I came to the US about a year ago. I changed my employer 3 months ago. The technical lead is American, and the 4 developers are Indian. They have all been with this employer for around 2 years, and hence, have a better understanding of the project and the work involved.

The other developers always speak in another Indian language which I do not understand, and thus, I cannot participate in their conversation. I speak Hindi (native language of India).

They always speak in English when the technical lead is around. I do not bother about their personal conversation, but they also do this for work-related conversations, which impacts my work.

I have tried having a good relationship with them, but I don't see it happening from their end. I work the whole day without talking to people, which is frustrating. I have never had this kind of work environment earlier, and have started talking to people from other teams.

I have requested them to talk in English once, but I can't keep reminding them about it all the time. Sometimes they say they are talking about something else. How am I supposed to know what they are talking about? I don't want to spoil team/work environment by asking them to talk in English every time or by complaining to the Manager.

Update: Regarding comments about forcing someone to use the language he/she is not fully comfortable in, note as I said, they all speak with the technical lead in english. we have team meetings/discussion where english is used. All the team members are comfortable in english.

Side note: Most of the I.T guys from India they all know english well, they have studied in english and successfully cleared the interview in english.

  • @MaskedMan I tried & that didn't worked. And asking them to change language every they speak will be irritating to them & me.
    – Language
    Aug 8, 2016 at 3:53
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    How hard would it be for you to learn a bit of their dialect? That might help to defuse tension, and make it easier for you to ask them to speak English in return. Also, you might manage to understand enough to know whether they are talking about work.
    – sleske
    Aug 8, 2016 at 8:21
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    @sleske: There is no such language as "Indian". It doesn't exist. Each language spoken in India such as English, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu is a separate language as different as Spanish, German, Japanese and Thai. Note that often, two Indian languages have different writing systems. It's not like the difference between English and Spanish, which at least use the same alphabet (sort of)
    – slebetman
    Aug 8, 2016 at 9:59
  • @slebetman: I am aware of that. Still, I don't see how this changes things. Trying to learn the basics of the coworker's language may help, if it is practical.
    – sleske
    Aug 8, 2016 at 10:08
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    @sleske Thats exactly the point. Its not practical, specially if the 2 languages in question belong to different families. To answer "how hard would it be" - very. And going by how OP says he's cant understand his coworkers at all, they're not dialects either. Chances are high that their language is in fact from a different family than Hindi (OP's native language)
    – insanity
    Apr 25, 2017 at 7:18

6 Answers 6


It is somewhat disappointing to learn that some people never realise that they need to have respect for others. You are absolutely correct, this behaviour of excluding certain team members from the conversation, by switching to another language is highly unprofessional and disrespectful. It is annoying enough in India, and I would have hoped that Indians would give it up at least when they are in another country.

Moving on from the rant, what you should do is not really much different from what you would do in India. Meet one of the members of the "group" privately (preferably the "seniormost" member), and politely request them to keep work-related conversations in English only because it affects your work. You would do well to emphasise that you don't have a problem with their personal conversations in another language.

If the behaviour doesn't improve, do not hesitate to talk to the manager. Your worries about the escalation causing bad work environment are not unjustified, but hey, you did not create that situation, and you gave them a chance. If they still do not respect you as a team member, the bad work environment created is not your problem any more.

Last but not the least, please lead by example. I have seen many people complain when other team members speak in another language, but then do the same themselves. You don't be one of those people. :-)

  • On second thoughts, the solution is more tricky than this, but I am at work, so I will leave it here, and post a better answer later when I am back home.
    – Masked Man
    Aug 8, 2016 at 4:00
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    I tried asking them to change the language 2-3 times, that did not worked & few times they answered that they are not talking anything work related. Regarding your last point, I agree and I can't see someone in the same situation. Previously I had worked with people with different native languages, and I always tried to speak in English or change the conversation to English when I know someone don't understand.
    – Language
    Aug 8, 2016 at 4:00
  • Escalating to the manager will be my last option.
    – Language
    Aug 8, 2016 at 4:03
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    Funny that languages where meant so that humans can communicate.
    – Language
    Aug 8, 2016 at 4:07
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    @Language as Bill Patterson wrote through Hobbes, "Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding."
    – alroc
    Aug 8, 2016 at 11:28

There are essentially two problems here, trust and sociability.

Social interactions

There is little you can do about your co-workers talking amongst themselves about non work related things in a language you don't understand. Many people would consider it rude, but obviously your co-workers don't. You could try explaining how isolated they are making you feel, but their is no guarantee that will do any good.

From your description though, I think that some people would consider your situation to be a Hostile work environment but taking any formal steps in that direction risks further alienating you from the group.

Getting them to include you in non work conversations is going to be difficult until they accept you as part of their social group, but that is far beyond the scope of a Workplace answer (books have been written on the subject).

From a different point of view though, I actually find it much easier to ignore people speaking a language I don't understand. When I just want to get on with work, I'm not interested in people nattering about the latest episode of some TV show or the Cricket results, so I'm happy to be left out of such conversations.

Work interactions

When you work in an environment where people speak languages you don't, you have to trust that they will speak to you about things which impact on your work.

If you are not being kept in the loop about issues which affect your performance, and you can't persuade them otherwise, then this is probably a problem that only your manager can deal with. If your co-workers refuse to communicate with you effectively, then it is probably not an issue that you fix by yourself.

One thing to do is to keep an ear open for words which have not been or cannot be translated. As a mono-linguist in a technical field who has worked all over the world, I can often tell what people are talking about things I might be interested in by the technical terms alone (LASER, programming language keywords, SI units and part codes etc.). Then it is simply a matter of checking "Excuse me, are you talking about X, is this relevant to my work?". Often this will cause the conversation to switch to English.

If you can identify when they are talking about things you need to be included in, then you can encourage them to bring you into those conversations. Often people switch back to their native tongue when communicating is too difficult or slow in a secondary language. I have often had to sit listening to people having a heated argument in a language I didn't understand, with only an occasional update from one side or the other. This is not a problem, as long as eventually you get all of the information you need.


This is a difficult situation, but if you can find a way to involve yourself in their social interactions, this may help all of your interactions with your co-workers.

More importantly you can try to learn how to identify when they are talking about things relevant to you, even if you don't understand precisely what they are talking about. The more conversations you need to be involved it, the more likely it is that they will default to your common language(s).

Finally, if you find that you really cannot get on with your team, and still don't want to take it to your manager, continue building better relationships with other teams, you may be able to make move into one of those teams instead.


Been in this situation before with English, French, Hindi, Punjabi, and Mandarin competing against one another..!

It is highly unlikely you will get them to change by simply asking them. Once an enclave is formed, it will stick until something drastic happens around them (e.g. rearrangement of their work desks to be far apart from each other). I would advise that you ask them two more times (a total of 3).

If that doesn't change anything (likely), talk to your supervisor about it. Ask him/her to enforce English-only at work rule.

There is no magical way to get them to talk in English. You can try and strike up a friendship with two of them individually and then mention in a light-hearted manner that you wish you could speak Telugu to get them to understand. Again, unlikely to work but if you don't want to escalate that's probably your best approach. I would strongly recommend asking your supervisor to establish English-only rule at work place.


Single Point of Responsibility

You are not responsible for how the team works. You are not the team lead, nor a manager.

Constructive Criticism

You are however right not to COMPLAIN about the situation, because your co-workers are doing nothing WRONG.

What you CAN however do, is approach your manager/lead with constructive criticism. Highlight and approach the problem POSITIVELY rather than NEGATIVELY.

Remember, the situation now is "working".

However, having the whole team run in a single language is a positive step which could increase productivity.

Identify the Cause

It is unlikely your co-workers are deliberately trying to exclude you, or actually trying to sabotage your career.

Assuming that is the case, you should try to identify the root of the issue.

You said "I do not bother about their personal conversation". Remember, English is not their first language, so speaking English takes EFFORT, as does SWITCHING languages mid flow.

Perhaps you should get to know your colleagues outside of work. This is of course hard, which is why you might encourage your manager to organise "Team Building" exercises.

Cut your losses

Ultimately you may find that your team will reject you. In that event it maybe time to consider switching teams. A good company will understand that a good team dynamic is as important (if not more) than good team members, and that some (good) people just don't work well with other (good) people.

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    They are doing something wrong. It is never appropriate to speak in a language that other people present do not understand, not at work and not socially. At work, he now has no way of knowing if he is missing out on technical conversations he should be a part of( hint, he is - almost certainly). Excluding one person from social conversations at work is wrong as well, it leads to a hostile work environment.
    – HLGEM
    Aug 8, 2016 at 14:14
  • @HLGEM I meant, they aren't doing anything wrong from a work perspective. Of course you can say they are being rude. But that is their god given right to be rude. Do you think it would be appropriate for the company to punish the other employees?
    – Aron
    Aug 8, 2016 at 14:15
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    it not just rude, it is causing a workplace disruption, causing one person to not have information he needs to do his job, and causing one team member to feel rejected. That means the work is not done efficiently because they are causing a problem. It is something that a good boss would consider firing them for because the team being able to work as team is critical and treating one team member as not part of the team is unacceptable..
    – HLGEM
    Aug 8, 2016 at 14:20
  • @HLGEM I am aware it is a problem. But from a company perspective, what is provable. I HAVE been in the situation before, and it sucks. As for the firing a whole team rather than a single guy, who is complaining? Rock the boat much?
    – Aron
    Aug 8, 2016 at 14:27
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    "It is their god given right to be rude." No it isn't. I would expect my employer to insist that people are polite to me (I have certainly been pulled up when I was rude to someone - I was in the wrong). Aug 8, 2016 at 15:23

Whenever they start speaking in their language tune out and actively engage in a conversation in someone else, perhaps via the phone, in your language and be loud enough to drown them out so that they start perceiving you as rude and loud. Make it their issue, make them unable to hear each other and then let them deal with the issue of you feeling excluded from their conversations. If you want people to change their behavior you usually have to make things their problem for them to even notice that there is a problem.

  • Passive aggressive behaviour is highly unprofessional. It will both get you in trouble with your superiors, when your co-workers report it, and will destroy any chance to build productive working relationships with your co-workers, let alone friendship.
    – Mark Booth
    Aug 10, 2016 at 11:11

When you get a job like this, and I've had a few. First you earn their respect, then they will change their behaviour on their own to include you in their clique.

Demanding people change to suit you seems to be a purely Western attitude that some find offensively arrogant. I see it all the time from a third party view.

My personal way of dealing with this was/is just to soldier on and concentrate on the work, I'm not there to chitchat. Learn what I can and eventually things change to include me in the more social stuff as well. It's actually hard to have social talk in English if your English is a second language. English is one of the hardest languages to learn, You think in your native language and then try and translate as you talk, and some concepts and nuances don't really translate well.

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    I'd like to point out that the OP is also Indian, but does not speak the Indian language the other devs are using (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_India), so your comment about it being a "purely Western attitude" might be inaccurate here. Aug 8, 2016 at 8:28
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    While language difficulty always depends on which languages you already know, English doesn't exactly have a reputation for being particularly hard to learn. From my personal experience as a German, I found both French and Japanese significantly harder than English. Aug 8, 2016 at 9:55
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    This is a professional technical environment. Communication is essential. It is hubris to suggest that 'grin and bare it' is a productive move.
    – Gusdor
    Aug 8, 2016 at 11:04
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    "English doesn't exactly have a reputation for being particularly hard to learn." o.O Aug 8, 2016 at 11:14
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    @Kilisi: Exactly - to the best of my knowledge, English is widely condemned as not being particularly easy to learn! I see from your answer that you already agree with me on that. Aug 8, 2016 at 13:52

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