19 Awkward Scenarios Every Multilingual Person Has Been In


1. The never-ending struggle that is being asked to “say something” in one or more languages as if you’re some sort of performance monkey.

2. Swearing in a language that you think nobody around you speaks and then getting the death glare from someone who understood. There’s always one.

3. Teaching a friend swear words in a language and then having them bust it out in front of your parents or friends who can speak the same language. And then all eyes are on you, and you have some explaining to do.

4. Code-switching from one language to another because you became super comfortable in the conversation only to get a blank stare from the person you’re talking to. Several more awkward points if it’s with a person who doesn’t know you well.

5. When someone tries to drunkenly speak to you at a bar and they can barely put together a sentence in a language you speak. And you can’t walk away because you don’t want to be rude and you really do appreciate they’re trying, but you just can’t communicate back.

6. If you speak in a language that is not as widely-known, getting told it’s “weird” and not knowing how to respond because quite frankly, it just feels a little rude.

7. When you’re in front of an audience or a crowd, thinking in one language while speaking another, and completely messing up what you were trying to say and everyone just looks at you like, “huh?”

8. Being put on the spot in a public setting when someone asks you about a difficult concept or phrase in a particular language and you have no clue how to explain, so you look and feel stupid.

9. Saying a word or phrase in the language you’re currently speaking and messing it up enough where people understood you but you came-off funny-sounding. Probably because there’s a similar phrase in another language you speak and you got confused.

10. There’s always a go-to language that you use when you’re angry and you get even angrier when you can’t express yourself to someone in that language, and get flustered. And oftentimes, the other person will find this funny which just makes you angrier.

11. Calling something the wrong word, even if it’s in the language you’re currently communicating in and nobody having a clue what you’re talking about. For example, I cut myself while teaching in class this spring and I told my class I’m just running out to get a “plaster.” They all quizzically looked at me and then I was reminded this is America, the correct term here is “band-aid.” They laughed at me. 🙁

12. Always being asked to be a personal translator of a language that you don’t speak but people insisting that it’s “closely-related” to the language that you do speak. And you just have to try even though you know it’s a futile exercise.

13. If you live in the United States being told frequently how “cool” it is to speak multiple languages and having to play along like you’re a special snowflake. But you don’t feel special – the world is more multilingual than it is monolingual.

14. Constantly getting asked what language your children are going to speak. Um, I’ll let you know when I have them?

15. Pronouncing something almost on reflex in the language that it is known from, rather than in the language you’re talking to someone in, and being called pretentious. Example: I always say Côte’ d’Ivoire instead of Ivory Coast and got some eye-rolls during the World Cup.

16. When a parent or friend calls in front of people (who don’t know you’re multilingual/foreign) and you have to speak a different language, and all of a sudden you’re getting the third degree about being foreign for an hour or so.

17. Being put on the spot when a friend or acquaintance meets someone who speaks the same language or is from a country where they speak a language you know, and then insists that you two should date. So much awkwardness.

18. Being the go-to for all cultures associated with a language that is foreign to the place you’re in. And then being seen as incompetent because you do not in fact know every single thing about every single place that speaks that language.

19. In any and all situations, new and sometimes even old friends will always introduce as their token foreign/multilingual friend.

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