Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Language Comebacks for Co-workers, Know-it-alls and Language Snobs

Laughter really is the best medicine, and I've always said that if you can laugh at yourself and your speech mistakes, you'll be able to improve much faster. But there is a big difference between laughing at yourself, laughing with others, and having others laugh at you.

I can remember clearly, living in Denmark and working very hard to learn Danish. I had reached that point where I could understand almost everything, but still didn't have a lot of courage to speak. It wasn't until I was thrown into a new job and HAD to speak, that I finally started using the language.

There were a number of reactions. Some people heard my accent and immediately switched to English.  Others spoke slowly and loudly as though I wasn't only learning a new language, but also had a mental disability. And the last group of people laughed.

I'm not sure which group I hated the most, and I'm sure you've also met these people, haven't you?

This is why I could really empathize with one of my clients when she told me during our last session that she's getting a bit tired of people laughing at her. A fun and bubbly lady to begin with, and always the first to laugh at herself, I could tell she had lost a bit of her spark.

The laughter starts with people laughing WITH you. It could even be that you invite the laughter by laughing at yourself and drawing attention to your faults as an alternative to being embarrassed about them. 

At some point though, there comes a line, and you can't really blame your co-workers for not knowing when they've crossed it. When you get tired of the laughter, or want to point out that you're not in the mood, here are some of the comebacks I use with co-workers, know-it-alls and general language snobs to put them in their place and keep charging ahead despite the sneers.

1. Laugh it off sarcastically 
"Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, I know, I couldn't pronounce an R correctly if someone had a gun to my head. I get it."

This not-so-subtle hint tells the other person that you're tired of hearing the same comments over and over again, and really, it just isn't funny anymore.

2. Ask for help
"Could you show me how to say it correctly instead of laughing? That would be much more helpful."

The response is normally an immediate apology followed by a very good explanation, or, if the person speaks worse than you, they'll drop it and never laugh again.

3. Offer to speak in your native language
"I'd be happy to speak in ______ with you, if that's easier." (Chinese, French, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.)

Said in a strong, but polite tone, I've found this shuts people up right away and they get the message that their laughter is inappropriate. The usual response I get is a flustered, "Oh, no, that's okay. Sorry. You speak really well!"

People don't mean to be hurting your feelings. By drawing attention to their laughter in a subtle (or not so subtle way), they usually realize that their actions have crossed the line from funny to hurtful.

How do you manage hurtful laughter? Let me know in the comments.

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