[4 minute read]
Language is not something I really think about on a day-to-day basis. Most of the time, I just go through my day freely communicating with ease and not running into any language-related problems. I feel like this is the way a lot of native English speakers living in America feel, and I’ve found that it is a very ignorant way of thinking. Everyone should acknowledge that being fluent in English is a major privilege that is often overlooked or taken for granted by native speakers.
During my first conversation session at ALI, I was talking with an international student specifically about what our high schools were like. He said that he had a few required classes that he had to take during high school, and that one of them was four years of English. I mentioned that I was also required to take a foreign language and my conversation partner was puzzled by this, and he questioned me on why I would be required to learn any other language besides English. This forced me to step back and think more deeply about English.
My conversation partner’s statement is sad but true, because in a practical sense, if you know English, there is not a need to know any other language because of English’s dominance in the world. This is unfortunate, because it is not fair to rate languages above each other because it creates a big disadvantage to those who are not native English speakers, and thus they are given the burden of learning another language (usually English) out of necessity.
This all stems from the amount of power that English speakers have economically and politically. Many countries rely on capital from tourism, which comes from a lot of English speakers because of the amount of economic power that they have. This forces people from non-English speaking countries to learn English, so that they can communicate with their customers in order to make a living.
This is not the first time that I’ve realized this, either. In high school, I did a full immersion program in France where I had to exclusively communicate in French for the length of the trip. I would often go into shops and try to order or buy something in French, but the shopkeeper would often sense that I was an English speaker and ask to practice their English skills with me. This was a very interesting experience because in America it would be a rare occurrence for someone to want to practice a different language in random conversation. But, in other countries, people take every chance they get to practice English because of how prevalent it is.
I’ve noticed that many people that I’ve seen that are not English speakers are often looked down upon or mistreated whether intentionally or not. I think that if more native English speakers were cognizant of how much of a privilege it is, it would help to erase the bias towards people that are not fluent. We shouldn’t expect others to speak the language we were raised with, and we could all open ourselves up a little more to learning another language ourselves.
Here are some great language learning tools and culture links to expand your knowledge while at home in quarantine! Of course, keep following the ALI Life and Times for more articles about culture, advice, and life!
Duolingo allows you to set a daily language learning goal through free online classes. There are a variety of languages to choose from: https://www.duolingo.com
The USC Office of International Services also features a variety of articles and news related to the international community: https://ois.usc.edu/category/news/
David is a student in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. He was born in Connecticut, but has traveled to France, England, the Caribbean, and Fiji. In his free time, David likes to act, explore, and participate in escape rooms.