I had a conversation with friends of mine a few weeks ago, and it was quite interesting. So apparently, speaking your own language in front of native only English speakers is wrong? My friends and I somehow began talking about language and the topic of “I feel like they are talking about me” when people are speaking in their own language, was brought up. A little background, my two friends only speak English. They have this notion that when two or multiple people are speaking in their language, they are speaking about them, based on body language (for example: if the group are staring at them). I was a little frustrated at first because I did not understand why people had this mindset. But I stopped myself. I had to come to the conclusion that my friends had this mindset because they only speak one language.
Growing up, I used to be ashamed of speaking my native language in public. Whenever my mom and I were on the bus, she would speak to me in Wolof and I would respond to her in English. Thinking about it now makes me cringe. I did not want to speak Wolof in public because I did not want to be laughed at. Mind you, I was younger, and I cared about what people thought about me. But, as I got older, I started to embrace the languages I spoke. I became more comfortable in speaking Wolof with my mom in public. You may ask: how did this happen? Well, it took time. I had to become self aware and I think a lot of people struggle with that. I thought about it, realizing that no one was going to laugh at me for speaking my native language (or maybe they would).
But, I’m disappointed that people who are bilingual or multilingual are ridiculed for speaking a language other than English. I get it, if the case was that someone was working with a group and that group decided to speak their language instead of English. Yet, that person only speaks English and the group speaks English as well, but the group decided to speak another language. I get it. That would be frustrating because the person wouldn’t understand what their group was saying. But what I don’t get is when someone is in public talking on the phone in their language, and someone has the audacity to say, “Speak English!” What do you mean? If someone is talking to a relative or friend, what is your business? Does it concern you? That person has the right to speak their language in public.
Now, going back to my friends, of course they would be offended. And, I know why. They felt entitled. They want people to speak English because that’s the language of this country. They feel inferior when they are surrounded by people who speak a different language. I think that’s the feeling some native English speakers have when they hear someone else speak a different language. They think that people who are speaking a different language in front of them are talking bad about them. BUT THAT IS NEVER THE CASE. Okay, it can be, but it’s rarely the case. Those people could just be talking about what they are eating for lunch. Now, in terms of body language, even if those people are staring at you, that still doesn’t mean they are talking about you. I’m asking again, what is your business?
Everyone should speak the language they want to speak, especially if it is their native language. No one should be stopped. Maybe in certain circumstances, if it is at a workplace or at school when you’re doing a group project. However, if my mom called me on the phone and I spoke Wolof to her, no one should have the audacity to tell me to speak English. It really doesn’t concern the person. And, if I were with my cousins and we were speaking our native language in front of another person or group, we are probably not talking about them. So, I want people to stop assuming, which is what I told my friends. Even if someone is talking about you, just go about your day. Making assumptions really doesn’t benefit you.
Written by: Diaka Thiam
Thank you for reading!