Linguistic acceptance

Danielle Zukowski

Many English-speaking Americans become uncomfortable in the presence of foreign languages.

Of course many are excited to learn a phrase or two, to hear accents and such, but when they become the minority they are not as thrilled. As soon as multiple speakers congregate and begin speaking their own language in the midst of a non-speaker themselves, they deem it rude and offensive. They perceive it as exclusion. 

Insecurities may arise whether the group is gossiping about them. Or maybe they just feel left out because without understanding the topic or speaking the language, for that matter, they are unable to participate in the conversation. For this reason some people have a strong conviction that English should be spoken in the presence of English speakers.

People who speak English as a second language that are not equal in ability to a native speaker are oddly viewed as inferior. They are discriminated against. Many Americans become angered that those with minimal English skills are in service jobs and demand that if they live in our country they must speak our language. 

To make this prejudice even more curious is that when Americans are abroad, they tend to not learn that country’s language fluently or sometimes not at all. Americans expect other countries to speak English when they tour. They become upset, “Why doesn’t anyone speak English?” 

The question of why we don’t speak their language seems to not often be addressed. If we hold other speakers up to that standard in our country, fine, but it only makes sense that we hold ourselves to the same standard when in theirs.

We love our freedoms in America. And as a country of immigrants, we should respect that others have just as much right to express themselves in their language as we do ours –especially when with their family or in their home. 

Their language bonds them and, sometimes, it is one of the last remaining treasures after immigrating. After leaving behind their culture and all familiarity, they come into a foreign country with a shred of their identity which should not be taken away from them. 

Cultural heritage is important. Children should be taught and allowed to retain their first language. Yes, English is known to help people to be more successful, as is Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian, because they are spoken in many countries and have come to dominate. But that doesn’t not mean beautiful, historically rich languages should be tossed aside. They are just as significant.

One of the problems causing this intolerance is that many Americans speak only one language whereas in other countries that is quite atypical. Gradually, Americans are becoming more linguistically aware by the implementation of language requirements in schools. 

However, much focus is still directed toward English. And it is not just due to the forces of English speakers, but foreign as well. It is fairly normal to see families teach their language to their children but not the writing system, or for the children not to pass on the language to the next generation. Preserving these languages will help to create acceptance while reducing linguistic and, in turn, cultural discrimination.

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