I can’t help but feel proud every time I’m praised for speaking Vietnamese by my Vietnamese elders. It’s always nice to catch people by surprise in a good way. I credit my ability to speak Vietnamese to my parents, who made sure it was the main language in my house growing up.
However, I have cousins who don’t speak Vietnamese and some of my Asian-American family and friends barely speak or understand their family language.
It’s always a hot topic of conversation, especially among the older generations, to mock and shake their heads in shame at younger generations for not knowing a language. What kind of Vietnamese person are you if you don’t speak the language? Who is to blame in this situation?
One might say it’s the fault of the parents. But what if the parents are spending all their time working hard to raise a roof over their kids’ heads and can’t make the time to be with them at home to teach them the language? True language learning starts at a very young age and it can be difficult to master a language once you have passed a certain threshold for language capacity.
Not being able to speak a language does not make you a failure.
There are so many other aspects to who you are as a person that have made you successful. For me, writing articles, taking photos and producing content overall has everything to do with my ability to hustle and have a few less hours of sleep. Taking a leap and changing my career path entirely had nothing to do with Vietnamese (although I heard a lot of Vietnamese about why I didn’t just stay in the medical field). Speaking Vietnamese won’t help me edit photos for a client by the end of the week. Or, let’s go to an extreme example: Yes, speaking Vietnamese may or may not have been an asset to me when applying to schools, but let’s be real, the fact that I am Vietnamese and can lift the diversity numbers of this school is enough. UConn doesn’t really care whether or not I speak Vietnamese.
As a Vietnamese-American college student, working hard to get where I want to be in my life is what has led me to success most of the time. Being able to speak Vietnamese is a small part of the complexity of who I am.
For my friends and family that feel ashamed because they are not speaking the language they are apparently supposed to: make a list of your successes and then go back and cross off anything that required the “mother tongue” to get you there. You’ll find, hopefully, that your list of successes is pretty much intact.
I’m going to keep this column short and sweet for the week. Just like how language shaming should be kept. Short and sweet, once a year during the holiday season, and then we move on.
Kimberly Nguyen is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.