Bilingual People Share Their "They Didn't Know I Spoke The Language" Stories

Being bilingual can be beneficial in more ways than you can imagine. First perk that comes to mind is you can be a translator at your job if a tourist on the street needs directions. That's boring, though. What about romantically wooing someone in a different country? Even better, what about dropping ears into another conversation people think you don't understand? Surely, that's the best.

Reddit user, u/SpiralArc, wanted to know about the times when people though they were in the clear to badmouth others in a different language when they said:

Bilinguals of Reddit: what's your "they didn't know I spoke their language" story?

The Terror Knowing We're The Same

I look mixed. I'm full Cambodian but I've been confused with being mixed with Black. When I was 7 I went with my mom to her doctor in Long Beach, which is mainly Cambodian populated in that area. My mom went inside her doctor's office, leaving me in the waiting room. As soon as the office door closed, these two old Cambodian ladies start talking sh-t in Khmer saying how she's a single mom (she's not), and how she had a Black baby (me) and that's such a shame bc she made my life miserable.

They also said my skin color was ugly and I had a Black nose, etc. I just sat quietly, looking at them until one realized "Oh snap, maybe she understands Khmer." And asks me "Hey, do you know your dad?" And I just replied back in our language, "Yeah and he's at home waiting for us. And we have the same skin color so that means yours is ugly too."

Both of their faces dropped it was great and they had the audacity to tell my mom that I was rude when she came out.


Don't Let Ethnicity Trick You

I wasn't the bilingual one, but my bilingual friend was really the star of the show. I am a straight guy and my bilingual friend is gay. We were in college for summer school 20+ years ago and everyone taking classes stayed in the same old dormitory. It was a school with a lot of international students who had even greater representation in the summer because they typically didn't fly home for just three months. My friend had a computer, I didn't, so he told me I could go into his room any time and use it if he didn't need it at the time.

My friend was white, but had spent a number of his childhood years in Japan and spoke Japanese like a native. We were talking and walking down the hall toward his room and two Japanese exchange students began talking to one another in Japanese, looking at us and snickering. My friend looks over and starts dressing them down in absolute perfect Japanese and they are horrifically embarrassed. They began profusely apologizing and hurriedly waking away. I turned to my buddy, What did they say?"

"They were making some disparaging remarks about your sex life, so I told them they were wrong and not to be rude," he said. Then he quipped, "They were making some disparaging remarks about my sex life, too, but those were all true."


Don't Mock The Walk

I worked as a part time clothing model for a while in an arab country, i am arab but i dont look like it apparently. Anyways, we had to walk around this convention and show the clothes, wearing heels on a carpet floor. I was young (around 16) i didn't know how to walk really well in heels yet and the carpet floors didn't help either, the women there didn't know i spoke arabic and started making fun of how I'm walking, i went up to them and asked them where the bathroom was in arabic they looked so surprised and embarrassed at the same time it was lovely.


Don't Ever Assume

An american family was commenting on people on public transport in my city (nordic). EVERYONE understood them. it went on for a few moments before some local kids (10-13) started commenting back.

"yeah. he does look rough, but its us you really gotta watch out for we grew up in the hood" and so on. Love those kids.


Best Watch Yourself, Even In A Bar

At a bar with a Russian buddy of mine. Grew up there and moved to the states when he was 12 or so. He adapted to English really well so he has no accent whatsoever. Both of the bartenders were Russian (you could tell by the accents) and were having a conversation. Friend looks to me and says "D-mn, they're talking some mad sh-t right now". I asked him about who and he said the other dude across the bar in the blue shirt.

I asked what they were saying and he said they were just roasting him in general. I asked if they said anything about us and he said not yet but would say something back in Russian if they did. They ended up not saying anything about us but right before we left, he said to them in Russian "You should speak a bit nicer of your customers". I don't think I've ever seen someones face turn a brighter shade of red than that.


Tattoos Don't Dictate Life

I'm fairly tattooed and I was working in retail, in a shoe shop. I was serving a very rude woman and her daughter, both of whom clearly thought they were better than me, and every time they asked for shoes they told me (in English) that I was very slow to fetch them and bad at my job (I was only on like my third shift).

The atmosphere turned pretty sour because obviously they were being rude and it annoyed me, and as I was boxing up the shoes they wanted, the mother turned and said to her daughter something like 'don't ever get tattoos, this is the kind of person that has them, working in retail with absolutely no brains and tattoos reflect that! bla bla bla' in Italian. I simply replied 'non sono d'accordo, ma grazie' [i disagree, but thank you]. She looked absolutely humiliated and quickly left!


Never Try To Cheat The House

I used to work as a dealer in a casino where our biggest richest clients were Chinese. I don't look Chinese but I could understand and speak it. Sitting down on my table, they thought it was safe to discuss techniques to be sneaky behind my back (and also talk about me a little, I'm a young girl so I got some creepy remarks).

They never understood how they never got away with things as I never made any indication I understood them.


Can't Forget The Money

Late to the party but once when I was younger I went to the park with my sister. We look very white and no one would know both of us to speak Mandarin fluently unless we told them.

Some money must've fallen out of my sisters pocket and in Mandarin we hear a mother talking to her daughter and telling her not to let us know we dropped money so that they could pick it up after we left.

Both of us turned around straight away and my sister picked up her money while both of us gave them dirty looks and we changed our conversation to Mandarin. The look of horror on both of their faces will forever be burned into my head.


Got Both The Wins

I was playing chess with some guy and he was talking to a friend. My opponent starts talking to his [friend] in French, which I can understand. He was saying stuff like "my opponent sucks, I'm gonna easily beat him". It was pretty amusing watching him criticize me and then I still beat him (he was pretty bad but so was I back then). I told him I understand French after I beat him.


Sometimes, It's Best To Go Along With It

Visiting South Korea with my wife, a native of that country. I'm shaped like a lumberjack, and have a big, red lumberjack beard to match. A group of Korean women in their 50s and 60s nearby were laughing and calling me a "bear" which I found hilarious. So one of the older ones says, "Gom" ("bear") to me as she passes by, and I start laughing. She makes that face like, "Did he understand what just I said?" So I raise my arms and make a playful growl at her. She is horrified and starts apologizing while her friends all cover their mouths and giggle, as Korean women customarily do.

I love Korea.


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