“Language is the road map of culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” – Rita Mae Brown
A few weeks ago I was assigned some reading homework for my English class, and I found myself dying to write about it here! It was a piece called “Mother Tongue” written by Amy Tan, and I found my brain going crazy making all these connections… because I could relate SO MUCH to this piece of writing, as I’m sure any other expat can.
This passage highlighted how different people from various cultures use the English language in their own ways. In the narrative, Amy Tan described the way her mother spoke a ‘broken’ English and gave many examples of how sometimes this held her back as people didn’t take her as seriously. She highlighted a really important issue for me, does the way we speak hold us back?
As an expat, I hear people with different accents, speaking in different languages, and different in dialects every day, but I’d never really thought about what this means to them. Does the way we speak ever hold us back and is it an indicator of who we really are? When I first moved to Dubai, a lot of people commented on how ‘posh’ my British accent was. I’d grown up in London my whole life, so I had never known anything different, I thought that the way I spoke was completely normal. However, in my first international school, I became so self-conscious of my accent, that I even looked forward to my language classes, because I knew that was a time where I didn’t have to speak with my ‘accent’.
But this was not a one-way street. Joining an international school gave me the opportunity to meet people from many different parts of the world, and to hear the way they talked. I distinctly remember in my first school in Dubai we were put into ‘sets’ based on ability and most of the children in the highest set for English, were the English kids, the ones who spoke English in what seemed the ‘perfect way’. There are so many examples of this: I recently heard the story of a friend who’s originally from Taiwan, but moved to school in America for a year, and was not allowed to take the AP English class, because the teacher didn’t think she could speak ‘real English’ even though she was one of the highest scoring students in her school on the AP exam.
Before putting all these pieces together, I had never really thought of language as another barrier we have to overcome, or as another means of discrimination. Just because someone doesn’t speak the same way as you, what deems them less than you?
Our world is becoming increasingly global and if we still have these old ideas stuck in our heads that there’s only one ‘perfect’ way to speak and one perfect ‘dialect’ then we’re going to be holding a lot of deserving people back.
We’re all from different places, and perhaps English is not our first language, but the way we speak it and our own variations are what makes us unique. The subtle differences we share make the world interesting. So next time you hear someone speaking a different ‘English’ from you, don’t be so quick to judge, because we all speak in different ‘English-es’.
Have you ever experienced something like this? What are your thoughts on this subject? Let me know in the comments!
Little Miss Expat
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