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No common language - a problem at work place!

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No common language - a problem at work place!

Postby Guest » Wed, 31 Aug 2005 10:31 pm

I have lunch with a bunch of my colleagues and I am wondering if I should continue joining them for lunch. I am the only non-Chinese in that bunch and I just love the group for its optimistic and jolly attitude which is why I choose to hang out with them.

Now, if you are wondering what is wrong - there is a major flaw in the dynamics. They slip into Chinese so very often. I mean dont mind it most times and listen hard for any English words that slip out every now and then figure out what they are talking about - eager to be an active participant me it can get really frustrating once in a while.

The past two days were really trying for us and this afternoon when we sat for lunch - I just felt like a complete idiot when all this serious discussion was going on about work and stuff in a language I didnt follow!

I usually ask what they were talking about at the end of the discussion or there is this girl who sometimes, looking at my embarrassed face, quickly translates.

I mean I dont want to be looking at faces with question mark all the time, I dont want to squint hard to try and understand; nor do I want someone to feel sorry and translate!

I wonder if you guys face the same at work. I have experienced this in business meetings! I find it ridiculous - as if what I thought doesnt matter, it doesnt count. We will sort out amognst ourselves and let you know of the outcome!

I suppose people tend to speak in the language they are most comfortable with - but a little sensitivity will be so much appreciated.

I do understand that sometimes jokes are best delivered in your own languages and I can imagine that one doest mean to be rude or does it on purpose but I guess if you make an effort to speak in English (which is common at work environment) you might be pleasantly surprised with suggestions that never were perhaps thought of due to denied participation.

What say you?


Postby Guest » Wed, 31 Aug 2005 10:39 pm

oops meant to post this under 'general discussion'!

Sorry, my bad!


Postby Guest » Thu, 01 Sep 2005 1:40 pm

i know what you mean. had the same thing when i lived in hk. i studied there for 3 years and have picked up some cantonese while staying there. my classmates usually tended to slip back to cantonese after a few minutes, which can be annoying cause sometimes we needed to discuss about our projects.. even most of the teachers at uni didn't bother to speak english just for 1 foreigner (even though officially all lectures should be in english) ..

nothing much you can do about it i guess, in 3 years i've never been able to persuade my classmates to speak english when in a group larger than 3 ppl. even though i now can understand what they're talking about a bit, the fact that they don't want to make that small effort so we can all understand what the conversation is about..

i haven't had this in singapore yet though, i previously lived in holland and if there is one person who cannot speak dutch, we will all speak english as it is considered very rude to talk in your own language if there is someone who doesn't understand..

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Postby superedge » Thu, 01 Sep 2005 9:16 pm

This happens everyday with my local colleagues as well. Mostly the times they speak chinese, when we go out for lunch it can goes up to 90% only chinese.

Sometimes I also do not feel comfortable, so I just leave the table and come back to office. But that's fine, I just say "see you guys later" and we are ok. Even Singaporeans speak chinese quite a lot. So, you should just try a little harder to integrate yourself, besides that's their culture, that's their nation and place. We are foreigners, expats, we are supposed to fit the culture, not the opposite. :)

Now, at the office, that's another story. We speak english let's say 95% the time. And that was an agreement between us (expats) and locals

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Postby mjka » Thu, 01 Sep 2005 10:19 pm

I get what you mean, it is frustrating sometimes. But is there any alternative? Going for lunch alone every day is also not very glam.
Next time tell them to switch back to Channel 5, sometimes it does help.

Actually I even know locals who have the same problem at work.

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Postby superedge » Thu, 01 Sep 2005 11:05 pm

mjka wrote:I get what you mean, it is frustrating sometimes. But is there any alternative? Going for lunch alone every day is also not very glam.
Next time tell them to switch back to Channel 5, sometimes it does help.

Actually I even know locals who have the same problem at work.

I just started a chinese course:) that's my solution. I will learn another language, fit better to a new culture and practice my chinese with them.

did you think about learning a new language?

not asian

Postby not asian » Thu, 01 Sep 2005 11:06 pm

Try to learn mandarin, Singapore is Chinese city

I know few phrases, hope in future will able learn more


Postby winkywink » Sun, 04 Sep 2005 12:51 pm

Where is it written and agreed by our government that Singapore is a Chinese city ?
Obviously, you do not know your country's history. Singapore was first known by Parameswara,who was a Muslim, Singapore's first President was a Muslim, Yusof Ishak, thus our national song is Malay as well.

Mandarin is a popular language here ,not because Singapore is a Cina City but because majority of the population here is Chinese.

I am a local Sikh girl but since I have a flair for languages , I can speak 8 languages,including dialects,And Mandarin is one of them. Its a big problem here in Singapore and I guess the government is not doing anything about it cos they do not want the racial harmony here to be hampered.
On the other hand, the non-Chinese in Singapore have to ( optional) learn the Mandarin , if they would like to get employed quickly.
I am educated and have over 8 years in the Service industry.But,still I have a limited choice of jobs to apply for, just because I dont speak Mandarin. Even , if I do speak average Mandarin, I get ' tested ' at interviews, and eventually I still dont get the job , because Mandarin is one of the pre-requisite and cos I am not yellow.
Government has come up with 'Learn Mandarin' campaigns but why dont they come up with ' Learn English' campaign ?? All the while, since I started working , I always notice some things, or shall I say ,right from the time that I was in primary school. Of these are, Chinese going to recess, PE, going for lunch (at work), or in class sittng together. Then the Malays would be at another group, or the Indians at another.
Its sad that sometimes, I always see an Indian sitting alone, and no one to go for lunch with.
Why are people like that here.. i dont understand. I know there will be some of you out there who is going to read my thread and say some shitty things. But I dont care, cos its facts. Even at my present job,my colleagues,when going for lunch, will ask me to tag along.But I know whats going to happen.We are all going to sit together and Mandarin will be spoken, and I will feel left out. When you leave early from the table,the group will not bother that " Oh lets speak English ,so that we dont make others feel left out." Mentality of Singaporeans is most are not bothered as they feel comfortable in the language they are communicating in.
Now, when I take my son, to the playground, it even happens there,,Its bad..He is only 2+ and when he sees kids around his age, he approaches them with a big smile ,wanting to play. However, in return,he gets stares,,,and they say ' EEEEEE,,mama,,,bai lang "" i wonder if some of you will understand that.

And these parents make no effort in teaching their kids to repect other races.Or for that matter ,I have seen South Indians kids,, and these kids will go,,like they have seen some alien.

I think its high time that people's mindsets have to change,,and start learning English, and communicating at work places ,with a language that all understand. So that even, our counterparts from the West, will not feel out of place.



Postby Guest » Sun, 04 Sep 2005 1:16 pm

Melanie, check adv for job, Mandarin is always requirement language, its true life, without mandarin u r nobody here.

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Postby Vaucluse » Sun, 04 Sep 2005 1:22 pm

Winkywink - well written and I can only say that it only bothers me when people I know well chat in a langauge other than the commonly understood one. I will tell them that it is rude and if they would like it if the situation were reversed. Never a problem then.
At work - when there is even one non-chinese speaker then I insist on English - even when I am not there. Possibly the advantages of being the boss . . .

I believe the previous poster meant that Singapore is a majority Chinese city, and the pollies will certainly keep it that way with their immigration criteria.

Winkywink - why do you say that you speak Mandarin and then go on to say that you do not?

I can speak 8 languages,including dialects,And Mandarin is one of them.

But,still I have a limited choice of jobs to apply for, just because I dont speak Mandarin

Several of my friends here are non-Chinese (eurasians and sikhs mainly) and growing up in this environment was definitely not easy - and this translates into the workplace

'nuff said Image


Racial integration not the easiest task

Postby Guesttoo » Mon, 05 Sep 2005 4:27 am

I understand it must be hard being the minority. However, compared to many other multi-racial countries, I think Singapore has the best record. I am not saying it is perfect since anything to do with race is hyper-sensitive.

That is why USA has legislation to discourage racial discrimination. Do you think it is working? Yes and no. People will not blatantly discriminate as they do not want to get sued. But do you think it improves race relationship. I think not. It makes people more edgy and "hypocritical" so as not to appear rascist. Compared to Singapore, the racial groups are more segregated and you get white, black or asian neiighbourhoods. I saw a public TV program which showed that the different races may mix at school but in private lives back at home, they socialise with people of their own race. You see that the most affected victims of hurricane Katrina are blacks as those neighbourhoods are overwhelmingly dominated by one race.

I have Chinese friends who lived in Australia and USA. They actually prefer the more blatant form of rascism in Australia rather the the latent rascism in USA. During lunch, a bunch of white female co-workers were bitching about the rampant interracial couples in our area, usually whites and east asians, in my manager's presence, who is white. They were all white-faced when my manager mentioned that his wife is Philipino and apologised profuesely. Do you think they will be so vocal in the presence of another Asian? Using legislation to force people into certain behaviors may not be the most effective. However, that is the best tool available.

Singaporeans are direct and upfront and hence ready to voice/display their likes and dislikes. I prefer this method of communication since it is simple and you don't have to do guesswork.

I have also experienced reverse rascism from Indians (from India) in USA too when I came here as a foreign students. I want to be their friends but they gave me the cold shoulder. They felt aloof to me since I speak English with a Singaporean accent and are more Chinese in my ways whereas they have been in USA for a long time and more westernized. They are constantly yakking about some handsome hollywood celebrity and seem so infatuated with these stars and are generally more into western cultures. I finally concluded that they are more interested in pursuing friendship with either their type, westernized Indians or white people and decided to stay within my East Asian circle.

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Postby banana » Mon, 05 Sep 2005 7:58 am

Blunt Honesty 1
PC Garbage 0

some signatures are more equal than others


Postby reenita » Mon, 12 Sep 2005 9:08 pm

chinese is definetly a required language in singapore or malaysia these days...cause in this countries most of the customers are chinese...and they are the one with money to invest other than the indians and malays..this is really true as im working for citibank and most of our customers are chinese and we have to speak mandarin in order to communicate with them.

im a sikh as well but lucky to have picked up mandarin accidentally when i was five playing with all the chinese kids in my neighbourhood...,my lecturers are impressed by my mandarin and i see head turn when im speaking mandarin with my friends...

im sorry for the foreigners that feel left out when with ure chinese collegues..they should be sensitive..and a few indian girls in my school used to be pissed when everybody spoke mandarin including me and they (the indian girls) look definetly made me a more sensitive person now...

yeah i would definetly get some insults such as bai lang....ah pu ne ne and even keling!that was really bad...but heck care..guess what-- those kids are still bad at english and im fluent in mandarin.....kekekekekkek

Its really the real world!go with the flow or u will lose out and instead of feeling bad...enrol ure child in mandarin courses or even japanese coz honestly this is time when children are able to learn things faster...ure child definetly will see the benefit when hes growing... :wink:

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Postby seraphim » Mon, 12 Sep 2005 9:26 pm

If you expect to live your entire life in a country where Mandarin is the language of choice (and its really just that - a choice), then by all means - take a course so you can speak it as fluently as possible.

But if you are in a corporate environment, or even just out for lunch with someone that doesn't speak the language, isn't it rather ungracious to switch to Mandarin (or any other language for that matter) for even just half of the conversation?

I have a girlfriend who will be moving to Holland soon as she has picked up a fair amount of dutch and converses quite well. But when we hang out in group with her husbands colleagues, she doesn't switch to speaking Dutch and neither do they, as they are aware that one or more of the people at the table wouldn't understand. They might say a few things in Dutch, but not so much that doesn't get translated quickly or leaves someone out of the conversation.

However, I DO find that having lunch with my colleagues is an exercise in maintaining patience. They know very well I don't speak mandarin, yet they switch halfway through the conversation as if I weren't there. I used to crack jokes and tell them I can't pick up foreign languages that quickly, so please switch back to english, but it happened almost every lunch hour. My solution? I stopped having lunch with them. When they asked why I would always lunch alone I told them bluntly that I had enough of trying to wrap my ears around a conversation I wasn't part of. Only two of the girls were embarrassed about it and asked that I continue to join them, but majority of the girls shrugged their shoulders. I just think its rather uncouth and selfish. How would they like it if I started speaking hindi or french at lunch? Now that's food for thought.
And the sultans - yeah the sultans
they play creole...Creole, baby

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