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Readers Respond: Would I Offend by Initiating Conversation in Spanish?

Responses: 102

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Offense depends on the situation

I live in Las Vegas, in a diverse community where many Latino people don't speak English. And I would get offended if some gringo would start speaking Spanish to me assuming I don't speak English. Unless we both know that we speak Spanish then it's acceptable. Otherwise I don't want to be categorized as as a lazy or dumb "Mexican" that doesn't know English in the USA. It's offensive.
—Guest Jack

Caucasians tread on Latino identity?

I share the experiences here of Caucasians who are responded to in English by Latinos when you try to speak Spanish. I think English is much less a part of North American identity than Spanish is for Latinos, and my guess is that some Latinos resent relinquishing part of that identity by speaking Spanish with gringos. My wife is from Latin America and I'm a Caucasian Spanish teacher. Friends of us will address her in Spanish and me in English, even in group conversations where my wife address me in Spanish. It's very frustrating when my livelihood is about promoting appreciation for Spanish and Latino culture among young people.
—Guest GS

Be polite, not patronizing

I'm a native Spanish speaker, and I'd say it'd depend on the situation. I normally don't have an issue when a non-native Spanish speaker speaks to me in Spanish. However, if I feel I've being patronized, I'd get annoyed. Overall, I don't think native Spanish speakers would mind in you speak to them in Spanish as long as you're polite. However, be respectful of the fact that Spanish speakers come from many different cultures. When approaching someone for the first time, don't try to be too cute using some silly expressions you've heard on TV. especially if you're talking to older people. Use "standard" phrases such as "Buenos días" or "Hola" and see how it goes from there. Pay attention to grammatical gender and/or formal and informal forms of address. Some people can be very anal about being address as "tú" for the first time. I've been reprimanded a few times. Anyway, have a go.
—meabel

We're cool about it

Tranquilo. Solo di lo que puedes y no te comportes demasiado cortés. Los hispanohablantes somos relajados. :p
—Guest Medardo

Not afraid

I don't think so. I feel happy when I hear somebody trying to speak Spanish. I hope English speakers feel the same.
—Guest Lupe

Don't make assumptions about people

My partner is a Native American person from Mexico who speaks his native language (Nahuatl) and does not speak Spanish. As you may have already guessed, he is ridiculed by people who mistakenly speak to him Spanish and later do not believe that he is Native because of his English accent. These people also find it hard to believe that he does not speak Spanish and say that he HAS TO speak Spanish because he looks Mexican. He answers that he is Mexican but Native Mexican. Please stop assuming that anyone who looks stereotypically "Latino"/"Hispanic" speaks Spanish. Our native people will thank you. I also hope you learn that there are many Native American languages in the Americas that continue to be spoken in our present day.
—Guest Atl

Let's help each other

I don't know why friendliness would ever be considered offensive. I think we should all both work together and learn from each other. If anyone thinks that that is offensive, then they are just plain ignorant. I am half Mexican and half white and speak Spanish fluently. I would be more than eager to help someone learn, Spanish just as I would hope someone from a different culture would help me learn their language
—Guest David

Politeness counts

As long the people are polite for me, the most important are good manners, a beautiful smile and the tone of voice, for sure. I believe if the person gets upset, it is because he or she is not proud of the background, ashamed of the people.
—Guest sandra

I would be careful

I would be careful and assess the situation well. Personally, I don't mind. I've had people just automatically start speaking to me in Spanish. My English is fluent (I was born in the USA) ,but like I said, I don't mind at all. However, I have heard and know of people who get offended. So I would just be careful with that. But if someone does take it the wrong way I wouldn't pay any mind to it if I were you. Don't let that stop you from doing what you set out to do and just try with the next person. If someone was offended over that, then they obviously have other issues to deal with. Maybe they're embarrassed of who they are. Anywho, good luck with your language learning! ;)
—Guest LIZBet

I find it arrogant

As an American of Mexican descent, I am offended when people speak to me in Spanish. My family has lived in America for five generations now, and English is all I've ever known. Therefore, I find it extremely arrogant for people to assume I speak Spanish. You speak to me in Spanish, you will not see my nice side.
—Guest Louise

I wouldn't get offended

Yo soy española y estoy intentando aprender inglés, hasta hace poco tiempo en España poca gente sabía hablar en inglés, pero actualmente somos muchos los que lo estamos estudiando, y la verdad es que nos resulta difícil y cometemos muchos errores, es normal y creo que nadie espera que una persona que no es nativa de un país hable perfectamente el idioma, ningún español esperaría que lo hablases perfectamente, a nosotros, los angloparlantes nos dicen que pronunciamos demasiado la rrrrrrr, y otros muchos defectos de pronunciación. Pero creo que lo importante es poder comunicarse y los españoles que conozco no se ofenderían en absoluto si les hablases en español, al contrario, si ellos estuvieran fuera de España se alegrarían de oírte hablar en su idioma, y dentro de España les resultaría más cómodo hablar contigo en español, pero si en España te contestan en inglés, diles que prefieres hablar en español para aprender, pues si no lo saben tal vez intenten hablarte en inglés.
—abecede

Spaniards ready to help

Say to someone in Spain "quiero practicar mi español" and they will definitely help you. Not so many British visitors to Spain speak Spanish, so the locals are probably surprised. If they won't let you practice your Spanish, choose another restaurant!
—Guest LIZZY H

Try ... if it doesn't work, oh well

I'm just in high school, but for the past year have made friends with a guy that lives in Mexico, who I now call my primo (long story). He has helped me to where I don't have much of an accent, I just lack fluidity. I always have loved the thought of making friends with a Latino, but came to realize not all of them, especially my age, want to talk to me in Spanish. I was in one of the Mexican restaurants, and I always order in Spanish right off the bat. And they usually love to respond to me in Spanish and ask why I speak Spanish because my mom orders in English. Well one time, there was a kid not much older than me, and I ordered in Spanish and he talked back to me in English. I was very offended, to be honest! The thing is he had an accent so I know he spoke Spanish well, as all the meseros there speak Spanish (and barely speak English). The point is, try to converse with them and they should respect that you are trying. If they respond in English, continue in English.
—Guest CKM54

Don't use people just to learn language

I have a friend that always talks to me in Spanish. He is a gringo. It doesn't bother me. I just feel the only reason he is my friend is just so he can practice his Spanish. That's what I found rude. Don't become friends with somebody just to use them as a language teacher; the best thing is to buy books and take some Spanish classes by yourself.
—Guest maria

Don't speak Spanish for selfish reasons

When I moved to Colorado from Puerto Rico and I started working, I wanted to learn English to be able to communicate with people. If I wanted to have better opportunities I needed to learn English. So I met this friend of mine who wanted to learn Spanish and I felt it was selfish from him trying to learn Spanish with me when I needed it more than him. I felt he wanted to learn Spanish just for his own ego so people could say, "Oh wow, he knows Spanish." But now that I moved back to Puerto Rico and don't want to know anything else of USA and its racist ways. I really don't care about learning English, but I feel that some Americans, especially whites, want to use us in some way. How would you feel if I go to you in the street and ask you, hey can I practice my English with you? What am I, a translator? I think the best way is to take classes and don't become friends with somebody. Just practice.
—Guest maria

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