Lately it seems as though everything qualifies for racism or oppression. I’m kidding.
If I look at someone in a way that they don’t like and their skin happens to be darker than me (because we all know that there isn’t any racism against White people*), then I’m a racist.
*That’s sarcasm because yes, there CAN be and there IS racism against White people. Also, yes, that was me being very snarky.
If I prefer English to be spoken to me in a way that I can understand it, then I’m apparently now exhibiting oppression.
Recently I was scrolling through social media when I came across some interesting posts by the group that leads the online Spanish immersion classes that Julian and I take.
To their credit, the posts that caught my eye are thought-provoking (albeit misguided) and really make me, as a trilingual who’s been living in this country for almost 20 years, evaluate my relationship with the languages that I’ve worked SO hard (sometimes with tears!) to learn to speak as perfectly as possible.
I wanted to email the group (and specifically Kaila Diaz, the teacher) directly because I feel like people with big social media platforms can often get so deep into their echo chambers, that they may willfully ignore or unwillingly miss, and therefore never consider, the alternative viewpoints shared in short comments.
However, instead I decided to turn my email draft into a brief series of posts because that way I can hopefully reach and educate more people while potentially changing some minds along the way.
Note that while I’m not an academic, I do have some common sense, along with almost 30 years of experience in learning and speaking English as a second language (incl. 20? with French as a third language), in addition to family and friends who also speak other languages.
Want more context?
I’m originally from Bucaramanga in Colombia. I’d go so far as to propose that any Colombian my same-ish age (Millennial) and having moved here at the same-ish time (early 2000s) shares my mentality when it comes to the English language. I’d also argue that if this hypothetical Millennial is anything like me, then their parents may also agree with my views, having worked hard like mine to ensure their kid(s) is proficient in a foreign language.
Anyways, I also attended a nice, Catholic, and all-girl private school there that offered delicious, made-from-scratch lunches and where the parents were very involved. That may seem irrelevant but it goes to show that private schools there are different.
Some/Most private schools in Colombia have a knack for being bilingual–mandating instruction in English as well as in Spanish–and mine was no exception. Some of those schools are more immersion-based (where regular classes are taught in English) rather than just ESL (where some classes are more focused on teaching English).
Overall, it’s safe to say that knowing English is a MUST in Colombia, and people are, believe it or not, regarded with more esteem if they speak English. Therefore, speaking English well opens a LOT of doors to Colombians, so I grew up thinking that it made sense that it be seen as a very valuable trait.
I’m sure that native English speakers have seen just how important English is to people outside of the U.S.
I didn’t learn most of my English in school. At a very early age my parents enrolled me in English-learning classes at a Centro Colombo-Americano because they knew that it’d be a very important skill someday.
Despite me not enjoying those evening classes (<< that’s where the tears came in), I credit them with my abilities in English–abilities that:
- Allowed me to seamlessly adapt and assimilate to life in the U.S. when we moved here in 2002;
- Made others doubt I was, in fact, a bilingual from South America (something I was very proud of because in Colombia, MANY kids grow up wanting to speak perfect English and live in the US, so having accomplished so much in a foreign language at such a young age meant my parents’ hard work and sacrifices paid off);
- Also allowed me to perform really well in school;
- Let me become a Writing Tutor in college, where I helped native English speakers communicate and write (everything from mere essays, to resumes, to graduate theses) better in English… and so on.
The purpose of this context was mainly to show that my rationale when I discuss the points from Kaila’s posts isn’t far off-base, but rather, perhaps something new for “experts” like her to consider.
By the way, because of all that she’s shared that I wanted to debunk, I couldn’t help but break up my responses into a couple of posts, with this one being my first in this new series that no one asked for.
Without further ado, my first response–with my take following each line of hers:
View this post on Instagram
PSA: The United States does not have an official language!
But it does have an *unofficial* language.
The fact that most/all of Kaila’s posts (and those of other influencers like her) are in English shows that they’re very well aware of this too. After all, how else would they be able to get the most views and engagement on them? How else would they show their worth (for lack of a better word) to parents of bi/multilingual kiddos to whom they want to sell their classes?
English is what most people in this country use in their daily interactions and it’s also this country’s language of commerce. Therefore, it’s only normal to expect others to speak it in a way that allows them to communicate well to avoid misunderstandings.
So don’t you HATE IT when people say this?!
Depends on HOW they say it.
If someone came up to me at the park when I’m playing with our son and was rude about it, my Latina Mama Bear self will come out and give them a piece of my mind to explain that actually, yes, English IS the UNofficial language AND that knowing at least one other language can open many doors to him if he chooses to. But if they seem to merely want to understand it better, then I’ll calmly oblige because I don’t choose to take offense easily.
However, this goes both ways: One can’t or shouldn’t attempt to NOT speak English or to purposefully deny a child exposure to it.. and then claim that that’s because English isn’t the official language. To purposefully deny oneself the chance to improve on such an important skill (essentially to grow as human beings) simply to make a point is silly.
Let’s instead try: This is America, speak whatever language que te de la ch*ngada gana …because there are many languages native to this land, and English isn’t one of them
Technically speaking, not any one language is native to this land because everyone (from the earliest natives) immigrated here.
Only Africa and the Middle East could claim such an honor–having truly native tongues. The rest? Ute, Mohawk, whatever.. not one of them is this country’s (or a particular state’s) “native” language. Therefore, such a claim that wants to make natives superior to later immigrants (be they Spaniards, English, Irish, Africans, etc.) due to their language is wrong.
Also, swearing doesn’t help anyone maintain a professional persona when a more educated word would do.
…because this country enriched by those who arrive and bring the culture and language(s) with them.
This is true. Since everyone’s an immigrant, everyone has something to contribute, and that something can be good or bad, but still valuable (be it a lesson to learn or an enriching experience) to the culture at large.
…because if we believe in freedom of speech, freedom of language/dialect has to be included too.
Freedom of speech is for the government to not mess with MY ability to say and write whatever I want, but everyone’s still still free to like or dislike how someone else communicates.
Different tastes and preferences help make this country great and do not constitute racism in and of themselves.
…because multilingualism is a GIFT and monolingualism ain’t something to brag about.
This is elitist–and, depending on the person you’re talking to, classist and potentially ableist!
Many of us are fortunate in that we/our parents had the money to invest in us learning another language (in my case, add French). But not everyone has that luxury. Because yes, it’s definitely a privilege that not many others can afford or simply engage in.
If these influencers (who seem to only want to get people riled up on social media?) want to point fingers, then they should focus on school systems not prioritizing multiple language acquisition (by requiring only a few months of a foreign language, for example) rather than the individuals themselves whose parents may have lacked the money or who, as adults, later lacked the time to invest in something they didn’t deem that important.
And then instead of getting people riled up, they can, I don’t know, help?
- By talking to school districts about the importance of continued bilingualism…
- Offering more after-school playdates and opportunities for these children… and so on.
But I get it: posting on social media to an audience that already agrees with them is free, easier and less time-consuming, and creates way more engagement/$$$.
(I’m struggling not being cynical when the original post I’m responding to was also cynical and even rude at times, so I apologize.)
My monolingual husband didn’t even care about this obvious dig because he doesn’t have the time to learn another language besides the many other computing languages he knows. He states that had his schools required more instruction in Spanish than what he got, he’d have likely pursued it more.
The best part about it is that I also don’t care that he doesn’t know a lot of Spanish, to be honest.
Compared to everything else he does for our family and how hard he works to provide for us so I may stay home with our child and we can homeschool, his not knowing Spanish isn’t something I lose sleep over.
As a trade-off, our son’s fully bilingual and amazes us every.single.day with what he’s picked up in both languages at such an early age.
Also, instead of advocating for speaking any other language besides English, why not more strongly and explicitly advocate for multilingualism?
Because it doesn’t sound like people like her are:
- By staying monolingual, or keeping one’s child in a monolingual environment when it’s possible to introduce them to another language, or mandating that others be OK if some want to speak anything other than English (below), they’re shooting themselves in the foot: After all, monolingualism isn’t something to brag about, right?
Along those lines, multilingualism isn’t something to brag about if it’s combined with an imbalance when it comes to other important skills one may lack. Like if a bilingual influencer spends all their time on social media while avoiding customer inquiries, that’s not nice. Bi/multilinguals aren’t worth more than monolinguals, and those who think otherwise should get off their high horse and reconsider.
…because if someone isn’t talking to you, what does it matter what language they speak?
It doesn’t: But I’m of the belief that they should strive to let others understand them well, just as any other sane, respectful person would do for them… Just as I worked so hard to learn to do myself, and just as I had the fortune of teaching others to do as well.
…and lastly cuz “America” actually refers to an entire continent, not just this country.
To be fair, this county is commonly referred to as “America,” and that’s a non-negotiable because it’s factually correct.
Growing up in Colombia, I never said “I live in America,” but rather, “I live in South America.” A Canadian won’t tell you that they’re in America, but rather that they’re in North America.
So, this is America. Speak Navajo, speak Arabic, speak Mandarin, speak Farsi, speak Wolof, speak Swahili, speak Guaraní, speak Quechua, speak Maya, …speak whatever the hell you want. But don’t tell others what they can or can’t speak.
People in the U.S. should really speak any of those AND English, because English is the language that almost everyone here has in common, and it’s the language that allows commerce, literacy, the successful spread of ideas, and PROGRESS to flourish in this country .
And people in North, Central, and South America should at least speak their country’s official/unofficial language.
If someone from India wants to talk with me and they speak neither Spanish nor French, I’d expect to communicate with them in English, never Hindi.
English may not be this country’s one native language (and neither is Spanish, or Navajo, etc.) or its official language, but it’s still VERY important, as shown by not just these influencers’ own social media presence, websites, classes in which they may speak Spanglish, etc., but also everything else that’s spread in this country in English.
This is the United States of America, and while PERFECT English isn’t the official language, English IS its unofficial language. Therefore, a multilingual advocate should promote superior performance in all languages (while still communicating in perfect English, because engagement >> sarcasm, but not really).
My next post will address language “oppression” and linguistic “prejudice.” Hopefully this post hinted at where I’m going next.