Feeling Left out of the Conversation

Have you ever felt left out, cut out of the conversation, awkward, and a bit sad? These are all the feeling I go through when suddenly a lively conversation that I am involved in switches from English to Punjabi.

I am married to a Punjabi. He loves his culture, his language, and his traditions. Its a beautiful thing. I am happy that I get to share these things with him and our daughter.

Sadly I do not speak Punjabi very well. I am learning, but it is an entirely new language to me. If it had been Spanish I would be fine, I learned the language in school and even traveled to South America. Punjabi is hard for me, because until I met my husband I didn’t even know the language existed. I have purchased audio programs, language software, and books. I have learned alot over these years, and I can often get the general meaning of a conversation. It helps when the language is spoken slower, but when everyone gets talking excitedly and speaks faster I can not always follow along.

The reality is that the vast majority of the Punjabis that we interact with speak perfect English and Punjabi. At a party or gathering we all tell stories, jokes, or even debate with each other. I love to talk, and I am down right chatty. I am a social person and I love interacting with people. One minute we are all speaking in English and then suddenly it switches to Punjabi. Sometimes this is just for a short time to convey some idea, but often times the Punjabi will continue the rest of the conversation. I am now completely left out. No more funny stories, or input on a topic from me. I sit there smiling, trying desperately to catch whatever meaning I can from the conversation. I smile and nod, but its not the same. I am not apart  of the group any longer. My foreign alien feeling become quite pronounced. I see myself as the only one not participating, and not being apart of the larger group. I no longer fit in. I am that Gori in the room! 

I now have a small understand what it must be like to be an English learner in the United States. That feeling of isolation, but for them it is even more pronounced.

I want you all to understand that I am not the type of person that believes that my language is superior. I am NOT an English only kind of person. I believe everyone should become multi -lingual. I think its beautiful to speak other languages! I love the Punjabi language, I just wish I could learn it faster. 

I sympathize with my husband that he does not get the opportunity to speak his mother tongue very often with other Punjabis. It must be exhausting constantly speaking in your second language. He is so happy when he gets to express himself in the language he was brought up with. You can see the joy on his face being able to fully express himself !

Sadly I dont speak Punjabi well and when a wonderful conversation switches from English to Punjabi, I am left out and a bit sad.

To my readers:

Have you experienced a situation where friends or relatives switched from a common language to one only some knew? How did you feel?

How do you react?


14 thoughts on “Feeling Left out of the Conversation

  1. You described it perfectly! I too feel that same way a lot, especially for the years I spent living in India. Even in the office people would rapidly switch back and forth between English and hindi. My understanding of hindi is quite good because of this but that doesn’t diminish the outsider feeling I get from not being able to fully understand everything

  2. Yes, I often feel like this and I’ve been learning Bengali for seven years 😦 I have a few bad habits I’m trying to break and am thinking of writing a blog entry about it myself, inspired by you! The worst thing I do is tune out, start thinking about something else. That won’t help me learn. 😦

    The little victories help – the short conversations I have with my in-laws and other relatives. I wish I had the courage to speak with my husband in Bengali. I would like to be able to do that one day.

  3. I feel the same with Hindi, I can understand a fair bit, but I get lost when people start talking to fast, and I can’t speak it well enough to contribute.
    I am part of Indian and expat circles, and one thing I noticed is that in my expat groups we come from all part of the world, but we make a point to speak English with each other or in the presence of other, no matter how bad said English might be for some. In my area there are lots of French and Russians, and we only really speak our native tongue when nobody who doesn’t understand is around, if there is one non French, non Russian, or non any of our native tongue around we speak English. This is an unspoken etiquette rule that seem to be prevalent among many culture, but seem to be suddenly lost in India and in Indian communities abroad, as I have noticed this language switch among desi communities in Switzerland. I wonder why it is.

    • I agree i do think it should be common etiquette to speak in the common language so that everyone can contribute and be heard. Its mean to cut people out. Now if that person said ok i want to learn more hindi/punjabi/est so speak it, then thats one thing. Why cut ppl out if everyone if their is a possibility of everyone participating.

  4. I think it is just bad manners. You should point it out to the group when they start talking in Punjabi. I always do this when a part of a social group, and at Work as well. Especially at work, I urge the group to talk in English ( even if everybody speaks Kannada or Hindi), given that most of our customers are in the English speaking world.

    Also, if I may, here’s one piece of advice: It is perfectly acceptable for learning a new language in an ‘Assymetrical’ way; that it to be able to understand the spoken language much much better than speaking it. That way you understand whats people around you are speaking and eliminates the uncertainty.

  5. Being that kid who is always interested in languages and who knew 3 languages and can understand many of the Indian languages, never in my life i thought, i would be the one to face this problem with language. But, i did. It was when i went to South Africa on a work trip.
    We used to hang out with colleagues every now and then, there were long discussions and debates and suddenly people used to tune on to Afrikaans. It was like the mute sound pressed all of a sudden and i would miss the whole point of conversation and sit there doing all the guessing.
    But since then i tried to not create the same scenario for my colleagues who are from other states so that they don’t feel left out and lost.
    But i would suggest it is better to learn the language and culture if we want to be a part of their conversation and life. Not to offend you, but that’s just my feeling.

    • I totally agree its best to learn the language. For me its been a process, I have been learning. There are times though that something important is being talked about and I cant use it as a learning experience, I actually need to know what exactly is being said. This is when the switching becomes very hard to deal with

  6. This is so true, I felt this/feel this all the time in Nepal and even in England. More so in Nepal, so much so I can now not hear people when they speak Nepali amongst themselves as I have blocked it out of my brain to background noise. It was difficult in Nepal as I too enjoyed being in conversations but I soon became a complete introvert just spending time with my books and losing myself in a novel. Although, I really have no idea what the solution is. All the people who I speak to in English and can speak English even damn better than me want to speak in Nepali – and why shouldn’t they. Like you I am trying to learn Nepali but it a long and painful process. It becomes even more painful when I cannot understand anything after I thought I had made process hahah. 😛 I wish you all the best learning Punjabi and I hope it comes to you soon 🙂

    • It really is a process to learn a language! I understand the feeling of becoming a introvert. There is a limit to our current comprehension so we get left out! having the language spoken is helpful to learning but not being able to commuicate or understand is harmful to our self esteem. where is the middle ground?

  7. I know just how you feel as well as immigrants who come here trying to learn English. When I lived in India I constantly felt left out and no matter how much my husband tried to translate, it didn’t help. I still felt so isolated and alone. It’s really difficult. I’m again working on learning Punjabi myself and I think it’s going better after I put it down for a while. I’m hoping I can maintain a routine of practicing so I can advance myself a little further.

  8. Oh yes, all the time, even after 9 years. On my most recent trip to India, it was Telugu or Tamil all day every day. I have basically had to eavesdrop all the time to even follow a conversation. People don’t change, especially elders. They will be more comfortable in their own native tongue and not even realize they are leaving you out of a conversation. Similar to Tamilians, you ask them something in English and they will respond in Tamil. Or relatives who speak perfect English saying “oh you should learn Telugu” ….. So I can totally relate! My hubby doesn’t translate for me but my MIL does.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s