We speak English here

Published 9:48 am Thursday, September 28, 2017

Someone once told me a joke that went like this: “What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual, right? So what do you call someone who speaks two languages? That’s bilingual. And what do you call someone who speaks only one language?”

“American.” Of course.

I laughed initially at the joke because I felt like there might be a small nugget of truth there. Stereotypically, we aren’t exactly known for being able to speak anything other than English here. I’m not knocking that though, because I realize most of us don’t have a need to speak anything else on a day to day basis.

But though we might not have a large variety of different languages spoken here in the Roanoke-Chowan area, we shouldn’t discount plenty of Americans across the country who actually are familiar with more than one language.

The sad thing, however, is that you can find many disgruntled people (on the internet and in real life) who will often complain “this is America, we speak English here!” whenever they hear the slightest hint of a few words in a different language. And heaven forbid they have to read subtitles while watching something! You’d think the world was ending, according to them.

I’ve always hated that attitude, to be honest. To me, it feels like people who say that kind of stuff are simply too lazy to try to reach any common communicative ground. I realize that learning another language is not easy—I’ve studied two different languages and I still feel like I’ll never be decent enough to communicate well in either—but it doesn’t hurt to at least try to learn a little. Why does the non-English-speaking person always have to do all the work?

The topic is on my mind this week because ESPN2 has recently been broadcasting Monday Night Football games in Spanish. (The English broadcast remains, as usual, on ESPN.) They’ll only be doing the first half of the season, but that’s still several weeks of football games.

I don’t usually watch much of the NFL because football games are entirely too long to hold my attention and I can never remember all the rules for penalties, leaving me confused half the time. But when my brother told me about the Spanish broadcast, I was interested. My Spanish skills are rustier than an old busted-up car left out in the rain for a decade, so I don’t understand much of what the announcers are saying. But it’s still fun to try to pick out words that I do remember. And if I keep watching on Mondays, like I predict I might keep doing, I know I’ll probably learn a few new words in Spanish too.

But moreso than for just my entertainment benefit (and giving me an option to not have to listen to English commentary during a game), it’s nice that someone is making an effort to provide a more accessible option to Spanish-speaking football fans. Those grumpy English-only people can complain all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that Spanish-speakers live in America too. And sometimes they might want to sit down to watch a show in their own native language.

Who wouldn’t?

I use twitter often, and through it, I’ve met a lot of people from around the world: Chile, Malaysia, the Philippines, France, etc. They all have their native languages they grew up speaking, but they also communicate with others and myself in English. Sure, they make grammar mistakes, but that doesn’t stop us from having conversations and learning more about each other.

I’ve always thought their ability to communicate so effectively was impressive.

But then again, I’m just an American.


Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.