Knowing multiple languages is a great skill set to have. This can open up a new world of possibilities, from traveling to job opportunities, to being able to communicate and understand with people all around the world. Although, sometimes those interactions aren't the nicest. Just ask these people.
Bilinguals on Reddit share the time when they heard someone talking about them in another language. Content has been edited for clarity.
An Awkward Encounter
“I am half English and half French. When I was 19, I used to run a football class for a summer school in my hometown in England.
My dad was the modern language teacher of the private school, which lead me to be pretty knowledgeable about how things worked. When walking through the street at the end of school term, some French exchange students asked me for a smoke. I don’t smoke so I told them as much and I carried on. I got l meters down the street before one called me a oh thanks son of a dog in French.
I turned back and asked them to repeat themselves. They apologized and were really surprised and also extremely embarrassed.
Not nearly as shocked as when they turned up to gym class for their first summer class and I was their teacher.”
“I grew up in Thailand and can speak fluent Thai. This happened when I was about 14, and wearing red lipstick for the first time. I was coming home on the sky train. This older lady turned to her husband and basically said that foreigners always dress like ‘ladies of the night,’ and that she feels sorry for my parents for raising such a degenerate.
Luckily, my Thai mom called to ask which station I had gotten to so. I was just talking to her in perfect Thai. The woman’s face was priceless. I kinda wish I had some witty retort before I got off the train, but I was really shy and didn’t really stand up for myself at that age.”
They Should Have Clapped
“I was eating at a restaurant in Quebec — where seriously everyone speaks at least some English who isn’t ancient –, and a couple who only spoke English sat there and complained about everyone around them as if no one could understand a word they were saying.
It was crazy because we were speaking English (albeit, not so obnoxiously loud as to draw everyone’s attention, as they were) a couple of tables over.
Anyways, it was embarrassing for them at first. Then downright terrible as they even made fun of their waitress right in front of her. Eventually a manager came out and basically told them to get lost. But as they went people were commenting loudly in English, and I’m surprised people didn’t actually clap.”
Such Disgusting Behavior Is Never Tolerated
“I’m a blonde female, but I grew up learning Spanish and ended up living in Chile and Mexico for a time. I am pretty fluent in Spanish. I was 18 and getting my car fixed after an accident and I had to walk around back with one of the guys past the garage where all the mechanics were. This was in Arizona, so almost everyone working there was Mexican or Hispanic. They started saying some really rude things about me in Spanish loudly, and they were laughing. I understood them but was too embarrassed to say anything. They probably assumed I didn’t understand them.
After my car was done, I walked back around past the guys again.
This time, one of them said something along the lines of ‘I want to kill her with my member/ choke her.’
At that point, I decided to turn and tell him off in Spanish. I said that yes, I understood him, and I let him know how rude, offensive, and uncalled-for that was. My Spanish isn’t perfect, and I probably didn’t get the exact point across that I wanted to because I was nervous and angry, but he and the coworkers clearly understood that I had heard them and knew exactly what they were saying.
On my way home, I called the car place and told the manager what happened and he said he would handle it. I don’t know what happened after that but I was young and shy and was proud of myself for how I handled it at the moment.”
Little Did This Woman Know
“I was working downtown (in the US) in a part of the city that is mainly tourists, and waited on a Chinese family one day. The restaurant is the equivalent of a sit down chain like Olive Garden. I greeted them in English and they responded in English, so I figured that this would be the best method of communication since they did not ask if I spoke Cantonese.
Once I moved onto my next table, I heard the mother tell the father that it is such a shame that my parents worked so hard for me to not speak Cantonese and work at a restaurant.
I went through the whole meal speaking in English, and at the end as I was handing them the bill, I said in Cantonese that ‘it was a pleasure serving you and I hope you come again soon.’
The mother’s face dropped and she thanked me profusely and left a decent tip. I might speak English well, but I also know how to work the Chinese guilt.”
They Were Ruining The Ride
“One of my teachers, who spoke both fluent French and fluent German, was on a horse drawn tour of a city, sitting in the center row of the carriage.
A French couple sat in the rear row, and a German couple with small children sat in the front. The children were tired and cold and making a small fuss, but nothing outrageous.
The French couple started insulting the parents and children in French, snidely. The German family didn’t speak French, and had no idea what was going on, trying to soothe their children and enjoy the ride.
So, my teacher scolds the French couple in French, saying something along the lines of ‘If you two bitter people ever manage to hold this relationship together, you’ll likely be in the same situation one day. Show some decorum.’
Teacher then turned to German couple and, in German, reiterated what the French were saying about them and what he said in return.
The German couple asked him to convey their apologies, their hotel room wasn’t ready and the children hadn’t eaten yet, and they were killing time until they could check in. That they were sorry for disrupting their evening.
Teacher did. French couple looked embarrassed. Teacher spent the rest of the evening visiting with the German family in German.”
Her Dad Was Ready
“At 17, just after I got my driver’s license, my dad allowed me to take his car. I was on my way to pick up my friend so we could go see a movie.
I had a green light, was moving through the intersection, and was hit by a car running a red light. I hit my head, was confused and scared, and was incapable of moving. The accident took place less than five minutes from a hospital, so I was packed up in an ambulance before I could think straight.
I was in the same ambulance as the woman who hit me that was screaming about the pain in her knee. In the hospital, we were wheeled into the same room and separated by a curtain. She called her family, speaking in Spanish, and told them to come to the hospital. A nurse gave me my phone, and told me to call a parent. So I called my dad to come.
Her family arrived first. I only took one year of Spanish and, while I couldn’t follow the conversation, I could tell they were talking about me. My dad arrived then. He’s completely fluent in Spanish. And, after hearing the other family’s conversation, he became enraged and began recording it on his phone.
The gist of the conversation was this. The woman that ran the red light knew she was in the wrong but didn’t have insurance. I was a young girl ‘rich enough’ to have a car. The police would believe her, the middle-aged woman, if she claimed I ran the red light.
When the police arrived to take statements, they went to the woman first as the medical staff had already finished with her. (In between the plan hatching, she’d been screaming about how her knee hurt and the pain pills the nurses tried to give her were too big to swallow. I’d just been quiet and undemanding and simply answered questions asked of me and complied with any requests)/
Then they came to talk to me. My dad asked if either officer could speak Spanish. One did, so my dad played the recording.
She got the ticket. The report stated she was at fault and I was not. And yet she still tried to sue me for her medical bills and the damage to her car. My mom was a secretary at a law office, and her boss was kind enough to write her a letter full of legalese saying I’d counter sue if she continued to harass me and I had the police reports stating she was at fault.
It was an interesting few months.”
But He Did Explain It
“So once when I used to work at GameStop, this lady and her older mother walked in. They started to speak Spanish to each other, looking for a game that the lady’s son wanted for Christmas. They eventually found it, and then they come to the register. This is where the fun begins.
Now I do speak fluent Spanish, but I don’t speak Spanish to people unless they asked me to. So this lady and her mother are trying to gather their money together. While they’re gathering the money, I asked them if they wanted to add insurance on to their game for a few extra dollars. The lady looks up, and says yes, and then resumes to look for more money. Then they finally get together the original $11 that it cost to buy the game, but were surprised to when it said $14 on the screen.
The mother of the child asked why it went up to $14, and I said because of the insurance for the game.
The lady then says ‘I don’t want the insurance.’
The lady’s mother then asked why it jumped up and her daughter said, ‘He added insurance without telling me’ in Spanish.
Then her mother proceeds to say ‘Wow, he’s just trying to take advantage of people for not speaking his language.’
This is where I lost it, and went full Spanish-speaking mode. I explained to both of them what was going on, and they both apologized and they paid for the insurance and didn’t say a word for the rest of the transaction.”
Watching T.V. Helped
“I grew up in a border city in Texas. My parents taught us Spanish, and although they knew English, they weren’t confident enough to teach my brother and me. So, in elementary school I went to ‘bilingual classes’ taught in Spanish, in which we would learn the same thing as monolingual normal classes, but in Spanish. We would be taught English slowly through the years, supposedly. But, the thing about public schools is, they suck. Needless to say, most of us did not learn English at all, and by the time we moved on to middle school, my old classmates and I would form our own clique. We didn’t understand the other students, and would just keep to ourselves.
I, on the other hand, watched TV every day, I watched it religiously. So, at some point I started watching TV shows in English (with subtitles) and naturally picked up the language. After a while, I could read it and understand it, but could not really speak it.
It was during this point in middle school that I realized a bunch of the other students loved talking trash about us. They would approach my friends and under the guise of teaching them English, they would try to goad then into saying things like ‘I am a idiot,’ because they knew my friends didn’t understand.
So one day I had enough, and I snitched on them to my homeroom teacher. I told her what was happening to a few of the students (in broken English), and she assured me she would pay more attention and stop them from continuing to do it.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that some kids got caught and punished for doing that sort of stuff.”
She Put Them In Their Rightful Place
“I was born in Mexico, and so my first language is Spanish. While there have been some really painful things said about me (I’m overweight and people can be mean) but I’ve also had great experiences.
I love when I can chime in and help someone who is struggling to speak English. The look of relief when they realize I can help is awesome.
The negative: I was at the gym working out. I felt someone staring so I look over. These two older Hispanic ladies smile but turn away. I have my headphones in but something told me to mute the music. The ladies begin to describe what I was wearing and saying how embarrassed they would be if they looked like. That they’d rather be dead than be fat like me. Wow! Hurtful much. So I do my best to not cry.
I wanted to hide, but decided that I wouldn’t just let them steal my joy. So I walk over to them and politely extend my hand and introduce myself in Spanish. They both changed to. Very red color. I asked them if they really would be prefer to be dead than look like me. They refused to make eye contact. I told them my name and that I had just bought my outfit and was proud that it finally fit.
I wished them a good night and hoped that they loved their family enough to choose life over being fat.”
Don’t Rush People When They’re Ordering
“This happened when I was in France as apart of a school program. My friends made me translate and speak everything, because I actually paid attention in class and got pretty good at French. My accent might not be perfect, but I understood most things at that time. Nowadays, I’m better.
Anyways, I was waiting in line at a Boulangerie because we were walking around Paris. My friends were still deciding what they wanted. So, me being in line I start talking and doing the usual customer to cashier exchange of words.
Then, this Parisian guy behind be elbows me saying, ‘Va, allons-y.’
It means to ‘hurry up.’ I brushed it off as nothing, and continued with my transaction. As I was about to finish, the guy elbows me again.
So, I’m from Boston, and in Boston, you don’t do that if you aren’t looking to get beat up. Also, the guy doing this is shorter than me.
So, the second time he does that, I turn around, my brain automatically puts on a Boston accent, and tell him in plain English, ‘You want to take this outside?’
I assume he knew what I meant, took a step back, and let me do my thing. Meanwhile, my friends are laughing their butts off in the background.”
The Waitress Had No Idea
“I was on a date with a new girlfriend at the time. She chose the restaurant, and we went to a popular Mexican restaurant in the area. The waitress recognized her and began speaking in Spanish.
My girlfriend at the time knew that I spoke Spanish, but didn’t know to what degree (at the time I was nearly fluent). The waitress then began talking about how nervous I looked, and commenting on my appearance. She was dead quite and turned a shade of pink I had never seen before on her.
After the waitress left, she asked ‘How much of that did you catch?’
I responded, ‘All of it.’
She buried her face in her hands with embarrassment. From then on, she warned all of her family members that I could in fact understand them if they decided to talk about me in Spanish (It never stopped her grandparents from bad-mouthing me in Spanish, even when I was there, they completely despised me from day one).”
She One-Upped Them
“I used to work as a flight attendant. I’m an Italian, living in Scotland. Once did a flight Edinburgh-Rome, and got Italian passengers to bring back to Edinburgh. We landed, then I got the bus to return home and a group of Italian guys from that flight took the same bus to go to the city center. All in their mid 30s, those kind of loud guys who think they are hot and behave like they can have anyone, but actually very unattractive and pathetic.
While on the bus, heard them talking about stuff and a guy said something like ‘How did you like the girls on the flight?’
Another guy said ‘No, she’s freaking ugly,’ referring to me. They laughed, but they obviously thought I couldn’t understand.
I ignored what I just heard. Got off the bus and went home, trying not to think about that comment. It hurt in a way. Once home me and my ex flatmate decided to go in town for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and get something to drink.
I put my uniform away, undid my hair, which was long and wavy, put some casual clothes and got my glasses off.
We went to this party, and guess who was there? That group of Italian guys.
We passed them and while passing they ALL looked at me, as you look at someone who’s attractive and just entered a room. They made some comments in Italian about my look while I was passing. But they didn’t realize I was the same girl, who a couple of hours before was the same flight attendant in uniform, with the hair all tied up, tired and hungry they made fun of. I kept walking just silently looking at them.
Went to the toilet, and once back I walked towards them looking in the eyes the guy who did the comment about me being ‘freaking ugly,’ and I made a joke in Italian, and I said that the ugly flight attendant on the bus was me.
The guy turned purple and all his friends were laughing at him.
He apologized and said he didn’t want to offend me and that he was just jocking and he was behaving like a puppy. I felt so empowered to treat him like that, and that I knew he fancied me. They offered me drinks and I treated them as the worst idiots and losers ever lived on this planet.
Revenge is a plate served cold.”
Kill Them With Kindess
“My mom grew up in Hungary until she was 12, now living in Canada.
She’s retired but got bored, so she works at a shoe store. We don’t have any surviving family here that speaks Hungarian, and she only has Skype contact with family overseas. So, she got really excited at her work one day when she noticed two older ladies speaking Hungarian in the store. Unfortunately they were quite rude when she asked if they wanted help, and dismissed her before she could even finish her greeting.
They then proceeded to, in Hungarian, talk about what a pushy annoying idiot my mom sounded like. So she turned around and in perfect Hungarian told them they can ask her in Hungarian too if they would like help to find anything and she hopes they have a wonderful day.”
A Better Ending Than Beginning
“I understand some situational Hmong and a few basic words. Particularly, table requests and insults. Most of the time, the table manners come out first. I’ll hear someone ask for something that is in front of me, and I’ll start to pass it. Older people that don’t know me look shocked when I do this, it’s great because all of the younger people that know me know I can do this.
A few years ago, my wife and I were at a Khi Tes for general luck, good fortune, and an all around blessing for my wife’s entire family. She (we) has a huge family from her side. Easily 100 people came through, probably closer to 150. There is a main table (it’s usually several folding tables pushed into a really long table, in this case I think he could fit four or five of them end to end) that is where guests of honor and family members sit. I typically get invited to main tables for all close family, and a lot of cousins and in laws events because we’ve been together for a pretty long time. That’s where I picked up my table manner language skills.
So anyways, there was an older guy that was clearly trash talking either myself or the other dude who was newer to the family, his table neighbor asked for some napkins, in Hmong. They were right in front of me. I picked up a stack and passed them down the table to where he was sitting.
He wasn’t being vicious, just mildly prejudiced. Still, not cool, but when you have 30-40 guys start laughing at you because you just low-key insulted the host of the party’s two sons-in-law, and got called out by one of them, you change your tune pretty quick.
He ended up being a really nice guy, I’ve known him about 7-8 years now. I see him probably 2-3 times a year at different events and get togethers.”
A Bit Of A Mix-Up
“I’m decently western-fluent in Japanese. My ex-manager is full Japanese, but something like 3rd or 4th generation American. She doesn’t speak Japanese.
We hosted a bunch of Japanese students and teachers. One of the teachers approached me, and I asked politely if everything was alright, in Japanese.
She stared at my manager in absolute, horrified shock. My manager had no idea what I had said, so she said in English, ‘please let her know if you need anything.’
The lady didn’t speak much English, so I repeated, in Japanese. Cue more horrified looks. She finally managed to ask my manager something along the lines of ‘How much Japanese do you speak?’
My manager frantically waved her hands and said to speak with me (in English). I told the lady that (manager) doesn’t speak Japanese, but I’m happy to help her if she needs anything (in Japanese).
Every time I spoke, she stared, petrified, at my manager. Finally, I got it; she thought my manager was somehow speaking Japanese without moving her mouth. All while my manager was simultaneously saying she doesn’t speak Japanese, in English.”