Do you speak to Latino(a) workers in spanish?

If you work in a place where there is a lot of help around that is pretty clearly of Latin descent, do you talk to them in Spanish?

For instance, the other day, me and one other guy were in the bathroom at work. The spanish cleaner came in and ducked back out when she saw me.

When I left the bathroom, she started going in, and I was going to say “uno mas” or “one more”. Now, in this case, I didn’t say anything because the guy was only washing his hands at that point.

You’re in the this situation. Do you say “uno mas” or “one more”.

Do you say “gracias” or “thank you” if she holds the door?

Do you say “feliz navidad” or “Merry Christmas” this time of year?

Do you actually know Spanish, or just a couple words, like me.

I certainly don’t assume that because someone is of Latin descent, they don’t speak English.

I always start in English because it’s the language I’m most fluent in. If whomever I’m speaking with speaks Spanish, I can just about make pleasant small talk.

If they speak anything else, I’m pretty well hosed.

I can actually speak Spanish somewhat fluently - albeit slowly - and I wouldn’t dream of speaking to someone in Spanish unless they started first. But this could be because I’ve been mistaken for Latina many times and I’m not… but people will simply start speaking Spanish to me and they go fast! So all I can do is desperately cry, “Despacio, despacio!” or if they are really incomprehensible, “No comprendo porque hablo espanol un poco!”

I also don’t even talk to my own people in Hindi without asking them first if they speak it.


On the flip-side, one shouldn’t assume that because someone is of Latin descent, they speak Spanish, 'cause I’ve met/known of Latinos/Hispanics who don’t speak Spanish.

And no, I wouldn’t speak Spanish to someone unless they started it. I’m grateful that they usually don’t, because my Spanish sucks. And don’t even ask me about my French!

I did when I worked in Florida with a lot of workers originally from Mexico. But in some other situations it could come off as condescending to just start a random conversation in spanish just to show you can speak it.

If you are a native spanish speaker and you are 100% sure that the person is of hispanic origin, then it is ok. Otherwise you risk looking like a gringo loco more than actually offending anyone.

I deal with Spanish speakers a couple of times a week, and use hand signals. Or I will write a key word in english on paper and hope they know it, but they seldom do.
I also deal with Chinese, Viet, Hindi and Tamil speakers.
I’m not going to ever know enough of any of those to use.
The few times I tried to use my foreign language skills I could only get one sentence out and then they would puzzle over it and we were back to hand signals.

This is something I’ve thought about a fair amount. I speak Spanish very well (study abroad, lucky me) but you can tell from across the street that I’m not hispanic. I never start speaking with a service employee in Spanish, because I’m worried about offending them. If its obvious they can’t understand me in English, then I switch. But I suppose if I had already seen them struggle in English with someone else, I would probably just start in Spanish.

I guess I never really say “Merry Christmas” service employees, maybe I should start? But I think its fine to say “Feliz Navidad”, thats justs friendly. If someone gets mad at your for that, then they were probably upset about something else already.

There’s a local Peruvian place where some former co-workers and I used to eat lunch frequently (to the point where our regular waitress knew my order when I walked in), and everyone who worked there spoke Spanish as their first language. But even with knowing that and being pretty familiar with the staff, I never so much as said “gracias”: I felt that it would have somehow been condescending (or something), coming from this very white girl who studied French in school.

The only time I will attempt to speak any language other than English is if the person being spoken to obviously does not understand what I’m saying, the communication is important, and if I have some idea of how to say what I’m trying to say.

There was one time I wrote a sign in Spanish for the cleaning staff of a place where I used to work (and yes, I was sure that the language they spoke was Spanish): there was some broken glass in the trash can and I wanted to warn them, so I got someone in the office who was a native speaker to tell me how to write “careful, broken glass” and I taped the sign to the trash can. I even felt a little self-conscious about that, though.

Nobody wants to hear me say anything in Spanish. It always comes out with a Danish accent, and it’s kind of horrifying.

Yesterday we were at the library during Spanish storytime, and my 6yo daughter participated. I talked with the storyteller a little bit afterwards, and when we were about to go, I encouraged my daughter to say “gracias” to her. Then “thanks” popped out of my own mouth, and I realized that it would actually be pretty hard for me to say anything in Spanish, even to someone who was clearly encouraging it. Oh well, I’ll go hide in the German corner, I guess.

In Canada, I would talk in English. If they do not seem to understand my English, I might try switching to castellano. I see a surprising number of latino farm workers who speak much better Spanish than English, and I talk to them in Spanish if this makes it easier for them to understand.

This is how I approach it also. At the barns I visit, many of the workers there only speak Spanish. At first I didn’t speak Spanish to them for fear they would find it condescending. But after a few times of needing to know where a certain horse was, I found my attempts to speak Spanish were appreciated, speeding things along. Now that they know me, I use as much Spanish as possible. I think my horrible pronounciation and incorrect grammar make them feel better about their attempts at speaking English and they are not as embarrassed about it. But it took a while before we got to this point. Now they often go out of their way to teach me new words, and will even correct me when I get something wrong, which I appreciate.

From a native Spanish speaker:

  • my German coworkers like to trot out their bitsy of Spanish. One of them googled how to wish me Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I find it cute, but then again, my English is better than theirs and and I trot out my German whenever I can because I need to practice it (I hadn’t spoken German in about 8 years).

  • my Spanish coworkers and me, here or anywhere, tend to speak with each other in Spanish if nobody else is around; with non-Hispanics around it’s English all the way (we may have to switch to Spanish occasionally for clarification but we go back to English), unless we know for sure the other person is OK with it. His Indian teammate doesn’t mind, he seems to find it quite funny actually. The Germans find it stunning, since they speak German among themselves the whole time.

  • in the US, Hispanics can be in one of four groups:

  • immigrant and actively trying to learn the language. These ones will prefer it if you start in English, since it helps them practice. If you can switch to Spanish for clarification, that’s nice.
  • bilingual. These are likely to give you a rolleyes the size of Sweden if you start in Spanish and they can socially afford to. Start in English, since you two will be better able to communicate than in Spanish.
  • unable/unwilling/too perfectionist to learn English. Still, start in English: they are being rude!
  • English monolingual: all the Spanish in the world won’t get you very far with these. Well, maybe to a cantina for some tapas and a cerveza…

So, in general, when you’re in a country where the majority language happens to be English, start in English.

And I think that “broken glass” sign in Spanish is neat, Misnomer! That’s one example of a case where your extra effort (it was extra effort, not “condescendent” at all) got you extra karma points.

As a retail worker, I almost always start in English – unless it’s one of my regulars that I know prefers Spanish. If I need to ask a customer something, or greet them, or whatever, I’ll start in English and if they don’t respond or seem to have difficulty responding and I hear a Spanish accent, I’ll ask again in Spanish.

I have one bilingual Spanish/English coworker, and we switch back and forth through our conversations which is kind of fun.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

Just this week, I spoke Spanish to one of my co-workers who’s from Puerto Rico.

“Feliz Navidad!” when she wished us Merry Christmas, and “Mierda!” when she tripped outside my office and said, “Shit!”

Both times she grinned. I think she’s amused by my really bad accent.

Just in my personal experience, initiating a conversation in Spanish, even if the person is a Spanish speaker, can be taken as an insinuation that the person doesn’t speak English or can’t speak it well. To be safe, I default to English until specifically given the go-ahead to use another language. Not that’s it’s much of an issue these days, since I’ve forgotten most of my high school Spanish over the years anyway.

If I go into a business that clearly caters to speakers of a particular foreign language, I will try to at least drum up the formalities like “hello” and “thank you” in that language – for example there used to be a latino bakery (with vanishingly few white customers) in this very small rural, Virginia town I lived in. Upon walking in I would say “hola” to the counter staff, and “gracias” upon concluding the transaction. I consider it like a mini-visit to a foreign country, and it is a form of basic politeness. Where I live now there are a lot of Russian speakers, a “spacibo” always seems to go over well at Russian-owned businesses (with a few proprietors even complimenting my accent!)

I have a few Mexican customers that I take phone orders from, and while I start in English, because the vast majority of my customers are English-only, as soon as I hear them trip, I’ll switch. I won’t switch for an accent, even a heavy one, but as soon as they have an obvious search-for-the-word hesitation, or even a true slip, like sabado for Saturday, I’ll switch to the language that they are obviously thinking in.

Its easier on the phone, because I don’t judge on brownness. When working retail, (Payless Shoes) my boss made me approach all the brown people in spanish, which was wrong about 30% of the time. Luckily, I didn’t offend anyone that I know of and I’m free of that boss.

The majority of my coworkers are Hispanic. They all speak English. I speak to them in English. As is fairly normal, I will use Spanish words and phrases occasionally while conversing with them in English.

Outside of work, I will speak Spanish if it is apparent that the person with whom I’m dealing with has difficulty with English or doesn’t speak it or to clarify something.

If my Spanish was better, I’d probably use it more often. Unfortunately, it is fairly poor, though way better than the average Gringo’s Spanish (and without a Gringo accent).