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Old 11.08.2011, 20:25
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How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

Hi there,

I work in a multinational big company however in our department I am the only one who speaks English only (even English is not my native language). From the 10 colleagues 3 are german, the rest are swiss.

I learn German, with a slow progress, I am on A1/A2. I can understand basic High German and I can express myself to be understood, but I can not understand the majority of my swiss colleagues, even the topic what they speak about..

During the official meetings they speak English (of course only because of me), but causal talks, aperos, lunch, beer drinking, etc. I am totally excluded from the conversation, so I do not attend anymore.

I can not expect the whole group to speak English just because of me in their home country, but it is very embarassing just sitting alone in their company and being fully ignored. Even without a language problem I am not a loud man who usually leads the conversation... and in beer event,where the environment is noisy, the high german colleagues talks about non work related topics and fast, therefore I can not understand them either.


How would you behave in a similar situation?
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Old 11.08.2011, 20:31
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

Looking back at my own struggle to learn German then pick up my understanding of Swiss German I would say suck it up.

It's bloody tough but you'll find this "baptism of fire" is actually the best way to pick up the language. Them pussyfooting around you in English will actually slow down your absorption rate of German.
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Old 11.08.2011, 20:34
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

sit back and listen. a good way to learn.

people exclude me in english only groups anyway, so i'm used to it!
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Old 11.08.2011, 20:43
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

1) You need to attend enough of these aperos etc. that you don't come across as a complete loner, but not all of them. Watch who else attends which ones, and you'll quickly get a feel for which kinds of events are socially important and which you can safely skip. If there's an office shy guy who avoids most of the socializing, follow his lead.

2) Laugh whenever they do, whether you got the joke or not.
(If it's any comfort, most of them have to do this in English-language settings...)

3) You mentioned meetings; anybody whose line of work involves meetings should have one or two surefire boredom coping strategies. Use 'em.

4) Don't be afraid to ask for translation occasionally (e.g. if people are falling about laughing.) This also reminds your colleagues they have a beginning learner in their midst (you wouldn't believe how easy it is to forget this, especially if the person is on the quiet side anyway) and they may slow down or speak more clearly - for a couple minutes at least.

5) Try to sit at the end of a long table, e.g. at lunch. One conversation you can't follow is less frustrating than five conversations you can't follow.

6) Hang in there! Your German can hardly get worse with practice so it's bound to get better.
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Old 11.08.2011, 20:47
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

I agree with Soundgrounder, I worked in a similar environment when I lived in NL and even though I stuck to English for business related purposes (official language was english) I did try to get involved in the everyday conversations...they will like it!
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Old 11.08.2011, 21:06
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

I am exactly in the same situation, except that official language of the company is German It is definitely tough, but on the other hand that is a great opportunity to the learn the language very fast. Nothing helps as much as necessity , so I'm sure you'll be fine. And me too
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Old 11.08.2011, 22:46
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

Is there anybody at work you've confided about your isolation and language problems? I don't think the rest of the office needs to switch to speaking English or your native language just for your sake, but if you had a friend you could talk to, I think this "baptism of fire" would be whole lot easier...
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Old 11.08.2011, 23:26
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

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Hi there,

I work in a multinational big company however in our department I am the only one who speaks English only (even English is not my native language). From the 10 colleagues 3 are german, the rest are swiss.

I learn German, with a slow progress, I am on A1/A2. I can understand basic High German and I can express myself to be understood, but I can not understand the majority of my swiss colleagues, even the topic what they speak about..

[...]

How would you behave in a similar situation?
Maybe start with baby steps...
If you don't feel comfortable yet with socializing in Swiss German, a smaller setting may be less intimidating, and you can concentrate better on the conversation?
Ask 1 -2 of your colleagues out for lunch, a beer etc.

It may help if you choose some colleagues who are fluent in other languages too, so they can put themselves better into your shoes and will be more patient and slow down when talking to you.

Hang in there ...
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Old 11.08.2011, 23:39
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

I knit! That gives me something productive to do, whilst I can still try to follow conversations and pick the occassional ( very) word. Because I am actually doing something, I think it keeps the others from feeling obliged to accomodate my lack of German ( or whatever language, depending where I am) by feeling the have to switch to English. But, it is an activity that leaves me appearing more open to being approached, then if I had my nose stuck in a book.
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Old 12.08.2011, 07:47
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

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1) 4) Don't be afraid to ask for translation occasionally
I still do that frequently, especially if my colleagues or friends are speaking dialect among themselves. It doesn't matter if the one word I ask about is in the middle of a long sentence, it's another word I learn. You do that a few times a day, and at the end of the week you learnt 15 new dialect words.

Be humble and patient, you WILL learn eventually. It's always hard at first, but it's worth every bit of it.
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Old 12.08.2011, 10:30
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

I have been dealing with exactly the same experience for the last one year, and let me tell you: it caused a lot of bad mood and some really lonely evenings, but also brought me from my German A1 level at which I started to my current B2, which has really been a blessing.

I have tried to see it this way: it's true, your colleagues don't have to speak English to you, but they should try to include you in conversations. That's not too much to ask for: the way I did it was by finding out the one or the two persons who were keen on helping me out, and asked them if they'd help me fit in during informal discussions. I always sat down next to them at lunch or dinner, and gradually I started answering their "was denkst du?" in broken, and then better German, to much amusement, but also to a lot of cheering.

I don't mean to tell you it's ever easy: I still feel really awkward in public situations, especially because (you will notice also when speaking English with friends and family) people speed up while talking to more than one person. But at least I'm correcting everyone's assumption that I was pathologically shy, just because I couldn't intervene in discussions.

It will get better. And all of a sudden, taking part in a coffee break conversation on Germany's Next Top Model will be proof of how much you've achieved (at least so it was for me )
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Old 12.08.2011, 10:35
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

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Hi there,

I work in a multinational big company however in our department I am the only one who speaks English only (even English is not my native language). From the 10 colleagues 3 are german, the rest are swiss.

I learn German, with a slow progress, I am on A1/A2. I can understand basic High German and I can express myself to be understood, but I can not understand the majority of my swiss colleagues, even the topic what they speak about..

During the official meetings they speak English (of course only because of me), but causal talks, aperos, lunch, beer drinking, etc. I am totally excluded from the conversation, so I do not attend anymore.

I can not expect the whole group to speak English just because of me in their home country, but it is very embarassing just sitting alone in their company and being fully ignored. Even without a language problem I am not a loud man who usually leads the conversation... and in beer event,where the environment is noisy, the high german colleagues talks about non work related topics and fast, therefore I can not understand them either.


How would you behave in a similar situation?
Yeah, that is not such a cool feeling being leftout of conversations. You could either start breakdancing (that should get your attention)...or focus on an individual whom you feel somewhat more comfortable to talk to and start a rnadom conversation with him.
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Old 12.08.2011, 16:03
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

I have been in Switzerland for 2.5 years. When I arrived I spoke not a word in German. My husband is German and you can imagine how I felt when everyone around spoke German/Swiss German and i had to sit around and smile as if this was not bothering me.
I started German courses and I am improving day by day because I thought that it would be a pity to be in a foreign country and not speak the language.

I would propose to be a little patient until your German improves more. Meanwhile it helps you to listen to German and try to understand Swiss German.

In the long term you will be grateful that you are listening to German instead of English because you have an incentive to improve faster. If you hear English all day you will never learn.

The day when you will be able to understand most of the things is closer than you think.

Gook luck and stay positive.
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Old 12.08.2011, 16:29
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

Immersion, immersion, immersion. Good luck and keep at it. Remember to take some time off though and hang with some people that speak the same language as you occasionally to relax.
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Old 12.08.2011, 16:40
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

OMG, I could have totally written this post!!! I have a lot of similarities with your situation: big multinational company, but small specialized-services team where everyone else is either a Swiss or a German guy. After total rejection of the language, High German started to somehow sink in my brain, and I was a happy camper until I realized that when I went out in the street and I had no clue what people were talking about in Swiss German, that frustrated me to no end!!!

From the beginning, it was understood that I was to carry out my job in English, French and Italian (plus the occasional interaction with the odd Spanish-speaking client) and I honestly had no need to know German for the job in Switzerland, as we have enough German-speaking folks who can deal with the extremely rare client who wishes to receive the work in German only. However, as months went along, I realized that, if I wanted to be "permanent" here (for however long that is) instead of "temporary", knowing German on top of the rest was essential and could open up a whole array of professional opportunities: people like to network in their mother tongue, here like elsewhere, and also if I ever considered working more closely in/with Germany.

So I actually "brought it upon myself" and asked my colleagues nicely if, when not discussing strict technical aspects of the job, they could speak High German only to me. The Germans and the Swiss alike have been wonderful in this: they all speak HG, slowly, and are patient if I don't understand at first shot (which is most of the time) and if I reply in a sort of mixed gibberish language. Clearly, I am talking about High German for the time being, but I sincerely hope that there will be a day when I can also understand enough of the Zuriduutch What I want to say is, even though it's HARD, this can be a great opportunity for you to get accustomed to the German sounds and words. Also, don't be shy to say "I don't understand", "Could you repeat that?" and such.

Please be stubborn and persist. Speaking for personal experience, please, PLEASE don't let frustration overcome you and don't give up attending those aperos - maybe, as someone suggested, you don't have to attend all of them, but just enough for you to "make yourself known" and for people to remember you. One day, out of the blue, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well you can follow conversations, and you'll smile.

Don't give up!
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Old 12.08.2011, 16:41
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

"Ich bin ein Ausländer. Sprechen Sie Englisch, verdammt!" punctuated with a slap of my thigh works for me.....he said lying through his teeth.
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Old 12.08.2011, 16:42
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

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"Ich bin ein Ausländer. Sprechen Sie Englisch, verdammt!"
That litterally has me laughing out loud in the office and I am getting very funny looks from the Swiss, the Germans and the French. The Slovakian seems to understand my mirth without needing to be told.
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Old 12.08.2011, 16:48
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

Hey,

I am in completelx the same situation. My other half is Swiss, most of his family only speak Swiss so when we go out at weekends I am sat there smiling and looking slightly blankly at people.

I do pick up words and I have already seen an improvement from when I first arrived nearly 2 months ago. I am independantly learning High German and plan to take classes soon. The High German definately helps, plus some of my partners family talk to me in High German to help me out.

Immersion is definatley the way to go. I even listen to Swiss Radio or watch Swiss TV.
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Old 12.08.2011, 17:00
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

Same experience as me but in social situations - all my husband's friends are Swiss. Fortunately I work in a multinational where many people are not from German speaking backgrounds.

Simply, it is horrible for the first 12 months, especially if you are a social/talkative person normally. Have a friend to translate sometimes. After 18 months things start changing, you understand half the things if you concentrate hard enough. After 24 months, when people start realising you understand what they say, you feel part of the group.

It is a long and painful process. Best helped if you continue German lessons (which I didn't but will soon recommence). Fake smiling and laughter helps (cringe!).

Don't isolate yourself to high German, just keep your ears open to all dialects. That is the best way to learn in these social situations.

Finally, find a German speaking friend to practice with whilst you do something like walk the dog, play sport, etc. I fortunately have one of those and also my family-in-law.
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Old 12.08.2011, 17:06
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Re: How would you behave as only one English speaking among Germans/Swiss?

You will get there. These things take time. Most imporatantly that I have seen in people is that you are seen to be making an effort to communicate and learn how to communicate with them.

I have travelled a lot all over the world over the last 3 years and often find myself in situaitons where I don't understand the majority language being spoken. I have adopted the following tactics:

I see if I can pick up the thread of the convesation and then if I feel that I have something to contribute, I will chip in and put my point across in English.....always prefixed by a polite "excuse me but are you talking about .... ". People will make a lot of allowances if you have something to contribute to a conversation and and often this can lead to you learning a lot as they explain what was being said and you can relate it to what you thought was being said.

Occasionally feel free to chip in with the odd humourous
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"Ich bin ein Ausländer. Sprechen Sie Englisch, verdammt!" punctuated with a slap of my thigh works for me.....he said lying through his teeth.
You need to pick the right circumstances for this one and read the crowd. Sometimes they will give you a couple of minutes of English conversation. Once again, the more you wow them with your conversational skills, the more they will make an extended effort to educate your into how to communicate with them.

The more you hear "Dude, you really need to learn German." or the such, the more they are telling you that they want to help you.

We are social creatures by nature, all embarressed by these situations and our languages. A little humour and witty conversation and ice breakers always goes a very long way.
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