If you’re with a group of people who speak various languages, which language do you all choose? In some cases you may switch between several languages, in others you may all settle on a single language. In many parts of the world, English is used as a lingua franca, though it is not the only language to be used in this way.
When studying Mandarin in Taipei, I had classmates from all over the world. The one language we all could speak, with varying levels of proficiency, was Mandarin. One interesting thing I noticed was that we were generally able to understand one another without too much difficulty, but talking to native speakers was a different matter: they weren’t always as tolerant of mistakes, dodgy pronunciation and incorrect tones.
The common languages of the office Where I worked in Taipei were Mandarin and English. Most of the Taiwanese staff spoke fluent English, though some only had basic English and weren’t very confident about speaking it, and some were more comfortable speaking Taiwanese. Many of the non-Taiwanese staff, a mixuture of Brits, Aussies, Canadians, Dutch, and Spaniards, spoke fluent Mandarin, though some spoke none at all or only a little bit. We used to switch between Mandarin and English all the time, though if anyone present couldn’t speak or wasn’t confident about speaking one of those languages, we all spoke in the other language. Sometimes I ended up speaking Mandarin to non-Taiwanese colleagues, which felt quite strange.
The other day I was hanging out with some friends from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I don’t speak Czech, yet, so they were all talking to me and amongst themselves in English. Though they sometimes swtiched to Czech or Slovak when they got excited.