This is a question for my niece she is a supervisor in a chain restaurant, all the other waiters have English as their second language and all have the same first language.

Their English is very good and they can all easily converse in English.

Her problem is that they all speak their first language unless actually speaking directly to her or a customer.

This means that she has no idea what any of the people she supervises are talking about all day, unless she asks them a direct question.

  1. is she allowed to do anything about this, or is trying to do anything racial discrimination?
  2. if she is what can she do?

Editing to add she lives and works in England. (This is relative to the possible duplicates where the person had moved abroad and didn't speak the local language. She would like them to speak the local language.)

  • 5
    She could, of course, learn their language. While their English may be good, I’m sure they feel more at home in their first language.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 16:28
  • Unfortunately, it's unlikely there's anything that can be done unless there's a workplace / company policy that specifies people should converse in English unless otherwise necessary.
    – berry120
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 16:33
  • 1
    A location tag might help - is English the primary language of the location, or is your niece the one talking the lesser used language here?
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 16:54
  • 3
    What exactly is the problem if she doesn't understand what they are talking about? It doesn't seem to affect her work or their work. So just ask your "niece" to focus on her work, which is to supervise the people's work, and not what they talk about.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 2:54
  • 1
    Why do people always have a problem when other people use a different languague at work? What counts are results and not what langugage they use when then talk to each other. Of course she doesn't know what they are talking about, why should she? Is she a spy? Even if they were all forced to switch to english she still wouldn't know anything because if they wanted to talk behind her's back they would probably hide somewhere where she cannot hear them or they would be just more careful. It doesn't matter what languague they speak as long as they do their job right.
    – red-shield
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 5:30

3 Answers 3


There are a few angles to this:

  1. Legal Angle - I personally would not go down this road. Reason is two-fold - doing so might not be legal (you would need to check separately for that). Worse, it would spoil relations with the team. Unless, you are in a rule-based union shop, I don't think spoiling relations is a good idea.

  2. Personal Angle - I have been in a few situations like the one described above. (I can speak three languages, and understand a fourth, though not converse too well in it.) In one situation, I was with some people whose first language was my fourth. In the other, I was with some people who spoke my first language.
    In all these situations, my experience is that is there is no language like your first language for comfort (for the sake of reference - English is not my first language though I am quite fluent in it).

As a supervisor, your niece can always pull rank, and ask them to talk in English. What impact this has depends on:
A. What relationship she has with them.
B. Are they doing any cribbing compared to just talking about stuff.

Your niece could also look at it as a challenge, and learn the language. Apart from making the team feel nice, it also creates a situation where the fact that your niece cannot speak the language is clearly emphasised to the people speaking it.


Since it was the restaurant's choice to hire people that have English as secondary language, I'll agree with @jon-custer's comment: this seems like an excellent opportunity for your sister to expand her horizons and learn a new language.

  • It'll pass a message to the other waiters that management is understanding and supportive;
  • She'll be able to tap into her team's day-to-day dynamics;
  • The fact that all the other waiters have the same first language is an asset - by communicating using it they reduce the noise-to-signal ratio, something important on a dynamic environment like a restaurant;
  • She'll have extensive opportunities to practice.

The other possibility is to force it, and on that aspect @starlight's answer is spot-on. She's risking alienating and spoiling the relationship with her workforce.

  • She doesn't feel she has a relationship to spoil, "worker x please do something" "ok, talks to someone else in first language."
    – WendyG
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 23:09

Easily converse in English is not easier.

Find out the chain policy on language. Then talk to her supervisor. Even if there is a policy that has not been enforced she should get permission to enforce the policy.

If it is OK with her supervisor I guess she could order English only but it might not be well received.

If other supervisors don't order English only then it will likely not be well received.

  • That's a good way to create resentment where there currently is none.
    – pmf
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 7:41
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    @pmf Not following your comment. I wrote "might not be well received".
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 17:43

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