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  • Allison Chan

Speaking Terms

When I was younger, I always wondered why my friends would make fun of my English pronunciation. The way I said certain words sounded different to those around me and often friends of mine would laugh, asking why I delivered certain words so “weirdly”. Although their tones and - likely - their intentions were of lighthearted wonder, their targeted laughter struck deep within me. Countless people struggle to speak English within the US but are often ridiculed for their attempts to adapt to a new language (not to mention new cultural norms and geographical accents). Moreso, this light hearted teasing quickly turns into off-handed racist remarks. In some instances, it leads to murder and death.

Language-related stereotypes are normalized in Western society. When asked to accomodate for other languages, we (English speakers) tend to do the absolute bare minimum instead of putting in the effort for a creative and respectful solution. People mispronounce food names and never bother to correct themselves, we expect foreign celebrities to speak English in interviews instead of providing accurate translations (BTS, Bad-Bunny, etc.), and teachers continue to misconstrue names in classrooms without ever asking for student assistance (or worse, ignoring it). Names have meanings; they are a part of a human's identity, culture, and existence. Educators that do not put in the effort to correct their own failures can cause long-term negative effects on children at young ages and never realize the implications of their actions.

There are a great deal of AAPI children who act as their parents' translators. From legal documents to parking tickets, these children have their families' entire world on their small shoulders. Language barriers can cause external family problems while deeply affecting the child’s emotional wellbeing. A friend of mine who is sixteen and first-generation Filipino, helps translate emails, letters, and at stores for the past eight years. She explains, “When I went to the store with my parents when I was younger, I was annoyed and embarrassed but now that I've gotten older I understand that it can be difficult to learn and understand a language that they have not fully adapted to.”

The meaning of “broken English” is a non-standard, alternative way of speaking English. This way of speaking - although different for each individual - does not translate to a lack of intelligence. It is common for people to feel embarrassed or nervous around people who appear to not be fluent in English simply because they are worried they won’t be able to communicate. These specific and negative feelings easily lead to alterations that can result in violence. By treating people who aren’t fluent in English with the same level of patience and respect as anyone else, we can prevent potentially dangerous situations from occurring.

With language barriers, it is inevitably hard to find well-paying jobs that require little to no English comprehension. While many people are looked down upon due to their occupation, onlookers are ignorant of their lack of resources. Additionally, many immigrants have trouble communicating and can't afford a translator to help translate what their medical providers and patients are saying. This again places pressure on their children. Furthermore, this could cause serious problems because one word that goes misheard can be incredibly harmful.

Many immigrants make sacrifices for their children when they come to America just so their children could have a better education. However, this act of goodwill can - unintentionally - cause intense pressure for their children, subsequently leading towards harsh mental health related repercussions. The lack of societal acceptance and understanding for those without perfectly fluent English could easily become part of our downfall as cultures continue to mix throughout the globe.


Misty, Lopez. “Language Can Be Cruel” Tiger Times, 27 April 2017


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