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

Responses: 102

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Depends

I only speak to a customer in Spanish if they tell me they do not know English, or if they ask me if I speak Spanish.
—Guest Mao

It's about trying

It's not about being perfect. In this day and age with globalization and immigration, the number of languages being spoken around you is a lot. Even if you just say "hola" or "buenos días," you earn the respect of the local or native speaker.
—Guest Cristina

I m with the "maybe, maybe not" group

I have discovered that many of the people with whom I've made friends in Omaha who are from Mexico are more than happy to speak Spanish with me. I have also discovered that many of the people I've met who grew up speaking both Spanish and English are less likely to want to talk with me in Spanish. There are always exceptions, of course, and the best thing to do is ask them if they'd be OK with conversing with you in Spanish since you would like the practice.
—Guest Jen

They do it to us

They do it to us when we are in Latin American countries. They take one look at a person of Anglo-Saxon descent and see you as a walking free English lesson. They do it in stores, taxis, buses, grocery stores, trains, in the office where you work and where the language is Spanish, when you are sharing a house with someone who wants free English practice but refuses to talk to you in Spanish, the language of the country you are both in. They also chase you down the streets yelling at you in English. So why not do the same back to them? It's not fair to native English speakers that this happens to us in every country in the world. Seriously.
—Guest Akasha

It depends on where you are

I am a born and raised country boy working as a waiter putting myself through college. In my town we have a very large Hispanic population. With that said, they are mostly immigrants or first generation. I have found that almost all of my patrons are happy that I greet them in Spanish. This was not the case when I lived in Tucson and many of the people I encountered grew up in the United States. So I guess it depends on where you are and who you are talking to. I'll tell you one thing, when I lived in Germany and was very confused at the train station ... a German national came up to me and asked if I needed help -- in English. I didn't feel offended; I felt relieved. Funny how everyone keeps talking about using a different language to someone based on how they look is racist ... how about courteous?
—Guest ricchione

Respect the language.

I am from england and I find that when i go to Spain the natives are very pleased if you try to speak Spanish with them. A simple "gracias y por favor" goes a long way as does "buenos días y buenas tardes." It's also nice if you know who to address as "usted," "señor," "señora," "señorita." Showing a little respect for their language, country and culture goes a great distance. Yo creo que es importante.
—Guest jordon u.k

Being overly friendly can be annoying

It all depends on the situation: If you are providing a service, you should keep it professional unless you know that other person is not fluent in English. Speaking to someone else in Spanish can be seen as been too friendly, and that can be offensive. I personally find it uncalled for-friendliness and therefore annoying.
—Guest Syl

It can be offensive and a bit racist

I had a Hispanic best friend who grew up with me, and she and I will always go out to restauraunts and family reunions, but in nearly every occasion she will always be spoken down to when it came to shopping and dining. Usually it's the Caucasians who speak to her in Spanish. She speaks four languages and not one of them being Spanish, so it offended her for years to be talked down in a language she didn't speak. She knows French, Italian and Portuguese. I've never defended her once, because she would just reply back in a tongue that wasn't what the clerk, cashier or waitress was speaking. So the superior look my friend's face was priceless. My point being, don't assume a person's ethnicity right off their appearance. Its offensive, judgmental and a little racist. Just kindly ask. We live in a diverse country, and I understand from your perspectives, but just be considerate of others that may not look at you the same.
—Guest Aria

Don't assume too much about people

Remember, Spanish speakers can be of any race. And many people who are of "Hispanic" decent don't speak Spanish. (My last name is German, and no one assumes I speak German here in the U.S.) I speak Spanish nearly fluently, and I don't look "Latino," although my looks could be from Argentina or Uruguay. People that hear me speaking Spanish have assumed me to be Argentine. I gauge the situation. If someone is talking to me in English I continue in English. Starting out with a "hola" can come across as condescending; however, an honest attempt would be welcomed and most people are glad to help with vocabulary, grammar and you can help them with English.
—Guest Joe

I am 100% offended!

My parents were born in Puerto Rico and I was born in New York City ... far Rockaway a predominately "African-American" and Jewish neighborhood. I did not go around saying "Habari Rafiki" Swahili for Hello Friend ... so why do you assume I know Spanish. As far as "culture," I went to public school, grew up in NYC and we have no extended family, just us siblings watching "Happy Days" and "Brady Bunch," eating pizza and cold cuts. There were no Puerto Rico flags dangling from our window either. My father is a U.S. veteran and both of my parents did not speak Spanish or the native language of the Taino Indians or Afrikaans or Swahili. People are racists to assume. Do you assume your Italian neighbor speaks fluent Italian. Nope, it is just "Hispanic." Another way of segregation based on some language of conquerors of 120 years ago. Let us live in the present please.
—Guest lizajenny9

Be careful not to be rude

I think people will respond well to it. Just be considerate. I live in Spain and it can be very offensive when people speak to me in English despite the fact that I addressed them in Spanish first. Most of the time they're just trying to be friendly or they want to practice their English. However, they come across as if they're making the assumption that because I'm a guiri/gringo, I'm not able to speak Spanish, which is rude. Based on this, in order to be polite, you should explain that you want to practise the language. Otherwise you might come across as being quite arrogant.
—Guest Jim

Don't be afraid

Never be scared to speak Spanish. If you want to speak Spanish because you like the language and the people, then you will get a very warm approach. If you are non-Hispanic, or a gringo(a) like me, they will be amused and pleased with your efforts. If you try speaking with a Spanish immigrant who hasn't picked up the English yet, he or she will be very happy and you might make a language-learning buddy. The only time someone might be offended is if someone assumed they don't know English and act in irritated fashion. If you are nervous about approuching a native speaker try saying, "Si esta bien, me gustaria hablar espanol consigo asi yo puedo practicar el idioma." -Translation "If its okay, I would like to speak spanish with you so I can practice the language." Its nice and polite. I use it all the time especially if I do know the person speaks English as well.
—Guest Ash

Depends ...

Here in Kentucky most Latino adults were born elsewhere and their native language is Spanish. It's very unlikely you will offend them if your Spanish is passable. But when I visit my mom in Topeka, Kan., it's quite the opposite. Lots of Mexicans entered the U.S. to work on the railroads about three generations ago. Topeka was a railroad town, and now most Latino-appearing peeps were born and raised in the U.S. Many speak Spanish at home and English from the moment they leave the house. If you're not family, you speak English with them. They can get hostile if you don't.
—RexFury

They speak Spanish for a reason

If you hear a group of people talking Spanish in a store or at a public place, they're probably about stuff they don't want you hear.
—Guest Jose

Disheartened

I moved to Puerto Rico because I am studying Spanish and I knew San Juan is a place where both Spanish and English are spoken. However, in the metropolitan areas when I speak in Spanish people speak back to me in English. It's very disheartening. It makes me feel sad and uncomfortable. It gives the impression that this is MY language, not yours, and MY Spanish is reserved only for my family and people who already know it. I'm more offended than the Spanish speaker is.
—Guest TERRI

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