DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in a neighborhood that is predominantly Spanish-speaking, and where I go to school, most of the students are Latinx. I am the only non-Spanish-speaker in my friend group. My friends will speak Spanish in front of me, knowing that I cannot engage with them. I know that they are not talking about me or anything, but I do feel excluded when I can’t understand what they’re saying. Is it wrong to ask them to speak English around me? — Left Out
DEAR LEFT OUT: You are not wrong to want them to speak English when you are around. You can ask them to do so. You can also step away when they get so engrossed that they forget that you are there.
Better still, you can take a Spanish class. If your friend group consists of all Spanish speakers, I’m sure they would appreciate it if you made the effort to learn their language. If you do try, chances are, they will be happy and may be inspired to be more inclusive. You can even ask them to help you to learn Spanish. What are their most frequent slang terms? When you hear a phrase that they say a lot, ask what it means and how to say it. Communication is a two-way street. If you become more interested in their language, they, in turn, will likely become more interested in you.
One thing that I know about Americans (and I am American) is that most of us only speak English. Yet our world is vast, and many other languages exist. To be a true citizen of the world requires that you learn about other cultures and languages. Go for it. Expand your ability to speak Spanish. And don’t stop there. Learn another language. It’s fun!
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DEAR HARRIETTE: It’s been brought to my attention that I may not be the best listener. I zone out a lot when people talk to me about topics I don’t find immediately interesting. It’s really a subconscious thing. Then if they ask me a question about it, I am dumbfounded because I don’t know what they were talking about. How can I become a better listener? — Listening Issues
DEAR LISTENING ISSUES: There is something called active listening that can save you here. Literally lean in when people are talking and look them in the eye. Pay close attention to whatever they are saying and ask clarifying questions. By engaging with them as they talk, you become an active part of the conversation. This can help you to avoid zoning out and to retain what is being shared. It also lets the speaker know that you care about what is being said. Even when the topic is not of particular interest to you, you can listen intently — actively — to show that you care about the speaker.
Another thing you can do is jot down notes, key words about the topic being discussed so that you can recall the conversation later. I have become better at retaining random bits of information by writing them down. You can, too.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.