My husband and his kids refuse to speak English!

wonderingsmAugust 27, 2010

My husband and I have been married for almost 1 year. We each have children from previous marriages. He is not from the United States and his native language is Spanish. Since we began dating, I have embraced his culture and appreciate many things about it.

However one thing has been bothering me. We live with his 2 youngest children (ages 14 and 13). When they speak together, it's always in Spanish. Even when I am in the room and we are all having a conversation...suddenly they break off into a different conversation in Spanish..and I am left to wonder what the heck they are talking about. I have addressed this before and have asked them to please speak in English when we are all in the same room. I have explained how I feel it's rude and it feels like they are purposefully leaving people out of a conversation. But it hasn't changed at all.

I think it's great they are all bilingual...the kids' English is just as perfect as their Spanish and I know they are blessed to have such a gift. I have no problem if they are on the phone or having a private conversation with someone to speak in Spanish. However, I feel that it's my home, too and 50% of the time, I don't even know what's being talked about.

I feel isolated in my own home... Does anyone think I am just overreacting, or what should I do?

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weed30

What should you do? Howsa 'bout learning Spanish?

It's their home too, so perhaps they think it's rude that you have not made an effort to become bilingual. Maybe they are posting on their Facebook accounts: "My Stepmom refuses to learn Spanish!"

You really have a golden opportunity here to bond with your skids. They can help you learn the language, and will absolutely make fun of you when you mispronounce a word or use "la" instead of "el" and "los" instead of "las" :) They will also encourage you and celebrate when you get it right, and best of all, teach you street lingo!

Go for it!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 7:32PM
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parent_of_one

I don't know...I am not originally from the US, my SO is not either, but we aren't from the same land, our native languages are not even close.

I speak my language with my family, parents, daughter etc SO's DDs do not speak his language, but he speaks his language to his cousins, parents etc.

We make an effort to speak English to our family members when we are both present, but it is not always possible, of course we often switch to native languages. i think it is understandable that kids want to speak to their dad in their native language. I mean if it is always Spanish you would feel excluded. But sometimes it is fine.

We are actually both trilingual so it gets confusing since we mix up languages.

Weed, i think it is unrealistic to expect people to learn everyone else's language. I already speak three, and I am not sure i have energy to learn more. SO actually tried to learn one of my languages but gave up LOL

It might be useful to learn Spanish but languages we speak are not that useful, and I don't see any reason spending years of our lives on mastering them. Just my opinion

So let them speak Spanish but not 100% of the time. Ask them to switch once in a while.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 8:27PM
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sylviatexas1

"Just learn Spanish" is easier said than done:
Children learn languages easily, but as we grow older it becomes more & more difficult, & that's not the problem anyway;

the problem is that there are 3 people who can speak in their choice of 2 languages & a they choose to speak the language that the 4th person cannot understand.

very bad manners.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 11:00AM
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parent_of_one

sylvia, i beg to differ. Kids live with their dad, their native language is Spanish, they might know English yet it is not their native language. You are saying they have to be forced to always communicate to their father in a foreign language as not to upset SM? It is very unfair. Kids didn't make the choice.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 9:28PM
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imamommy

It's plain rude, so no I don't think you are overreacting. I worked in an office where we had bilingual employees & they would often do that same thing... break into their own private conversations in Spanish, excluding the others in the room (everyone sat in clusters of desks, not cubicles) and it did make the non Spanish speaking people feel excluded. I am half Mexican but was never taught Spanish, but I have learned enough (through school or relatives) to understand what is being said. Whether it was innocent banter or intentional talking about someone "behind their back" yet in front of their face because they didn't understand the language, the result was the same... it made the workplace tense and uncomfortable. It became a "them" & "us" kinda place.

In my opinion, it's a sign of disrespect.. not just bad manners. If you tell someone that is supposed to love you (your DH) that it bothers you to have this done in your presence, yet he allows it to continue & even participates in it... how rude & disrespectful can he be? The kids may not care, they are kids... but he is your husband.

and I have to disagree with parent of one, it is NOT unfair. It is wrong for a dad to encourage bad behavior by allowing them to be disrespectful TO ANYONE... including a stepparent. Kids didn't make a choice to have SM, but they still have to live by rules and standards of normal decency, which includes learning how to treat people right. My kids didn't get to choose their school, nor their teachers but I sure made them treat their teachers with respect... same for babysitters.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 1:07AM
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dotz_gw

Wondering, This is not really a step issue, my sister is happily married to a man who speaks another language (no, not Spanish)and she has the same problem with her DH s family..They use their language when they can speak English and yes, its exclusionary and hurtful to her..And howsa bout learning blank/ language??? Its her house!!! And yes, it would be next to impossible for her to learn this, its a language noted for how difficult it is to learn...I think it is a hostile act for them to do it, her husband also tries to switch over and they insist on speaking native...Something else is going on if they know it hurts you, and they keep on doing it...In my sisters case I think they resent DH married outside his culture...Maybe you can try to figure out why they dont care if they hurt and exclude you, and ask your DH why he doesnt back you up here....

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 11:53AM
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gerina

I'm with IMA. Many years ago I worked in an office that had a couple of bilingual employees who happened to be siblings. Additionally, they held the positions of office manager and general manager. They occasionally had non-English conversations in front of our staff and it made me uncomfortable. I also knew a little bit of their language and I was fairly certain that a few of us were the topic of conversation. Aside from being rude and disrespectful, it lacks class.

A couple of times I felt like picking up the phone in front of them and pretending to speak French or German (or Pig Latin anyone?) , and then mentioning their names, give a chuckle and continue on for a second more before hanging up the phone. I can guarantee that they would have been furious and uncomfortable, and I would have been reprimanded for it too.

Here's another thought since everyone insists on speaking in front of you - go to the library and learn Spanish via the Rosetta Stone, but don't let anyone know that you are doing this. Then sometime in the near future you can just surprise them with a comment or two, especially if you happen to be the subject.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 1:38PM
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gellchom

I am not sure that relying on the general etiquette rule of not speaking in a language not understood by someone present really settles the issue.

This is not an office. The issues are different.

Yes, it's the OP's home. But it's also the children's home.

Or is it? It's their father's home. Do you want them to feel that it is their home, too? Or that they are guests? Or that you are?

My point is that this is bigger than just a question of whether it is polite to speak Spanish in front of her -- it's bigger than a question of language at all.

You could look at it another way (perhaps closer to the kids' and husband's point of view): the OP married into a Spanish-speaking family. Her husband's marrying her did not rip him out of it -- nor should it, and imagine how the kids would feel about that.

How much a part of that family does she want to be? Like a full member? Then try to learn Spanish, because that's what this family speaks at home. Or would she prefer to be treated politely as an outsider? It seems that most of the time they do make a point of speaking English, for her benefit. Has she made any effort to learn Spanish? Of course she can't learn it overnight. But if I were one of those kids, I would feel very different about it if I knew she were trying to learn Spanish than if I thought she just expected us to change everything about ourselves to suit her. I think that the poster who suggested that she ask the kids to help her learn was very wise. (Think of Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific.")

Look, joining a family doesn't mean you have to change everything about yourself to match them -- your name, your religion, your eating habits ... You can even decide not to change anything at all, and that's your privilege.

But I think it's unrealistic to refuse to acknowledge that the more you adopt of a family's patterns, the more and the quicker you will become an "insider." Insisting that they abandon their language may produce polite behavior, but also resentment.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 2:13PM
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sylviatexas1

Nobody is insisting that anybody "abandon" his/her language.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 2:57PM
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silversword

I think what's interesting is this is being looked at as OP is "joining" a family, "adopting a family's patterns" and becoming an "insider".

Perhaps OP shouldn't have married someone who is disrespectful enough to have someone be an "outsider" in his home; whether his wife, dogsitter or friend of the family.

My family, who does not speak English, make their best effort to include me (I don't speak their native tongue either) and when they are here or I am there we cobble our languages together best we can so everyone is included and feels welcome and a part of the conversation. We love each other. We want to communicate with one another. We don't want to leave each other out.

i-rina-Ge, Iyay agreeday... ifyay uyay antway otay alktay inyay ayay ifferentday anglageway atsyay inefay, utbay itsyay uderay utay oohday ityay enway omeonesay isyay ingbay eftlay outyay.

(I'm a little rusty:)

ustjay inemay opinionday.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 4:16PM
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dotz_gw

Sounds like PC nonsense....Can you really expect a mother of 3, with a full time job , a husband and other outside pursuits to learn , say Chinese (not the language in question, but equally difficult)to appease someone that already can communicate in a common language???? Its rude, I dont care whose home it is, yours , mine , ours, impolite and non caring....

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 4:32PM
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lovehadley

I think it is rude of the husband and kids to leave OP out of conversations.

Let's face it, we've all been in situations where we've not understood what was being said and it is a crappy feeling, yes? To feel excluded.

Heck, I was picking up a to-go order of Chinese food several weeks ago and I felt uncomfortable because, as I sat in the restaurant waiting--the only customer-- the owner and another woman (who both spoke to ME in English) were conversing in Chinese. I'm sure I had no real *reason* to feel uncomfortable but still...I did!

Now, if I felt weird about that in a RESTAURANT...

I cannot imagine feeling like that with people I love, family members, in my home.

I do agree it would be a nice gesture for OP to at least attempt to learn some Spanish--and I bet it would mean a lot to the kids. But, like everyone has already said, it is much more difficult to pick up a second language as an adult. So I hardly think OP becoming fluent in Spanish is a viable option here.

The kids and their dad should make an effort to not lapse into Spanish when OP is around. Plain and simple. I see nothing wrong with that, no one is asking them to give up their language.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 5:04PM
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parent_of_one

imamommy I think there is a big difference between talking to colleagues at work and talking to one's own father in one's own home in one's own language.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 9:22PM
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parent_of_one

I think it is unrealistic to expect children to speak to their father 100% of the time in a foreign language (English is foreign for them) just so SM understands. Saying that, of course they must speak English around her often, but they cannot be expected to do so all the time.

Those of you, and I take it you are a majority, who only speak one language imagine that you must always speak foreign language to your own kids in your own home so you do not offend someone. No matter how well you know foreign languages, there is always one language (sometimes 2)that you use to convey the most important feelings or deep meanings.

People in the restaurant, or colleagues at work are not in their own home, are they?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 9:37PM
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silversword

If Dad isn't capable of respecting his wife he shouldn't have married someone who couldn't speak his language.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 10:54PM
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imamommy

parent of one, it's not an issue of whether it's right or wrong to speak a foreign language... it's an issue of respect. Just as it bothers some people when the child whispers in the parent's ear so they can't hear... that is also rude. If the child wants to say something privately, then say "can I speak to dad/mom alone for a minute?" and they should be given privacy to talk. No doubt about it. But a parent that allows the child to act rudely, is doing the child a disservice. and allowing a child to treat your spouse in a way that hurts your spouse (by making them feel left out) is also going to damage your marriage. It is about the spouse-spouse respect & caring about your spouses feelings... not necessarily about whether your kids should be able to talk in Spanish.

and yes, I know an office is not the same as your home. It is probably more hurtful to have it happen in your home when it is your very own husband that is ignoring your request, knowing it makes you feel excluded and hurt.

BTW, when you get married it no longer really matters whose house it was before the marriage. It is NOW both spouses home & neither should have more rights than the other. i wouldn't be in such a marriage... I call that a "kept" wife. DH moved into the house I lived in before we married. I would never dream of making him feel it was MY house... it's OUR house.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 11:04PM
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parent_of_one

I do agree that speaking to their dad in Spanish 24/7 is disrespectful, they do have to speak English around SM more, but still not all the time!!!

I think maybe because people only speak one language, they cannot imagine how would it feel to ALWAYS speak to your own children in foreign language.

We speak different 6 different languages between two of us and really it doesn't bother us if we need to speak to our respective family members in whatever language. Not 24/7 of course. But we understand and respect the occasional need.

And really Spanish isn't that hard to understand, I taught in Latino neighborhood for two years and I understood the language pretty well just because students spoke to each other. SM has great opportunity to learn Spanish in her own home for free. :)

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 12:13PM
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silversword

"Even when I am in the room and we are all having a conversation...suddenly they break off into a different conversation in Spanish..and I am left to wonder what the heck they are talking about. I have addressed this before and have asked them to please speak in English when we are all in the same room. "

The way OP stated it's happening sounds rude to me.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 12:53PM
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parent_of_one

I agree that if she asked them to stop and they deliberately continue, it is rude and they possibly do it on purpose. But maybe not...Sometimes our families forget and need to be reminded.

On the other hand I don't know if anyone've been around people who break into private giggling discussions in the same language, it is as annoying. SDs love to do that, discuss something only they know at a dinner table (quietly almost whispering)and giggle and everyone else sits and doesn't know what to think. I think people wonder if they laugh at them. Or how about discuss BM in front of me, ha, I'd prefer they speak some foreign language so i wouldn't know what they are saying. hhaha Some people just have poor manners.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 2:04PM
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silversword

I think whispering is rude. I know what I would do if that were to happen at my table. I'd tell the whisperers "girls, if you have something private to say, please take it to another room. Otherwise, please join the conversation. We're talking about _____________".

At my dinner table we talk about things rather than people. For instance, last night we talked about hummingbirds and icebergs. Two subjects that both adults and children could be interested in and contribute to the conversation.

I do not, and will not tolerate exclusion and petty behavior. It's unacceptable and I have no problem saying so to my children. I know that in the past PO1 you have said you are a much more relaxed parent than I am, so maybe this is a difference in parenting style.

Last night I asked DD to go wash her hands before dinner. She sighed as she said "ok". It was a deliberate "hhhhhhaaaaaa.......okkkkkkkkk". I asked her to come back, and I explained that in different families that sassy attitude may work, and in other families a person be required to say "yes ma'am". I don't like the sass, but I don't like the military regime in my home either. I like people to talk to one another respectfully and since that is how I talk to (you) that is the manner in which I like to be spoken.

DD actually came back and said "I'm sorry Mom. I forgot that the rules are different here" (different than at Dad's, where she just spent the summer). My jaw nearly fell on the floor.

Kids get it. They aren't dumb. They look to what the parents allow as acceptable behavior. In my home, it would not be acceptable to leave anyone out of the conversation on a regular basis. That doesn't mean a person can't start a request in one language and end it in another (the most frequent divergence between languages I hear as the directions get complicated in their second language and are more easily said and understood in the first). It means that effort should be made to make everyone feel comfortable.

OP, I think learning the language would be great for you. Let them know you want to be able to communicate in their native tongue and you want to share that with them. This is not something that will go away, and the sooner you start the better you'll be. But I don't think they should need reminding to speak the common language. That is basic courtesy.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 2:33PM
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gellchom

Look, I'm not saying that it isn't impolite to speak a language in front of someone who doesn't understand it.

And it is certainly true that it is her home, too.

The only point I wanted to make is to consider the cost of turning it into a battle.

Yep, you can win it.

It's your house, your way, everyone speaks English only if you are in the room. Hey, it's not even your rule -- it's a basic rule of etiquette. Rules of etiquette apply at home, too (This works best, though, if she never, never breaks any herself, even at home). You are reasonable and blameless.

You win! But ... what do you win? You win ...

... and the children don't feel at home at Dad's.

... and the Dad and kids have to speak to each other in a second language (to them) if you are present, which can be fatiguing and also just harder to express yourself as you really want to.

... and Dad's relationship to the kids is different if you are there.

... and things feel even more strained and there is even less communication, even if not a single word of Spanish is spoken.

How does that make everyone feel about each other? Think it through, from each point of view at a time. NOT from the point of view of who is RIGHT and who is WRONG -- from the point of view of how this will all play out, no matter who is right or wrong.

Now, believe me, I'm not saying that the only solution is for her to learn Spanish and/or to suck it up! I definitely agree that the children (and dad) need to think about how all the Spanish conversation makes her feel. They, too, need to see things from her point of view: she needs to feel at home and equal as much as they do. Who knows -- a kind, positive discussion about everyone's point of view on this might actually strengthen their relationships -- assuming that everyone goes into it sincerely trying to see others' perspectives, not just assert their own rights. And I do think that if the children see she is making an effort to learn Spanish, and especially if she enlists them as her teachers, they are going to be much more inclined to make sure she understands all the conversation.

It just seems to me that there has to be a much more constructive (and pleasant) way to solve this problem than to cite etiquette rules, issue ultimatums, demand shows of respect, and turn it into a whose-house-is-this-anyway power play that will alienate the children, make Dad feel pulled apart, and ultimately not leave her feeling satisfied anyway.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 2:45PM
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gellchom

Looking at the original post again, I see that she wrote:

"I have addressed this before and have asked them to please speak in English when we are all in the same room. I have explained how I feel it's rude and it feels like they are purposefully leaving people out of a conversation. But it hasn't changed at all."

But do you see what's missing? (At least in this summary; I don't know what she actually said.) She used the word "feel[s]" twice, but she wasn't really letting them know how it makes her feel:

"I feel it's rude"
"it feels like they are purposefully leaving people out of a conversation"

It may seem like a minor distinction, but there can be a very big difference between those and something like

"I feel hurt and excluded"
"I feel lonely"
"I get confused"
or
"I feel like an outsider"

These describe her feelings, not their (bad) behavior. It's hard not to feel defensive when we feel we are being accused, criticized, and judged.

It's a lot easier to hear someone when we feel that they are asking for our help than when we feel that they are chastising us. People, even kids, like to be helpful.

Just put yourself in the kids' place and imagine how it would feel to hear

"Please stop speaking Spanish when I am in the room. It's very rude, and you are purposefully leaving me out of the conversation. This is my home, too, and I have a right to be treated respectfully."

versus

"Hey, what was that? I want to understand, too, but my Spanish isn't good enough yet. Please say that again in English, okay? Thanks!"

Note that every word is both true and polite in the first formula. But the problem isn't that it isn't "right."

You can control (maybe!) what they do. But you cannot control how they will feel.

And that is what you, and they, and your husband, will have to live with.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 3:03PM
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daisyinga

Gellcom, I wish you lived next door to me. I'd be knocking on your door 3 times a week asking your advice. Your kids are very blessed to have such a wise mom.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 3:53PM
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gellchom

Daisy, what a lovely compliment. You made my day. I would love to live next door to you, too!

It's so good that we can all help each other here. I have learned so much from GW forum members who are kind enough to take the time to post.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 1:48PM
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parent_of_one

MY parenting style? silverswood, I never said my DD engages or ever engaged in such behavior, so what is it to do with my parenting style? I said that my SO's DDs sometimes like to engage in such behavior, but they are adults and aren't my children and I didn't raise them, so I am not sure what's my parenting style to do with anything? You don't suggest I start parenting 28-year-old married woman (not my child) especially in front of other people, do you? And I never said it was at my dinner table.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 8:21PM
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parent_of_one

I so agree with gellcom!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 8:23PM
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silversword

PO1:
"On the other hand I don't know if anyone've been around people who break into private giggling discussions in the same language, it is as annoying. SDs love to do that, discuss something only they know at a dinner table (quietly almost whispering)and giggle and everyone else sits and doesn't know what to think. I think people wonder if they laugh at them. Or how about discuss BM in front of me, ha, I'd prefer they speak some foreign language so i wouldn't know what they are saying. hhaha Some people just have poor manners."

SS:
"I do not, and will not tolerate exclusion and petty behavior. It's unacceptable and I have no problem saying so to my children. I know that in the past PO1 you have said you are a much more relaxed parent than I am, so maybe this is a difference in parenting style."

Sorry, I must have misunderstood. I got the impression you were sitting at a table with SD's while they whispered and giggled and you couldn't hear them. I didn't realize they were 28!!!! which is nearly my age. But to be quite honest, if someone were to do that at a dinner table where I was sitting I would probably say something, even if it was (pssss pssss pssss psssss) or (what's so funny girls?) and raising my eyebrows. In other words, I'd call them out on their behavior.

Maybe it's ok with you, or maybe it's not but you wouldn't do anything about it. That's why I'm saying different style. I would say something, especially if they were 'children' of any age related to me. In the past you've said I'm a lot more strict or more uptight than you are, so maybe that's the difference.

Not that you're wrong... or I'm right. Everyone has different standards of behavior that are acceptable to them.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 12:07PM
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parent_of_one

I do say something when appropriate, I never said I don't do anything about it. I was just sharing that unfortunately they have poor manners even though they speak the same language. their behavior or upbringing has nothing to do with MY standards of behavior.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 6:10PM
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