Diversity and discrimination in language

Joanne Lee, Beginning Journalism Student

“This is America. Speak English.”

The line clicks. My mother stares, stunned, at her phone. She had answered the unknown number in Korean, and had been immediately hung up on.

I’ve seen this happen far too many times– both in my family and through the media. I understand that the majority of people in America speak English and that it can be uncomfortable not knowing what someone nearby is saying. However, there is no excuse for discriminating against someone who isn’t speaking in your language.

When people discriminate against those who speak in foreign languages or with heavy accents, they do not understand that speaking English is a luxury in America. If people understood the difficult nature of learning how to speak a new language fluently in adulthood, discrimination would be much more uncommon.

My father, for example, is not the greatest at English but an eloquent speaker in Korean. When I hear him speak English, I can tell how frustrating it is for him to not be able to get his point across perfectly.

Some believe that switching languages shouldn’t be a personal issue if the speaker is currently living in America, but language is not only about the words that people use. It’s also about pride in one’s culture. Not only does Korean allow my family to speak with no barriers it represents my family and my heritage. It’s my form of communication with my relatives living in South Korea. It’s a connection to my cultural background.

The discrimination in our country is a result of a lack of understanding. We can make an effort to understand why people do not speak English. Try to imagine what it would be like to be harassed for not being perfectly fluent in a foreign language.

It is a privilege to speak English fluently in America. This privilege, granted at birth for many Americans, should not be used to discriminate against those who are working harder than many will ever know to gain the same privilege.