Stop Telling People to Speak English

Courtesy of the Daily Sabah

You’re in America. Speak English.

There are only a few phrases that infuriate me more.

I am a 17-year-old bilingual high school student in America, and my first language was Vietnamese. Very early in my childhood, I vividly remember my mother playfully singing cải lương to me and my younger sister, my relatives recounting humorous anecdotes to our family members while feasting on bún bò huế and phở gà, and my cousins teasing each other in our native tongue whenever we visited each other during Tết. For the duration of my entire existence, the Vietnamese language is the embodiment of my identity. It is the language that I hear when I leave my home to go to school, and it is the language that greets me when I return. It is my home.

I am also an English speaker. I have spoken English since I was five years old. I converse with friends about music and sports in English, I write my AP language essays in English, and I take standardized tests in English. I speak English with the majority of the people I encounter. I have lived in a small town with a dominantly white population for most of my life. The moments when I can utilize my bilingualism are very scarce, save for the moments when I converse with my parents.

It is infuriating, as a second generation Asian American citizen, to see incidents of random passersby screaming at innocent people who are conversing in their native tongue to speak English because they are in America. The verbal and mental abuse imposed on people who speak their native language is unacceptable as a country that has diversity as its foundation.

The abhorrent hatred that is exhibited in the United States towards those who speak in their native language is disgusting and needs to end. It shocks me how people who take such pride and greatness in their nation can impose mental and physical forms of abuse towards people in our country. Despite issues that have occurred in the history of the United States, conflicts with radicalized religion, and political issues, they are not excuses for hate crimes that are being committed against innocent people. It is about time that the people of this nation realize that it doesn’t matter what country people come from, the color of their skin, what language they converse in, or what religion they practice. The only aspect that matters in order for society to be progressive is that all humans deserve the basic human right of respect.

While English is one the most commonly spoken languages in the United States, demanding people who speak in their native tongue to speak English mimics the disgusting attitudes of racism and anti-immigration sentiments. It is time for us to realize that exercising dialogue of people of native languages maintains diversity, which is an undeniably essential value in our country. It is time for us to allow the ability to speak another language other than English to be a gift, rather than a target. It is time for us to realize that the prospect of everyone deserving acceptance and tolerance sustains the bridge that connects us all in a contemporary society of multiculturalism in which being different is undeniably valuable.

It is because of my love to this country that I will, to the best of my ability, try to change it for the better and address the flaws that are prevalent. It is up to all of us to do our part, and the way to do that is to speak up when we see something wrong.


-Naomi Vuong