“Can You Speak English?”

I have an Australian accent. Having lived in Australia for over 20 years, I’ve surprised people when I meet then face-to-face after talking to them over the phone and we usually have the following exchange:

Person 1: Hi. How are you?

Me: Very good, how about you?

Person 1: Great, really great… I was looking for William, is he here?

Me: Oh that’s me, you must be *****

Person 1: OH! You’re William?

Me: Yes… I’m William

Person 1: Oh. You speak very good English.

Me: …Thank you. (Is that really a compliment?)

Does the fact that I look Asian mean I can’t speak English or speak English well? Does it mean that any conversation is rendered obsolete or inadequate because of this supposed language barrier that hasn’t been proven?

The most apparent example that happens is when I enter and leave the grounds of my University. The area outside the entrance is constantly thronged with various people attempting to solicit donations (90%) and others. Where someone who looks “white” or local is approached regularly, I’m usually ignored because I look…well, Asian.

There was a perfect example of this not long ago. I was walking out with a non-Asian female in front of me and a non-Asian male behind me. There was a person standing outside who approached the female, ignored me then approached the male behind me. I turned around at that point, walked up to the person and asked them, “What are you trying to sell?” Needless to say, that person was shocked for a second, although I will concede it could just be that someone was proactively interested for once.

I was somewhat miffed that he wouldn’t even at least TRY to sell his ideas/products/cousin/Great Uncle Bob’s dog to me. Please, I’m pretty sure that English (or any language, for that matter) isn’t confined to racial boundaries. Is society at this point so entrenched along racial lines that we cannot see beyond it? Do we judge just because someone has a surname that’s like a tongue twister? English is not a language confined to racial features; the least one can do is ask the time honored question. “Can you speak English?”

As a side note, the man spent ten minutes trying to sell me a book on Nirvana. Brilliant stuff. Maybe I should just have kept my mouth zipped.

[“I Speak English” T-shirt available from Blacklava]

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About William

William is a very simple person who can't sit at a desk for an extended period of time without going insane. He is currently studying law but hopes to find a career with more than just daily paperwork. He believes that humans are blind to their own bias and often reason is merely a state of mind. He also doens't mind being contraversial at times, believing that accepted notions should be challenged to encourage greater thinking. He has a hunger for going off the beaten track and doing something other than the usual asian pursuits (karaoke!), and is passionate about hiking and extreme sports. He likes to kick back to music and a good movie now and then and is proud of having never been drunk in his life (or broken a bone!). Eventually, he wants to have made a difference to the world somehow, and strongly believes the maxim that glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever. Oh, and he likes to blog on 8asians and brag about himself in bios.
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