By Mod Myshayla
About a month ago, I was getting my hair done by a woman with a distinct accent. I didn’t know anything about her and I kept to myself like I generally do with people I come across. After a while, she asked, “Are you always this quiet? Or is it because of my accent?”
While we talked, sometimes she had to repeat herself because I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Turned out, she moved to America from Iran seven years ago. I reassured her that it wasn’t her accent that made me quiet, I was just like that with everyone. Other people at the salon backed me up.
A situation like this isn’t rare. Similar things happen online all the time too. A message that ends with “sorry for the bad English”.
I feel for people that learn English as a second language. Not only is it extremely difficult to learn but too many native speakers have developed an arrogant attitude to their own language, thinking it’s the best and anyone who doesn’t speak it correctly needs to apologize or get out of the country, even though English isn’t dictated the official language of the United States, the world, or the Internet, for that matter, it’s speakers seem to think so.
This belief is taken to a whole other level in kpop because the idols don’t even live in an English speaking country yet are forced to appeal to our standards still and not once slip up, or they’re made fun of until their self-esteem takes a blow. (Ex: Himchan and “loof”.)
Making fun of an idols’ English needs to stop for a number of reasons. First off, it’s incredibly brave to put yourself out there and speak a language you’re not entirely familiar with. I have a hard time with public speaking already, I can’t imagine how it’d feel to speak a language I was learning in front of hundreds of people or to be recorded speaking, having that video available for anyone to see for the rest of my life, and then being ridiculed for it.
Making fun of how someone speaks is a sure way to ensure they never feel comfortable talking to you again. You may feel the need to correct their pronunciation or grammar, but try to be patient and not condescending about it. Languages vary, English words don’t derive from the roots that Korean words do. Some vowels are used more or less, some letters simply don’t exist, not all alphabets are the same.
Another important thing to remember is, English is a colonizer language. This language has invaded countries by force. Some people of color were literally stripped from their language and had to learn English in order to survive. To treat it like the golden language is very ignorant and echoes the colonizers from the past.
Even the fact that some black Americans know English is because hundreds of years ago, when our ancestors were taken from Africa, they ended up learning. These Africans couldn’t even speak to each other because Africa has more than one language. They birthed children that would learn from the white people around them.
As if the skin whitening, plastic surgery, colored contacts, etc. idols go through and use isn’t enough, now they must speak perfect English as well. At this point, I could argue, it’s turning into assimilation. Of course, a lot of Korean idols have and always will have a strong connection to their culture but with the western influence, all these trends added together are beginning to feel like whitewashing. Even some names are being taken away and traded for predominantly white American/European names to be used as stage names or nicknames. There’s a reason for that too.
It’s very insensitive to first, make fun of someone trying to speak their best and then disregard how English has always been pushed onto People of Color. English is so respected, despite not being known by the great majority of the world, it’s granted this entitlement.
This briefly brings subtitles into the discussion. A lot of times I see fans crying about how there aren’t English subtitles for this and that. Yes, sometimes it sucks not knowing what idols are saying in videos but think about all the non-English speakers that watch English videos and feel that same way. English speakers, as a whole, no matter what race, seem to think everyone must drop what they’re doing and make sure they’re satisfied. Kpop is becoming international, but it’s still primarily made for Koreans, so of course people aren’t running around to make sure you, the English speaker, can get your precious videos translated. If whatever you’re trying to watch isn’t subtitled, I’m sure it will be by the end of the week.
I’ve literally seen comments, on YouTube, disliked until they were considered spam and the reason they were disliked was because they were in Korean. I’ve seen people reply to these comments “if you’re going to be critical, write in English. I can’t understand that.”
How is it that they had no problem with listening to a song in Korean but they suddenly had a problem with a Korean kpop fan’s Korean comment? How is it that they think English is so vastly more important, they’ll disregard all other languages and actually demand everyone writes in English for them.
You can’t claim to be open minded for liking kpop and at the same time attack Korean fans and Korean idols who are trying to be just as open minded and learn English. If being nice is too much to ask, then just leave. No one wants you here. No one that speaks English and no one that doesn’t.