation with them and try to understand why they would speak English? – Blaszard Feb 22 at 13:48
  • Because OP is just assumption that they are speaking English because of the groups near them.. Asking them to speak with their own language instead could come out as rude.. starting a little conversation would give OP the real reason behind them speaking English then they could take a better decision about what to say or what not to say at all – Paul Karam Feb 22 at 13:50
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    @PaulKaram Could you edit this into your answer? Comments here are not suppose to stay and I feel this is valuable information. – Ælis Feb 22 at 15:44
  • @Ælis As far as I am concerned, I did include that in my answer already. I will re-read my answer and try to clarify it more. – Paul Karam Feb 25 at 5:48

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