Is it rude for Asians to speak their mother tongue when people who cannot understand are there?

asian speak language public

"Please speak English! We are in America!"


I’ve noticed some non-Asians really get annoyed when they hear people speaking other languages in public. They make that annoyed look, and you can tell they are thinking ‘foreigner go home’! I think for some reason they get self-conscious and think that perhaps they are being talked about, and it makes them insecure. Funny thing is, oftentimes they are being talked about! :) It’s no secret that foreigners use their mother tongue when they don’t want to be understood by the gwai lo.

Personally, I don’t mind it. I have friends who are Korean, and sometimes I go to get togethers and they switch to Korean. I don’t know what they’re talking about but I don’t mind. (I’m guessing they are talking about how good looking and well-hung I am…) Sometimes, I’m sure it just feels better to say certain things in Korean. I just sit there, and listen to the beautiful, glottal sounds.

But, in general, I personally try to speak in the language that is most common amongst all the people at the get together. So, even if there is only one person who doesn’t speak Japanese out of 10, just to keep them feeling comfortable, I will speak English the whole time. Just my own policy for group harmony. It’s just considerate. Nobody likes to be left out.

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6 thoughts on “Is it rude for Asians to speak their mother tongue when people who cannot understand are there?

  1. I think its just polite to do that out of respect. I also had many Cantonese friends in high school, just getting to know them. At first it was weird going out with them since it was so Cantonese-centric. But they tended to do Chinglish so I got the hang of what the gist was and learnt a slight bit of Cantonese. But its easy as an Asian to just nod or fit in amongst other Asians.

    But say if you’re non-Asian in a mostly Asian-centric group then its definetly polite to talk in English. Cause I mean the person already sticks out like a sore thumb do you want to outcast them even more. What I find is that if you also talk english you will not have
    repeat what the conversation was when speaking something else. And also that means anyone can join in.

    But its true most switch to another language when they don’t want you to hear what their saying.

  2. Actually, I’m pretty sure we intentionally talk in another language if we do not want the white people to hear what we are saying. Usually we are talking about them but for courtesy sake we switch to a different language on purpose so that they do not know. I know it may be rude, but I know that my family does this quite often in front of someone they do not particularly like.

  3. Depends on the circumstances, and the intent.

    When I hang out with my Shanghainese friends, they like to switch into Shanghainese, since Mandarin is a second language for them. I struggle to keep up, and it’s even harder for any “peasants” (as non-Shanghainese Chinese are called) who don’t know any Shanghainese. Sometimes it’s deliberately rude and excluding, but usually it’s just what people are most comfortable with, and they forget themselves.

    I’m also often the only non-European in a group, and have to wait patiently to have things explained to me from French, Finnish, etc. But great way to pick up a bit of those languages.

    I also often find myself in groups where some people don’t speak English, some don’t speak Chinese, and so it just has to be navigated.

    But, yeah, I often use English, Mandarin, Shanghainese, Spanish (depending on where I am) as a “secret code” to establish a private zone with friends. And much of the time, indeed, it is to talk shit about people. ??????????!

    Sometimes in the US I’ll find myself in a group of snotty ABCs and someone will say something like, “God, who invited the white chick?” in bad Mandarin. And then the white chick will spend the next hour correcting their bad Mandarin. The “secret code”: not always so secret!

  4. I hate it and love it at the same time. I think it is a great tool to trash talk someone or just to communicate in private. But please when you are trash talking someone behind their back, don’t look at them a million times. And if your in mixed company be polite about it. Remember, no one wants to feel alienated.

  5. LOL Shanghai Meimi, thats pretty dope, I think if you can speak the Asian lingo then hit them up for respect when they dis you. That way off the bat they won’t treat you like a typical gwai po …. now you’re Super Gwai po

  6. I find Shanghainese people actually try not to. I’m Shanghainese and I know my friends and I always speak mandarin out in the open or English if need be. We usually speak Shanghainese when we’re alone or if there really is something we need to keep quiet. Between the whispering and the speed of Shanghainese it’s very easy to lose people. Btw we don’t call people peasants. If you mean insulting people about not speaking Shanghainese then you might mean we call them “rural.” (???) It’s like calling somebody a hick in the US and we use it more for people who act rudely than for people that don’t speak our tongue. Outsider is used more for that because it is the truth.

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