Saturday, 17 January 2015

Multilingual etiquette

After several seminars and countless meet-ups with multilingual people, there seems to be a universal, unwritten system for deciding which language(s) to use.

1. Find the language that everyone can speak at least fairly well.

2. If there are several, pick the language that the most people speak the best, usually going by native language. The language can change according to topic, for example if certain vocabulary is only known in German.

3. If there is no common language that is comfortable for everyone, go for a language that everyone can speak to a basic standard. This is also the case if you are all there for learning a certain language, in which case you might not speak an easier language, instead choosing the target language.

4. If there really is no common language, work out who could be grouped together based on their languages, for example one half of the group speaking English and one half speaking French. If there are people who speak both, they can facilitate communication between the two.

5. If no one shares a language, download Google Translate onto your phone or tablet, and make do with that, coupled with gestures and a friendly disposition.

If all else fails, do not underestimate the value of a smile! It makes people a lot more willing to try and talk to you, even if it's difficult to get the message across.

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