Does this mildly irk anyone else? Language insecurity

Have you noticed the following conversational pattern? I’ve been seeing it everywhere and it irks me.

Sarah. “Hey David, do you speak French? I need to know what this word means…”
David. “Nope, not French. Spanish and a bit of German, but no French”.

The irkworthy thing is the way David feels the need to name the other languages he does speak, which is absolutely no use to Sarah who just wants a French translation.

Why do people do this? I suppose the answer is obvious – they don’t want to look like idiot monoglots. But it’s very annoying, and mostly just makes David look insecure. I mean, I can’t imagine someone who spoke 6 languages doing something similar.



It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me. What if tomorrow, Sarah needs another translation from a different language? Now she knows that if it’s Spanish or German, David could help her, but if it’s not, he can’t.

In some contexts it would just be posturing, but certainly there are others where it’s appropriate.

It’s just defining one’s precise area of skills a bit more to someone who’s looking for help in that general area. Seems a perfectly rational thing to do.

Can’t imagine being annoyed by that – it’s a natural response, and it seems bizarre to me that it might be attributed to supposed insecurity.

I gotta agree with the others here, OP.

If someone asks me for something that’s not in my skill set, I’m naturally going to try to help them out by reminding them of the skill sets I DO have in case they need those. It’s just being helpful for the future or in case they can’t figure out how to do it that way, and might want to try at it from another direction (doesn’t quite work so well for languages translating, but it’s just one of those things I think people do in GENERAL and not just w/ language). It’s just habit.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s showing off or insecurity either. Even if they aren’t doing it to necessarily be useful I don’t think I’d be irked. It’s mild as statements go, you know?

Yeah I think you guys are right – in most cases it’s pretty innocuous.

The one guy who ticked me off it a bit of a special case. He’s a one-upper, and expert on anything, can’t bear to be wrong sort of chap. So I definitely got the sense that when he said it, it was out of an unwillingness to just straight up say ‘no I don’t have that skill, I can’t help you sorry’.


I’d think they were trying to remind me of what I might have been misremembering about their language skills. Not bragging or insecure.

Normally I might agree, but in this case they had just met for the first time.


Yeah, for me it’s mostly “well, no, I don’t have that particular skill set, but I have THIS one, in case you need it.” And I’m definitely not bragging–my French is crap.

However, I have (rarely) been able to guess the meaning of a word in another Romance language, because I knew the French word. Like, for example, the Spanish “fumar” looks like the French “fumer,” which means “to smoke.” So I’d tell them that, but add that it was a guess and that they should look elsewhere for confirmation.

Not in the least. Why shouldn’t people blow their own trumpet?

Do you get irked by people who have a better car than you? Or a bigger house? Maybe more letters after their name. A bigger bank balance. A better looking girlfriend.

I think you will learn one day that your enjoyment of life is in inverse proportion to the number of things that irk you.

Hah. One of these things is not like the other.

No, people who are better than me don’t irk me. People who pointlessly boast about it do. The analogy wouldn’t be having a better car, but mentioning your car at every opportunity.

And I quite enjoy being irked.


I think I know what you mean. My friend does it on behalf of her boyfriend - now that’s annoying.

“Yeah, unfortunately they only have a Spanish tour going now, we’ll have to wait a half hour.”

“Oh, too bad it’s not French, then Will could have translated for us!” Will was not with us at the moment.

Yeah, let’s bring your boyfriend in from out of town to translate a language that’s not being spoken at the moment and is therefore completely irrelevant, and in any case, is one that I know. But she’s so proud of having a bilingual boyfriend, bless her. :slight_smile:

I understand the urge to tell everyone that you know a language. Both being brought up bilingual or making the effort yourself to learn a language are pretty major parts of your identity. But really, there are a lot of people out there who are bi/tri/multilingual. The chances of impressing anyone (or finding someone who happens to need your skills) are fairly low.

(I was on a flight once where a German-speaking man got ill on the runway. They asked for German speakers and I was all ready to volunteer my very inadequate skills. There was a fluent German speaker within three seats of the man. My skills were not exceptional, I realized. Also, note how I have managed to get in that I speak some French and German in this very message?)

But she didn’t ASK what languages he speaks. She asked if he speaks French. He does not, so he should say, “Sorry, I don’t speak French,” and not “I don’t speak French, but am an expert juggler, can thread a needle in a single try, and was the Scripps 1998 Spelling Bee champion.” Nobody asked about all that other shit. Do you speak French? Yes or no?

I’m with the OP. I don’t care for statements like, "I don’t do what you’re asking for, but I swear I’m good at things!"which make me think you’re an insecure cock. I’m not going to lose my shit over it, but yes, the extraneous information would mildly irk me. Just answer the goddamn question.

sniff I’ve missed you MeanOldLady. This new girl you’ve been lately, KindaIrritatedButStillQuiteIrateLady just doesn’t have the same kind of panache to it.

In a general conversation, it probably wouldn’t bother me, but I understand completely what you’re saying here. The “one-uppers” drive me nuts, too, so pretty much anything they say ends up getting heard in that context. In a situation like this, it would be very dependent on the tone and attitude of the individual. And with a history of one-upsmanship (a word I may have just made up…), I would have been irked as well.

Me: I have a little cold

1Up: Well, I have double pneumonia with a side of sinus infection and a possible myocardial infarction like they’ve never seen. Of course, I still had to come to work. SOMEONE’s gotta to make the Benz payment. And with our upcoming cruise to the Inner, Upper, Outer and Greater Antilles, what else could I do?

Me: You are the wind beneath my wings. sniff

I never do that, but I sometimes make puns, and often I’m bad at listening, if you need to get irked in one of those ways.

shrug I can see how it could be due to one-up-manship. Many people would say something like that.

But if I ask if someone speaks French, I’d generally find it mildly helpful and certainly not bad to hear what they DO speak – sometimes the languages are related enough, sometimes it’s useful just to know. Less so if you want a specific answer, but people are often NOT specific, so giving a more informative answer is often helpful, and no longer, than a bald reply that may need a clarification.

People might also feel that it’s a more polite denial, that by illustrating what they do speak, they’re showing that they’re not just automatically denying, they’re being precise in the extent to which they dont’ speak french.

I can’t see why it would bother anyone. In the past people have asked me if I speak Italian, usually because they’re trying to figure out a word/sentence/phrase etc. My answer is always “No, but I took three years of Spanish in college*” I only say this because there’s enough commonalities between Spanish and Italian that I could usually at least get a rough idea of what the sentence was saying. (IIRC Portuguese is pretty close also)

*I wouldn’t say this now, I don’t remember any of it anymore.
Now, OTOH, if someone asked if you knew German and you said “No but I know Chinese.” That might come off as showing off a bit, but I don’t think I’d call it insecure.

No, it doesn’t irk me, it interests me, because I love language.

And if someone asks me if I speak Japanese, I’m going to say, ‘‘No, just Spanish.’’ Because Spanish has been a relevant and central part of my life for the last 15 years, and hell, maybe the person asking speaks another language, and we can now have a conversation about language instead of dwelling on the fact that our problem isn’t solved.

To me it’s like asking someone if they have a son interested in playing on a little league.

‘‘No, but I have a daughter.’’

Is that information really unnecessary? Only if you think being human is unnecessary.