What do you do when people criticize your English? Not in a good, loving way, but in a demeaning and patronizing way?
When I get negative comments and criticism (and I do, a lot) I usually don’t respond. But there was something about a comment I received on YouTube recently that triggered me, so I decided to respond in a video.
I wanted to do that so you’ll see that I, too, receive negative feedback, and I don’t let it get to me – and neither should you.
But also, I wanted to show you what Native Speakerism is – the assumption that a select group of people (or teachers) with a certain linguistic background is superior to other groups who don’t share the same background. I think it’s important that we identify it when we see it – as it takes on many forms – and call people out on it.
If you feel like sharing a negative comment you received – write it in the comments, and add your response after watching this video!
Are you concerned about being criticized for your English, being judged for your pronunciation, grammar, and maybe made fun of your cute little accent? If that’s the case for you, then I want you to know that I totally get you. As a non-native speaker of English, and a public one, teaching English and teaching pronunciation, I can tell you that I’ve had my share of comments from people who think that I simply don’t do a good enough job teaching and speaking English. And they made a point of telling me what I’m doing wrong.
Now, I’m not talking about kind generous feedback from people who want to share with me their knowledge. Because those comments helped me become a better communicator, and I’m very grateful for those. No, I’m talking about the mean, nasty comments that are meant to make me feel bad and small.
Now, in the past I used to let those comments affect me and I would get hurt, but these days, these comments just make me laugh and I just keep going. Sometimes I comment something funny on them. But recently I received this comment that I decided not to move on and to bring it here and discuss it here. Because, first of all, to show you that even I get negative comments and I get judged for my English, so you should feel good about yourself and see that it really isn’t the reason why we should stop doing what we want to do. And it should definitely not stop us from creating and speaking and expressing our thoughts.
Especially if you are a business owner or an entrepreneur, and you’re thinking about starting a YouTube channel or showing up on video, on social, and you’re afraid because you’re afraid that people are going to make fun of your English and question your authority. So, this is definitely not the reason why you should not do what you want to do. And I am a living example of that. And even though you may get negative comments, it means nothing.
And the second reason why I wanted to bring this comment here is because I wanted to show you what native speakerism looks like. Native speakerism is an ideology in the ELT industry – English Language Teaching industry – that suggests that native speakers or people who’re characterized as native speakers are superior to non-native speakers – pedagogically, culturally, and linguistically.
Now, it’s broader than just the English teaching industry, because if you’ve ever tried to apply for a job and the requirements stated that it’s for native speakers only – regardless of their skills or expertise – that is native speakerism as well. Preferring a certain group simply because of their linguistic background. So let’s go into the story.
There is a video that I created called ‘The Single Most Effective Way To Improve Your English’. And in the video, I start talking about all the possible things that you can do. And then at some point I say, “You do you boo”, which is a slang word to “you do whatever you want.” And this video has been up and running for a while, but recently I saw a comment on this video. And in the comment J R says:
“When I was first learning Hebrew, I was advised never – as a nonNative speaker – to use very slangly phrases. It sounds awful – as in “You do you, boo”. Nah, bad.
Also, Hadar – your word “English” sounds much more like “Englesh”. Just sayin’. Don’t say that, though.”
Okay. So let’s break it down, my friends, let’s break it down. Now, to be honest, when I first read it, I got all fired up by the audacity, and I comment something funny and witty and mean, but then I decided to do something different. I’m going to share with you what I commented at the end.
Now, here is the thing. First of all, it seems like this person knows me. So they were using English – and I’m going to say they, cause I don’t know if it’s a he or a she, so I’m going to use they. Now, that person knows me, otherwise they wouldn’t be using the word Hebrew or to describe their Hebrew journey.
Now, I don’t know if this person actually learns Hebrew. I kind of doubt it, but whatever. Let’s just agree that that person learns Hebrew and someone else, who is that person anyway, told them that they should never use slangley words because it sounds bad. First of all, who cares what someone said to you about your Hebrew, right?
I don’t care about what they think about your Hebrew and you should not be sharing that with me. Because my English journey and your Hebrew journey are not the same. So don’t compare and don’t give me notes, you are not my teacher.
Second, when someone says “You should never use it as a non-native speaker”, it suggests that they, as native speakers, are entitled to use certain words in a way that non-native speakers are not entitled to use because it sounds bad – oh, God forbid, it butchers the language. So we cannot use a certain set of words because we are not culturally immersed, like slang words. Now that, my friends, is native speakerism – the assumption that only a select group of people can use the language fully, and others cannot because it sounds bad.
Now, it doesn’t sound bad because I pronounced it wrong. It sounded bad to him because it was culturally inappropriate because I did not grow up in the US. Does that make any sense to you? Because to me it doesn’t. I dunno. Now, honestly, if I were to see someone who is trying to use slang words when speaking, I would be so incredibly respectful and appreciative. Not only that they’re coming closer to me by communicating with me in the language that I was born into, they’re also coming closer to me by using certain cultural elements that are meant to bring us even closer, and to make the conversation more specific and more comfortable.
So, I would be very appreciative of that. So let’s just agree that there is no universal law that says that non-native speakers cannot use slang words. And just because someone said that to you does not make it true.
So, JR, if I were you, I would do some soul searching to see why other people’s ideas and voices are so dominant that are preventing you from communicating confidently and fluently. Because I’m assuming that having all these ideas about how you should or shouldn’t communicate in a second language, probably affect your fluency in Hebrew, if that indeed is a language that you are pursuing. Anyway, let’s move on to the second part.
The second part says: “Also, Hadar – your word “English” sounds much more like “Englesh”. So, JR didn’t feel like it was enough to let me know that I shouldn’t be using slang. He also wanted to hurt me at a place where I feel very confident and comfortable, and that his pronunciation. So he decided to let me know that my pronunciation is not accurate. It doesn’t matter that the ‘i’ sound in English is unstressed and oftentimes the ‘i’ turns into a schwa, and that’s called an allophone. But let’s set that aside.
The way it was said was meant to hurt. And I’m saying that because I want you to be able to recognize it when you get negative or mean feedback. Because if the feedback is meant to make you feel small, then you need to make a decision and say to yourself that you are not going to let it affect you. Because it’s about them, and it’s about them trying to gain power over you, and it’s not about you not doing a good enough job.
Because ultimately, I don’t care if I mispronounce the word ‘English’ and say it like ‘Englesh’. I don’t care. The purpose is not to sound exactly like a native. So, this person does not get what it is that I’m talking about. Those nuances when I teach, they don’t matter, as long as we are all communicating confidently. My message in my goal is to simplify pronunciation, and to simplify how spoken English works. In those subtle nuances they don’t freaking matter.
Now, to wrap it up, he said: “Just sayin’”. Without a G, with an N – that sounds slangly. Just sayin’, just sayin’, right? That’s how I would pronounce it. And then he said, “Don’t say that though”. Meaning, I can write it down because I’m a native speaker, but you can’t say that because you are not. That is native speakerism.
When people use language to have power over you, it is your job not to comply with it, not to participate, not to take part in it. You feeling bad, you feeling hurt, you feeling like they might be right is being complacent, is agreeing with that assumption that they are better than you. That they have something that you don’t.
And I’m not speaking out of nowhere. I have students and teachers in my community that share with me the negative comments that they receive constantly – on their English and on their accent. So, it’s not something that I invented and it’s not something that just happened to me. And this is why I’m speaking to those people who get those negative comments. And they need to just not take emotional part in it.
Because once you are hurt or effected or you are upset because of that, it’s like you acknowledge the fact that they are better than you, that they have something that you don’t. And that is absolutely not true. And you know that, and I know that. It’s just don’t let that ritual, or that habit, happen to you again next time you come across such a situation.
And here’s another thing. I don’t see English as something that belongs to native speakers or to non-native speakers. A language does not belong to anyone. And no one needs permission to use English one way or another. English is a language, and as a language, it is fluid and flexible, and it’s designed to be molded into something new by the mouth of the person who uses it.
Now, of course, we want to be clear, and of course we want to use English in a certain way that optimizes our communication. This is why I’m so passionate about pronunciation. But there is a difference between pronunciation and using the language properly, and using the language to belong somewhere because I already feel like I belong. And I don’t need anyone telling me that I sound like a native or that I don’t sound like a native, or giving me permission to use slang words or approving my pronunciation. And neither should you.
Oh, and by the way, here’s what I responded to him:
“Here’s what you don’t understand. I’m not trying to get into your team. I AM the team.”
Okay, that’s it. I can’t wait to hear what you guys think. Let me know in the comments. And if you want to connect with me even more, come on over to Instagram and follow me at @hadar.accentsway. And if you want to get a lot of free resources to help you become your best self in English and unlock your full potential when communicating in English, then visit my website hadarshemesh.com. And there’s a lot of great stuff that I’ve prepared for you. And I can’t wait for you to get your hands on it.
Thank you so much for watching. And I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.
More episodes about native speakerism:
Equality in English | The Live English Show
A conversation About Culture, Identity and Language | The Live English Show
DON’T ASK me about my ACCENT