Talking about family in English at work: What’s appropriate (or not)

talking about family in English

Hi there! I’m your English coach Christina, welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll learn about American culture and business know-how to become confident in English.

We spend a lot of time with our colleagues at work and classmates at school, so it’s understandable that we want to share a bit about our personal life with them.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know when we’re just being friendly and when we might cross a line and share too much about our personal life and family.

Sharing too much info can make other people at work uncomfortable. Here’s the thing – in the United States, your colleagues may think it’s impolite to let you know if you shared too much.

So how will you know when you’ve said too much? You will learn what details are best to avoid at work, right here in this episode.

Let’s go!

Knowing what’s appropriate or inappropriate to talk about is just one speed bump in learning a new language. The best way to build confidence in English is to practice, practice, practice!

That’s three “practices” because in our Faster Fluency Conversation Club, motivated students meet three times a week with one of my expert English fluency trainers for conversations in a small groups in real-time.

Each class is focused on a theme. Prior to the class, you’ll receive vocabulary and grammar that has to do with the theme so you can practice what you’ve learned in the online session with the other students.

The Faster Fluency Conversation Club is a fantastic way to gain fluency faster, while having a lot of fun.

T.M.I.:  “Too Much Information.”

TMI stands for “too much information”. For example, personal details such as health ailments, fights with your partner or teenager – these sorts of things could be considered TMI if brought up in the workplace.“I’m good, but I’m going through a tough situation with my dad right now…”

But sometimes, there may be something going on in your life that isn’t… well… all that pleasant. TMI or not, you feel it’s important to share it anyway because you feel it’s important that others have a good idea of your current state-of-mind.

If a colleague asks, “How are you?” And you don’t feel like replying “I’m fine,” when something major in your life is happening, you can respond this way – for example – “I’m good, but I’m going through a tough situation with my dad right now…” – or whatever it is that’s troubling you – if your colleague is prepared to hear more about what’s happening in your life, they will ask, in which case you can share more.

However, it’s a good idea to avoid leaving the conversation on a sad or negative note, try to change the conversation to something more positive so your colleague can feel uplifted rather than depressed after the conversation.

For example, you could say “Good thing I’m going hiking this weekend, so that’ll help clear my head. I always feel much better after a long hike!”

In the United States, the topic of kids can get you into some sticky situations. For example, presuming a female colleague has children is a bit passé or outdated – many women, and of course men as well – in the United States choose not to have children, and might not appreciate colleagues presuming that they have kids.

So – “How many kids do you have?” or “Do you have kids?” are two questions you may want to avoid if you want to enjoy more peaceful interactions at work.However – if a colleague mentions their kids in a conversation, then you know it’s a safe topic to discuss.

Money

Money comes up all the time in American television and movies. Usually, the characters have money – or at least, don’t seem to worry too much about having enough.

If you are a fan of the American sitcom “Friends”, then you are probably baffled or confused how none of the characters seemed to work very often and yet they still managed to afford beautiful New York City apartments! Well, that’s a fantasy.

Despite how American culture seems to celebrate money, questions about personal finances are considered impolite for most Americans. Avoid asking how much a colleague paid for a house, a car, a vacation – even a pair of shoes.

Americans can be a bit sensitive to the subject. There’s actually a word for it – it’s called “nosy.” When someone is being nosy, they are being intrusive, and literally trying to dig their nose into someone else’s personal business.

Let’s check out a few other idioms on the subject that will never be used to reference you or your behavior – or mine!

A few useful idioms

Have you ever seen one of those chattering teeth toys? You wind it, and it just keeps chattering?

That reminds me of the noun “blabbermouth.” A “blabbermouth” is not a positive thing. It means someone who says too much or always says the wrong thing at the wrong time.

“To let the cat out of the bag” is a fun idiom, it sounds almost cute – perhaps you’re giving a kitten to someone as a present?

No, in American English, when you “let the cat out of the bag” it means you’ve revealed a secret that you weren’t supposed to share. The phrase suggests that you revealed the secret on accident.

In the business environment, keep all your cats in the bag. That is, if cats are allowed at the office!

No need to run to the bathroom or call a plumber. When you “leak” something – it means you exposed a secret on purpose, that is to intentionally reveal a secret.

“Airing dirty laundry” is a very visual idiom. As you can imagine, “airing laundry” means to let it out to dry. To air your dirty laundry, now that is a bit embarrassing. It means sharing too many personal, usually negative tidbits, details, or situations in your personal life with others.

What about you?

Are there any personal details you recommend staying clear of with coworkers or classmates, either in your culture or North American culture?

Do you have any fun idioms to share on this topic? Share them below in the comments!

Navigating in everyday American English at work can be tricky. There are a lot of cultural, as well as language details to be aware of. The more practice you have speaking American English in live situations, the more fluent you will become.

That’s why I offer my Faster Fluency Conversation Club. These weekly live-sessions pair you up in small groups with other motivated students and a Fluency Trainer, either Trish or Cara.

The groups are small, ensuring you get plenty of practice to speak American English, and receive feedback on mistakes or suggest ways you can speak more colloquial, so you gain fluency faster.
You can get all the details and join the Fluency Club by clicking this link.
You’ll also get extra resources and a conversation guidebook, to help you increase your vocabulary and become more confident in conversations.

Thank you for learning with Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next time!

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