The Workplace Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I lately feel annoyed by coworkers talking in some Chinese local dialect, not the common one. I am the only one who only knows both English and the common dialect, Mandarin. I think I mentioned it to them before, but there is a guy who insisted in using that dialect among other coworkers. So, I feel I am trapped in a foreign place. Yes, too bad that all other coworkers (4 of them) are from the same province and they have some local dialect that I just don't understand at all; it's NOT the common dialect and NOT English. I am really bothered.

The above is just one thing. Another thing is that I dont know how to tell the guy not to answer the phone in the office. He should understand that he needs to step out of the small startup company's small office to answer his phone. Again he was using that not understandable local dialect. So, it's totally noisy for me...

Seriously, I dont know how to deal with this and how to communicate my message out to them, especially the guy who enjoys talking in the local dialect, and I have a 'friend relation' with :(

share|improve this question
What is your work relationship with this person? Are you their manager? Colleague? Do you share a manager? – Oded Oct 24 '12 at 17:57
This looks like two questions, one about communication (dialect) and one about distractions (phone). Could you focus this question on just the first issue? (I have the feeling the latter is a duplicate but I'm not sure.) – Monica Cellio Oct 24 '12 at 19:50
The original question used the word "language"; the current edited form uses "dialect". A dialect could be the same languages spoken with a different accent. I think "language" would make the question clearer (though I'm not sure enough of that to go ahead and edit it). The point is that the OP's co-workers are speaking to each other in a language that the OP doesn't understand. – Keith Thompson Oct 24 '12 at 21:58
i resolved this nicely. Thanks everyone! – nanshi Oct 25 '12 at 18:29
@KeithThompson Dialect can also mean different words spoken as well. It isn't always accent. – Simon O'Doherty Oct 30 '12 at 6:27
up vote 20 down vote accepted

Does your office have a policy for languages? I know some of the work environments near me do - when people are trapped together in a common environment, the rule is "X language" only (in my case English), both for being friendly and for safety - when working around machinery, you want cries for help to be clear to everyone.

If you have such a policy and you've already asked your coworkers once to speak in a language you understand, it may be time to ask for help from management. Rules about language differ between countries, but in the US, an environment that excludes someone based on region of origin (via language), would be seen as discriminatory.

It's worthwhile to separate the difficulty with inter-team communication with being inconsiderate in phone calls. If there's a common norm for leaving the office space for taking personal calls, then it's fair to ask him to comply, just like you'd ask anyone. Asking someone who speaks a different language to leave when you wouldn't mind if anyone else stayed is not as good, as that, too, is discriminatory.

share|improve this answer
Thank you for your support...I am just trying to calm myself down...My coworkers (especially the one which is actually my friend) are proud of their local language, whereas i am being tortured by the not understandable language, which becomes a noise to me...what the hell.. :'( – nanshi Oct 25 '12 at 18:06
Again, Thank you, Bethlakshmi!! I just need support to get this over i guess...dont have encouragement to bring this up to my coworkers again. Probably i will talk to my boss. – nanshi Oct 25 '12 at 18:10
I resolved this by talking to another two coworkers :) They all like to use english instead of their own local language :) So i am happy now. Chinese languages are complex, Mandarin is totally different from other local languages. So i am a native Mandarin speaker so that i am not able to understand other local languages thus i may miss: 1. technical discussion and information 2. unable to understand the language itself, then the voices become noise. Now it seems to be resolved by the support of my other coworkers. – nanshi Oct 25 '12 at 18:28
Hooray! I'm so glad it worked out! I visited India for a month a while back, and I know only a smattering of words in the local language... so I know just what you mean! – bethlakshmi Oct 26 '12 at 14:23

Unless it is a work-related conversation, disliking the sound of their dialect sounds prejudicial. They're talking out loud and answer their personal phone in a closed office, ask them to stop. If the dialect is so irritating to you, I see that as your problem, so get some headphones. If it makes you feel excluded or like they're talking behind your back, you should mention that instead.

Your office may be the only place they get to exercise their native dialect. You may feel trapped in a foreign place in the office; imagine how they feel everywhere else they go. Hopefully you can build a working relationship to further understand and address this issue.

share|improve this answer
It's a small office, a startup company, only 5 developers, and I am the only one who doesn't understand their local language. You now as software engineer, communication is important, so we always need to discuss things among 5 of us. So i need to hear the foreign language/accent the whole day long, but i wish i understand it!! 1. i wont miss any discussion that may be a good information to me. 2. Even in china, in office, we used Mandarin, not local language for communication! – nanshi Oct 25 '12 at 18:08
So, basically i dont see it's my problem :( but this is gonna be hard to communicate, i've communicated to the guy, who is actually my friend. – nanshi Oct 25 '12 at 18:09
How can you listen to other conversations all day long and get any coding done? I'd suggest some structure to when work related discussions are going to take place. Like I said, "Unless it is work related..." – JeffO Oct 26 '12 at 2:45
sigh........... – horse hair Jul 11 '14 at 20:14

The local customs have to be taken into account when asking this sort of stuff.

With Chinese, saving face is very important. So if you were to tell people to stop doing this at a group meeting, it is liable to illicit a negative response.

You should probably talk to the main person doing this in private. However if it isn't work related I can't see how it would be an issue.

The other option is to keep interrupting them every time they talk in a local dialect and ask them what they are talking about. Or study the local dialect.

As for the phone thing, the same situation again.

share|improve this answer
hoho, it didn't work for any case any ways. stubborn coworkers~ i guess i m getting used to it already =.=" whatever~ – nanshi May 7 '13 at 22:53
hahah, good suggestions especially i think you understand better than me on chinese culture thing :-) btw, i dont wanna study that local dialect :p no no no ~~~>.<~~~ – nanshi May 7 '13 at 22:53
+1 to 'With Chinese, saving face is very important.' – yanhan Mar 6 '14 at 1:59
illict -> elicit – Steve Jessop Jul 11 '14 at 14:21

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.