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

Speaking a second language is a super valuable skill, and can bring about some great opportunities. Some of those opportunities are in educating folks who assume you only know one language and that they can talk about you in another without you understanding.

These confrontations can either be learning experiences for them, or just become hilarious memories for you.

Reddit user RedDevil2048 asked:

"Bilinguals of Reddit, what's your funniest story of people not knowing you speak their language?"


I was at a musical festival in Germany, and there was this group of 5 Japanese guys looking kind of oddly at me and snickering. I had taken a few classes in Japanese by then so I understood WHAT they were talking about, but not exactly what they said. (Turned out they were one of the bands playing the next evening)

But it was something along the lines of "Why is that foreigner wearing a mask like that? Thought only we did it." And then some general remarks about how weird and odd my getup was, in their defense I WAS wearing a face mask with filters and a pair of welding goggles.

And as I walked past them I just remarked that I could understand them and that they were being really rude. They bowed and apologized and offered me a drink to make up for it.

Long story short, I got backstage and they were really cool guys after all.



Old Japanese lady here in Brazil was selling yakisoba at the farmer's market and talking in very broken Portuguese with a heavy Japanese accent, I start talking in Japanese and she suddenly is super impressed. I got so much extra stuff on top of my yakisoba.



The staff at a Korean restaurant I frequented always used to yell "your white girlfriend is here!" (in Korean) to the head waiter when I walked in, because he was the only person on staff who had some English and always served my table.

One time he good-naturedly told the other staff after they said it that I couldn't be his girlfriend because he was too short compared to me.

I took a leap and told him in Korean that I was was wearing heels right now, but would be happy to wear flats on a date.

We ended up dating for over a year before he had to go back to Korea to take care of his dad. He was the loveliest guy.



I am mixed ethnicity and apparently I can pass for a japanese person. While living in Japan, I was helping a caucasian friend teach an english class. a couple of students entered the classroom and I greeted them by saying "Good evening, welcome to class" or something brief and simple like that.

Despite being a single sentence, their jaws almost dropped and they both said "wow, your english is good". I laughed and had to explain to them that I was a 4th generation japanese-american, born and raised in hawaii. english was my native language.



Negotiating with vendors in Turkey. As they babbled amongst each other trying to rip me off, I'd make a super lowball offer in Turkish. the look on their faces was gold, and this happened often. Usually i got the deal as they were super embarrassed. (American who lived there 2 years, took Turkish 101 & 102 classes when i arrived.)



Mine is more wholesome. I worked at a department store and this one shift I encountered a sweet but confused old man with a strong french accent trying to ask me a question in English. I just asked if it would be easier for me to speak French, in French of course, and he smiled very wide. Most people in our area only speak English, so he was glad someone was able to help him in his native language.



I was in a bus, and a tourist couple was pretty much next to me talking about finding a hotel to have sex that night. The girl told him to stop saying that because someone might hear it, the guy replied "they don't understand English babe".

Well, I sure did.



I mean, I live in Canada and I'm half French Canadian so lots but the best was kinda the reverse - my dad yelled out to me in the middle of a crowded grocery store that he was "bleeding from my a**hole and have to go to the bathroom" in french, thinking no one would understand. Like, three people turned around with horrified wtf faces as he walked away. I just shrugged. What can you do, guy has hemorrhoids and no sense of shame, not MY fault. Now we all have to live with this image.



I was shopping and two people approached me and asked if the store had ice cream packages in English. I guided them to it (as I was heading there myself).

Once they got it, they instantly started talking Swedish (extremely poorly - Swedish is my native language) and said "how impolite I had been for not simply telling them and had felt like I was forced to lead them there."

I replied (in Swedish) "I was heading here myself, so why the hell would I simply tell you where it is?"

Both turned pale, grabbed the ice cream and hurried off.

And yes. This was in Sweden. There's literally no reason for them to assume I'd NOT speak Swedish.



Some japanese cashiers had a conversation deciding if my wife's red hair was natural. As we walked away I told them it was dyed but not to tell my wife that I know.



Most people don't realize that I speak Spanish fluently. I was in Mexico with my husband on vacation. We went to a restaurant. They gave us a menu with the side in English facing up. I flipped it over and the exact same menu was printed on the back in Spanish except the prices were about half that of the English version. I ordered our meals in Spanish just in case it counted towards the discount.



I, an Englishman, work in a bar in the south of France. We get a lot of tourists who naturally can't speak a word of French so a lot speak English as their go-to language (regardless of their country of origin).

Maybe 2 months ago I had an English lady order at the bar - which was quiet at the time - for a big bottle of water. Pretty standard request, except we only sell bottles of water up to 50cl (or alternativley offer tap water for free).

After offering her either of these options in perfect English because y'know, I'm English, she proceeded with the stereotypical 'raise of voice, slow talking and speaking with her hands' charade.

Her: "BIG...." gestures with her hands the size of 'big' "BOT-TLE" proceeds to pretend to unscrew a cap off a bottle "WARRRTEEER" air-drinks through her imaginary bottle of water.

So I gave her a shot of gin instead.

Her husband found it hilarious. He also recognised immeditley I was from the UK but let her play it out.

Maybe not ha-ha funny, more of a "OMG we are so freaking dumb sometimes" moment.



Kind of the other way. When I was younger my family and I (German) went to Greece and in a store. My grandpa started talking about how expensive that stuff there was and how cheap it looked. Then my mom found something she liked and the store owner came over to help her - in German.



I understand quite a bit of Spanish, and speak a limited amount. I was at a quinceañera with a friend and was having a really bad anxiety day. One of the middle aged men sitting at the same table as us was outright talking about me in Spanish, saying I had crazy eyes and how there was something wrong with me. My friend told him I could understand him and he just went quiet.




My wife (Norwegian) speaks 6-7 11 languages at varying levels of proficiency, and have a few good stories. Best one's from her time studying in Prague.

She went out with some Czech friends, all girls. They ended up in a bar, at a table next to a group of Norwegian guys that were on a weekend party trip. The guys were somewhat drunk, and of course immediately started flirting with my wife and her friends, in the typical heavily accented English spoken by Norwegians. While flirting, they discussed among themselves the various physical attributes of each girl, how slutty they were, how they'd perform in bed, what they'd do to them later that night in graphical detail, "I'm so getting laid" comments, and so on.

My wife translated everything into Czech for her friends. A lot of fun was had at both tables, the Czechs got more and more flirty as the Norwegians bought drinks, got bolder and became more and more certain they'd all actually get laid. After several hours, when the girls decided trather abruptly to end the evening, the Norwegian guys were a bit confused, as the girls all got so cold so quickly. Then my wife said, in Norwegian: "Nice meeting you guys, good luck", watched them all turn blood red, and left.



My friend's son knows fluent Spanish, but is white so when he brought his wife's mini van in to get it detailed the people cleaning it were all going on and on about how stupid and dirty this guy is and how he should make his kids clean the van instead. Then they went on about how cheap Americans are and they probably wouldn't even get a tip for all the hard work. When they were done he went right over to thank them, and let them know how much he appreciated the job they did and gave them a tip...all in Spanish so they knew he had heard every word they said. Edit: I probably should have mentioned that this was in Mexico right near the US border, so being white and a Spanish speaker was more unusual.



Was at a market in Thailand. Just as the stall owner is handing me my purchase, a tourist walks up and starts randomly educating me on bartering. I'd never met this person before, but they insist on showing me how it's done. So he's bargaining away and drives the owner down to about half price. With a smug look, he says "and that's how it's done."

I didn't have the heart to tell him I paid a tenth of what he did just by speaking politely using rudimentary Thai.



My family is Greek, however I have an aunt that lives in Germany. She was visiting Greece one time, and she went to the jewellery store with her husband, where they both spoke to the staff in English. They were looking at rings when my aunt wiped her nose in a tissue. One of the girls working there, thought she was trying to steal a ring and tells the other girl working there : I think she just put a ring in her tissue, keep an eye on her. My aunt turns to her and goes: I blew my nose, would you want me to show you my boogers??



My boyfriend and I went to Japan and stood out like the pair of hugely tall white folk we are. Literally no one expects foreigners to speak Japanese here btw. When just hanging out waiting to cross a street, a kid holding his mum's hand just stared at my 6 foot + boyfriend and said to his mum; "wow, foreigners are amazing aren't they?" We nearly died of laughter later, but there are tons of encounters like this. I only scare the pants off some of them though! Great fun! :)




I'm norwegian, but was in vacation in London, was on the way out the subway and waiting for a lift. Standing with my girlfriend, we overhear two girls behind me talking about me in Swedish (that I understood) and how hot I was and that they would definitely be down to bang if I asked. And how my girlfriend was not in my league and that I did not know how hot I was.

When the lift arrived, I turned around and thanked them (in norwegian) for the compliments, but that my girlfriend was far better looking than both of them.

They decide to not get on the lift with us.


Be careful what you say in public -- you never know who is listening! Do you have a great story to share? Drop it in our comment section below!

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