I am working for an international company, yet on every meeting my colleagues and bosses are speaking German (as far as I know they all speak English).
It happened that someone wanted to respect me to speak English, then someone else spoke up and said 'She has to learn German'. The company does not support language learning, but I am taking private classes twice per week to get better. However, I feel pressured that they mention it often that I have to learn it, as am not at a level to speak comfortably yet. I can talk about easy topics, but am definitely not on a level that would benefit me at the workplace.
Now they asked me to do a presentation in German, which frustrates me and I don't know what to do. They know about my classes, but it feels they don't care. I don't want to seem weak, but I feel really uncomfortable about it and I don't know what to do. I am not sure how to get their respect or if I should look for another job.
Wow, thank you everyone for taking the time to write such lengthy, helpful, and kind responses. Please excuse the time I have taken to answer your questions, I hope below I answer everything you were curious about and that it might clarify some of the assumptions as well.
- The whole interview process, including a task I had to do were all in English. The base of the company is in Germany, however, we have partner companies in many other, foreign countries, including France, Italy, Spain, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom to just name a few.
- It was that I would be mainly working with our developers (they are mostly foreigners and the majority of them only speak English, their meetings are only held in English as well). But as I am a designer, they placed me in the Product Management team, where basically everyone is German, except me. I was upfront about my German skills from the beginning and it was said it is not a problem, as this is an international company and everyone should be able to speak English with me. However, every product meeting which is just as relevant to me is in German.
- It is important to mention that we are having a really complex product, so I would need to speak at least B2 or C1 level to understand them properly, which is even harder due to the different dialects.
- My contract does not mention anything about what is the official language at the company, nor that I am expected to speak German after a certain amount of time.
- The contract is in German, although other documents within the company are available in English and German, as well as often in Spanish, French, and Italian. (Due to partner companies).
- English is not my first language (apologies in case of any mistakes), so I know what it takes to learn a language and I know it is important to practice speaking. I believe I might not clarify it properly in my original post, but I am learning German and I can talk about easy topics, so in fact, I do use the language, but at this point not in the business environment. I believe I try my best to get better, despite the lack of support from the company. At this point, German-speaking colleagues have English classes offered by the company, but English speakers do not have German classes, so I believe demanding to speak German is not the right approach in this case, especially as I mentioned earlier, I was upfront about this and they hired me knowing about my lack of German knowledge. I myself decided to start taking classes privately. This means I pay for my courses and I use my free time to eventually benefit the company that I, as well, speak German.
- My problem with the statement “She has to learn German” was the disrespect. The person who held the meeting asked me if he should do the meeting in English and another person (my supervisor, a man) answered before I could do so, “No, she has to learn German”. This was followed by an awkward silence, then the meeting went on in German. It was an important meeting for me and I could not understand half of it, so I had to reach out to someone afterward to explain it to me. This took time and unnecessary effort, which could have been avoided if we just held the meeting in English in the first place. This was not the first time that this has happened.
- The presentation was required by my supervisor and another colleague from the product team (my manager was not there that time). They requested this 2 days before the presentation took place. If I had enough time I could have prepared and memorized a script in German, but due to the complexity of the topic, the time would not have been enough.
- I did the presentation in English and I scheduled a call with my manager to talk to him about my concerns. (He is also the manager of my supervisor.) I am not sure what to expect, but to be honest, at this point I feel I do not belong to this company. If there are other foreigners, everyone automatically switches to English, but if I am the only foreigner in the meeting, this is just simply not the case. Maybe they think they are helping as I mentioned I am taking German classes, but I feel this approach only holds me back from actually doing a good and efficient job.