Multiple languages

I speak four languages fluently: Hungarian and Romanian are my native languages but I can handle English and German quite well too.

When I came to this company and relocated to Germany, I knew that I had to improve my German language skills. Not only for work but mainly to be able to say a few words in the super market or at the city offices when I have to deal with administrative stuff.

Our department has subsidiaries in Hungary and Romania but the official language is English. So when we have a video conference meeting or I’m discussing technical topics with a colleague here on-site, we use English. Unless the colleague to whom I’m talking to is Hungarian, then I speak in Hungarian. Or if she is Romanian, then in Romanian. Or if the colleague is part of the testers or management team, I discuss in German. On a side note I decided to talk in German to the testers and my bosses to help improve my German. I can handle it easily because our discussion is not so technical.

What I was trying to point out above is that there is no language barrier in our department. Being in the IT business, everyone can speak English and that’s also the reason why this was chosen as the common language, except for the previously mentioned exceptions.

Our team here in Nürnberg is quite multi-cultural. Most of them are Germans but a few guys are from Hungary, then there are three people from Romania (two can speak Hungarian too but that’s a whole different story), a person from the US, another one from Bulgaria living in Germany for a long time already and so on.

So when a few Hungarians, a Romanian girl (the one person from Romania who doesn’t know Hungarian) and a couple of German colleagues were sitting at lunch the other day, I found it very odd that each group (virtually divided by the native language) was discussing about a different topic in the group’s own common language.

Obviously each group didn’t understand what the other was talking about so it was quite difficult for me to try to keep up with everyone. But it was even more difficult to switch languages every other minute. As soon as I got used to think in one language, I had to abruptly switch to another.

While in the office everyone accepts to talk in English without any problems, I don’t understand why this is not valid in the lunch breaks too. As soon as we exit, everyone switches to his/her own native language, even though others are around them who don’t understand. I’m trying on these occasions to answer in English for everyone to understand us, even if I’m spoken to in a different language, but then this person just replies back in that language again.

I consider myself lucky to be able to understand and discuss in all four languages but I imagine it’s uncomfortable for those who can’t.