Everyone But Me Speaks Another Language


I work at a job where the majority of the people are of the same nationality, except for me. They speak in their language for the whole 12 hours I am at work and this makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m afraid to afraid to say anything because my boss is thier nationality too.

They often gang up on me and are very rude when I ask for help. When they talk in their language it always is about another person outside their race. This is really taking a toll on me!


Left Out


Dear Left Out:

I can imagine how isolated you must sometimes feel! It doesn’t help your situation to say this…but certainly you have probably gained some empathy for others who feel left out for one reason or another: Language, hearing and other disabilities and simply not fitting in.

Let me share some ideas that have worked for others and may, at least, give you some inspiration for ideas you might develop.

1. Do not isolate yourself any more than you already may feel that you are. For example, don’t purposely avoid coworkers or keep to yourself unnecessarily. The more distant you are the easier it is for others to view you as not part of their work world.

In appropriate ways, be involved. When someone needs help, be the first one to help them. When you need help, ask pleasantly, and say thank you immediately. You say they don’t help you, so perhaps it seems unlikely they ever will. But if you are doing your best to do good work, maybe you will one day get a good response…and that will lead to more.

2. Identify one or two individuals who might be a bit more open and friendly and reach out to them. You might say something to let them know how you feel, for example: “I wish I spoke your language, so I would feel more like a part of things.” Or, “I heard everyone laughing with Vicki but I didn’t understand anything they were talking about. What was going on?”

3. Do as you would do if you were in another country. First, communicate in other ways. Smiles, signs, nods, etc. If your coworkers also speak English, they may start responding more to you that way, when it becomes obvious you’re trying to communicate.

Second, learn a few phrases in their language: Good morning, goodnight, hello, thank you, please, good job, could you help me?

Even if you say those things inexpertly, they will think it funny or interesting or maybe even nice, that you are trying! You may not be able to learn a lot, but even a few words would be helpful.

4. Talk to your supervisor without making a complaint. Consider opening the door to the discussion by asking him how to say a phrase you would like to learn. Make it simple, like, “Thank you very much.”

When he tells you, write it down and try it out loud. Then, you can say, “I feel so left out of everything around here, because I don’t understand what Jan and Vicki and Mary are talking about. So, I thought maybe if I could learn a few words they might accept me better.”

(Doesn’t that sound sad? 🙂 But, that is more likely to get you assistance from your manager than complaining.

5. You say they are ganging up on your sometimes. That is one thing your supervisor should know about, if your work suffers because of it. Sadly, that ganging up behavior happens in a lot of workplaces, and it’s wrong. Some of the same things that will help the language issue may help that as well.

If you ever do talk to your supervisor about that, have a very specific situation in mind, so you can give him specific examples, not just a general idea.

6. You don’t say what kind of work you do. If it is work in which you all participate, consider asking your supervisor if once a week or once a month your group could meet or just get in a huddle by the break area, and talk about work. You could use the time to discuss tips and techniques or problems. It could be the time that the supervisor gives information you need.

That would require that they discuss things in English, which would be good for them and good for you too.

7. This last thing is not about work but about you. You may find that you cannot change the situation at work. I think you can make it better, but you may not be able to change it to the point that you are part of the group and they speak English most of the time.

You may want to try to find another place to work, where you can be included more. That’s drastic, but certainly is a solution. Dr. Gorden always talks about “voting with your feet”. It could be that will allow you a completely new workplace in which you can be happy.

The other thing is to put even more focus on time away from work. I notice you work twelve hour shifts. So, you probably have more time at home than some people do. I know you want to be a good worker and a steady, reliable employee. But, you may need to balance that with the reality that your fun and friendships will be away from work.

Find your real happiness away from work and come to work focused on the job to be done. At the same time, make some of the efforts I mentioned above.

I wish there was a sure way to make things much better, but there may not be. But, I want you to feel that you do have some control over it or at least control over your reactions to it.

Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.