Dear White People: Our Accents Don’t Determine Our Worth

Something I’ve noticed in the past when I mention the fact that I speak Malayalam, a Dravidian language spoken mainly in the southern Indian state of Kerala, is that the first reaction I get is: “That is so cool! Can you say something?” Despite this being kind of irritating since I, unfortunately, do not come with a default phrase, it has also been understandable. It is worrisome however when you see the same people, often white, mock the accent and look down on the culture.

The problem with this is that they think that being acquainted with someone that speaks a foreign language gives them a free pass to explore said language, offensive stereotype-testing included. It starts becoming an issue when you notice that this behavior only seems to exist when the language is more “exotic” than most like Asian. The way someone mocks the Chinese language isn’t comparable to Italian. Poking fun at things is natural and totally fine, as long as it isn’t exclusive to one type of language. It’s almost like white people pick and choose their favorite accents and languages.

There is a difference between a native speaker making fun of their culture when compared to someone foreign doing the same thing. You can’t deny that white people just find a way to somehow make everything about themselves and their opinion of the language. This carries onto the professional scene, where having a French accent is seen as attractive and beneficial whilst a thick Indian accent is seen as something to avoid if you want to be employable.

It hinders talented individuals from being given a chance because it limits them to their linguistic skills. Just because a programmer doesn’t speak fluent English doesn’t mean they won’t work hard and get things done.  Someone’s ability to speak English shouldn’t determine their worth and intelligence. As surprising as it might be to some people, being bilingual makes it hard to juggle the same vocabulary in more than one language.

You inevatibly sacrifice a part of your personaltiy in a language you’re fluent in when you decide to take up a new one.

Sadly I have had a firsthand experience with this. Ever since I started trying to attain a wide range of vocabulary in English, I noticed myself getting less fluent in German, even though this is the language I am supposed to use on a daily basis to communicate.

The same thing happened when I had to start learning Swiss-German to go to school in Switzerland as a child whilst communicating mainly through my native language. I was evidently judged based on my accent, even though I excelled as a student. This prejudice followed me all throughout my childhood until I adjusted my speech and accent. Said adjustment, however, resulted in me losing my fluency in my native language.

It’s upsetting when I go to visit my relatives in India now since I no longer have the knowledge it takes to converse in more nuanced ways than small-talk. There is a piece missing in order to be fully acquainted with the culture that comes with speaking the language. This deficit is something I weirdly feel in every language I speak now.

Whether it is inside jokes and regularly used expressions, the ability to be quick-witted and create wordplays or just simply feeling connected to the people you’re speaking to. This is the main issue with speaking multiple languages. You do not feel like you truly “belong” to any culture. So you have to make a choice: Will you do what’s conventionally acceptable and hide your true ethnicity as much as possible to avoid judgment or should you be yourself? No matter what, you’re compromising in one way or another.

I guess this is the price you pay when you sign up for a multicultural upbringing. I don’t want to simply speak the language, I want to feel like I understand the in’s and out’s of it, as many do I imagine. But how can this be achieved? Well, let me know when you figure it out.



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