Even The Language Has Privilege

, , , , , , , | Learning | October 30, 2019

(I do a year-long high school student exchange in the US when I am 16. I’m from northern Europe originally. It is my second week in school and our English teacher — as in the “normal” language and literature teacher, not English as a second language teacher — starts a discussion in class about languages and how some people speak several.)

Teacher: “For example, in the US, Spanish is the most common second language. [My Name], you’re an exchange student, so what about you? Do you have a second language?”

Me: “Yeah, my second language is English.”

Teacher: “No, no, [My Name], a second language.”

Me: *pause* “Yeah, it’s English.”

Teacher: “A second language is something you learn later in life, for example in school. So English does not really count.”

Me: “Surely it counts if it’s not my first language? I mean, English is not the official language of my country and we do learn it at school.” 

Teacher: “Well, English is not really a second language, though. Do you speak any other languages? I mean it would be a bit strange if your school didn’t teach you a second language.”

Me: “Sure, okay. Yeah, I speak German well and Swedish decently.”

Teacher: “Hey, that’s great, two second languages! And if you are from–” *looks at her notes* “–Finland, then you also speak Finnish. So, that’s actually three second languages!” *moves on to another student*

Me: *quietly* ” That’s… that’s my first language.”

(On the plus side, my classmates thought the whole thing was funny so at least we added some comedic value to the class.)

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