16 Awkward Moments When People Speaking Foreign Languages Didn’t Realize They Were Being Understood

One of the most awkward moments for foreign language speakers – and often one of the most triumphant moments for people who understand that foreign language – is the moment when the two meet, but the former doesn’t realize it.

These 16 people have all manner of stories about moments just like that.

16. The last line is hilarious.

My wife is Indian and her family speaks Gujarati. I’ve spent many years trying to pick it up and have found it to be very difficult as there are no great resources that I am aware of to learn it.

You just have to listen and try to guess the context.

Anyway, over the years I’ve gotten pretty good, and when my wife’s aunt was visiting from Indian she went right in to my wife about how much weight I’d gained and how bad my diet must be. I understood every word and stopped her about two minutes into her rant.

Turns out it didn’t stop her from continuing.

15. I love that “it was fun for awhile.”

I lived in Riga for a short while and went out almost every Friday to meet girls. Riga has a lot of visitors from UK and I’ve spent a chunk of my time in US, so I generally speak English in the center. I feel more comfortable using it. However, I also speak Russian perfectly well.

So I’m drinking a beer in a bar and all of a sudden some cute Russian girl comes up to me and starts speaking English to me. She invited me for a beer with her and her friend. I didn’t really have anything else going for me that night, so I agreed.

What followed is an hour of them trying to make me buy them a Dom Perignon bottle and some really dirty talking about what one of them would do to me if I agreed.They also talked to the bartender (who knows me fairly well) how they’re gonna rip me off big time and that I’m a foreign idiot.

I ended up buying them 4 beers total out of decency. It was a lot of fun for a while, I’ll give them that. Eventually I got really tired of it all + my friend hit me up, so I just switched to Russian, thanked them for a nice evening and left.

Their faces were red from embarrassment and anger.

Oh well.

Don’t scam people.

14. This story is cute and also a bit creepy?

I lived in Japan when I was little and retook Japanese in college so I didn’t sound like a child when I spoke. To solidify my new language skills, I went to my “hometown” for about 6 weeks a summer in college. It was a small town so most people remembered me or my family, but some people I stayed with (6 weeks, 11 families that at least wanted me to spend a night in their home) were new to the area since we left 15 years or so earlier.

One of these families had a high school aged son who wanted to borrow me for his high school’s International Festival. No problem. I’d go and let other high schoolers practice their English with me and do carnival games and stuff.

However, the guy apparently did not get the message that I spoke Japanese and proceeded to introduce me to all his friends as his girlfriend. I let him have his moment for the night (without leading him on), but on the train ride back to his home, he was talking to his friend in Japanese and I joined in on the conversation. Also in Japanese.

The embarrassment on his face was worth knowing all his friends thought I was his girlfriend.

13. You can’t let that slide.

My neighbors went on holiday with her sister’s family in Spain.

The sister can speak fluent Spanish (they’re Irish). Apparently a tour guide in Spain started talking about them referring to them as “those English sluts.”

They were never ones to let anything slide so an argument broke out very quickly.

12. Way to keep your cool.

So I wouldn’t consider myself fluent in Spanish but I do speak and understand enough to know when people are talking about me and the general topic. Had a fucked up story happen a few weeks ago.

So I was servicing an ATM in a rather sketchy neighborhood. While loading the machine a school down the street must have just let out and a whole group of teenagers came in, all speaking Spanish talking about teenager things.

Well a few of them noticed the $5k in fives I had in my hand and started loudly talking to his friend how that was the most money he’s ever seen. Now I get this reaction a lot so I was going to ignore the kid but right after that his friend started talking about going home to get his Dad’s pistol to put 2 in the back of my head, steal the money, then use it to buy a bunch of weed and video games.

Of course these kids don’t think I understand them at all (white guy in a Hispanic neighborhood, most don’t think I understand their language in my experience).

So I calmly lock everything up while they continue making plans to kill me and rob me, finish with the machine, then turn to them with my hand resting on my gun and tell them in Spanish to go home and don’t talk about murdering and robbing a person right in front of said person. It’s quite rude and could possibly get them killed in the process.

They nearly sh%t themselves and I walked out of the store laughing about it.

11. The perfect reply!

My dad (from Tennessee) knows Chinese and goes to China often for work, etc. One time he was driving and hit a bird, getting it stuck in the front of his truck.

A Chinese man saw the bird and says to his friend (in Chinese)

“He drove too fast”

To which my dad says: “No, he flew too slow”

10. A priceless moment.

I am Greek but study in Belgium. Greeks are notorious for talking about people loudly when abroad. The language is rare enough that most people including myself usually feel comfortable doing that. Only problem with that logic is, there are so many of us around the world, it’s generally not a good idea.

So I get on the tram one day and there’s this woman (30s) sitting across from me who says to her friend very loudly and in greek: “What is that supposed to be, a boy or a girl?” (Context for non Greeks: we have a third, neutral gender that we use for objects, animals, or when talking about someone in a very rude and derogatory way. That is what she used, and in a very mocking tone as well). So I very calmly validated my ticket, and as I was walking away I reply, also in greek. “It’s a girl. And it speaks greek as well.”

Her face was hilarious. She just made a mortified “Ah” sound and didn’t utter another word until she got off a few stops later. I love this story, but it kind of terrifies me as well. I avoid talking about other people, but I do tend to have very personal conversations with my greek friends in public places, confident that nobody understands, even after being myself proof that it’s not very safe.

9. You gotta wait for the right moment for that reveal.

Oh the cooks at my job still don’t know I’m fluent in Spanish lol.

Yes, I know everything you’re saying, Alejo.

8. That awkward moment when…

To be fair to the people involved here, the odds of me understanding them were small. When I was in an Arabic-speaking country for a language immersion program, I and one of the other people attached to the group ended up in a business run by Chinese immigrants to this Middle Eastern country.

Now, before I started studying Arabic, I took a few years of Chinese, and in fact my Arabic was worse than my Chinese. So I could barely talk to them in Arabic but could understand the discussion about how they just wanted us to buy our shit and get out that they had in Chinese. Awkward.

7. People stick their nose in parent’s business everywhere I guess.

I live in Austria, but my Dad is from Brazil, all my Austrian aunts and uncles married a Brazilian. My grandparents from my mothers side opened and lead a factory of our family company in Brazil, that’s why everyone was there, but some eventually came back to Austria, just like my mom with my dad. Me and my siblings were raised multilingual but lived most of our live in Austria.

So once when I was around 10 my Mom and me were on a tram in Vienna with my little brother, who was around 2 at the time, in a stroller and he starts crying, really loudly. Then one Brazilian lady starts speaking really loudly and in an obnoxious tone something in the lines of: “Well, these European folks don’t know how to treat their children with love, how can someone be so cold and unaffectionate to a child as to let them scream without taking them out of the stroller and holding them?”

(We were standing btw, there was no seat big enough at the time where we could leave the stroller)

Sooo, I was getting worried we were doing something wrong, I wanted to comfort my brother and get him out, but my Mom stopped me and really loudly said in Portuguese: “Leave him, it is too dangerous to take him out of the stroller while we are standing here and the tram is moving”

You could see the women’s face go from red, to white and back to red, get up and get out so fast at the next exit that we just started laughing and my brother ultimately calmed down.

Not really exciting, but I find it funny when I think back.

6. A long time coming.

My former in-laws speak Italian. I went into the marriage not knowing Italian, but I picked it up pretty well. My MIL had a bad habit of talking to her family in Italian while I was sitting right there. Every one of them spoke English, so it wasn’t as if she had to speak it to be understood.

I put up with it, and it became interesting to hear what she had to say about me to the family while I was there.

I got out of the marriage due mostly to her son’s treatment of me, but her actions didn’t help. So one day she calls me. She is going on about me being a terrible wife and mother. So I remark “you know, I actually understand Italian. I understood everything you said about me when you thought I didn’t know.” She went quiet and cut the call short.

It was wonderful.

5. Everyone loves an excuse to laugh at a friend.

Happened to my wife when she worked at McDonald’s. She looks a little on the Asian side but is from Guatemala.

Group of Spanish speaking people pay at the drive through and try short changing her. Driver says “esa maldita China no save contar” (that damn Asian lady can’t count).

Wife takes the money and very politely says they are short in Spanish. Driver turns red while passengers couldn’t stop laughing

4. Everyone likes to feel cool.

I don’t know if this is cool, but I live in India and I don’t really look too much like the people in my home state, so people always assume I’m from another state or another country and don’t really understand “their” language (Tamil, for those curious), despite it being my mother tongue since I was BORN there.

Here, the transport buses have a ‘conductor’ dude from whom you buy a ticket. So I was traveling in one such bus and I was approached by the conductor to buy a ticket.

Seeing me, he assumed I didn’t know Tamil and tried his best to ask me to purchase a ticket in what little English he knew. He could’ve just said “Ticket” and I would have got it, but instead he tried to form a sentence along the lines of….

“Ticket… You can… have..?”

I just smiled and told him that I’d like to buy a ticket for the place I was going to in regular Tamil with the appropriate slang.

All of a sudden, he had this huge smile on his face and handed me the ticket. He then asked me where I’m from, in Tamil this time, to which I responded that I’m from this state.

He did a double take, but then nodded happily and went on to the next passenger.

Not gonna lie, it felt pretty cool to me.

3. A complete 180.

This was durning the Christmas season. I was walking with my friend to a local bar. There were a few Russians standing outside there home smoking and one or two had a drink in their hand.

As we walk passed a gentleman says, “ what are you looking at handsome guys,” in Russian. It’s meant to come off like what are you looking at.

I turn around and say, “ I completely understand Russian.”

Suddenly they get cheerful. The gentleman gives me a hug/handshake. I was then offered a drink and cigarettes.

It was hilarious, especially to my friend who didn’t understand Russian.

2. Always be aware.

I was in New York, and entered one of those electronic stores. I asked the price of an item in English. The guy at the counter turns to another guy who on a ladder stocking items and asks in Hebrew how much he should charge. I speak Hebrew, so I’m following their dialogue.

The guy on the ladder looks and me and notices that I am following them with my eyes, then he switches to Arabic. I don’t speak Arabic. The counter guy tells me the price in English. I say “too expensive” in Hebrew and leave.

1. You knew he was going to get caught eventually.

Inverse. A long time ago, my brother had a habit of making remarks about people in Spanish whenever he got annoyed, frustrated, or just wanted to make fun of someone (kinda like a gossiping school girl). I told him it wasn’t cool, not because he shouldn’t be talking Spanish in public, but that he shouldn’t be using it in such an underhanded way.​

If he had a grievance that he needed to get off his chest, he should tell them in a language they are likely to understand where we live — English. He kept doing it anyway.

One time, we were leaving a major retailer and the store greeter asked to see his receipt before he could exit with the bagged merchandise in the cart. He had a hard time finding where he put his receipt and he got frustrated.​

He switched to Spanish and said some variety of “this old bitch” and the store greeter immediately called him out on it in Spanish. He was like a deer caught in the headlights. I was so happy she did it. He made a weak attempt at re-asserting his right to be frustrated at the situation, but you could see he was very embarrassed at having been caught talking trash in Spanish. I love my brother, but I’m glad he stopped doing that soon after.

This is like when Frank Costanza went to spy for Elaine Benes at the nail salon – don’t do it!

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