Earlier this year, my family and I took a vacation to San Diego.  On our way down, we stopped at a vista point.  A man offered us some peanuts to feed the ground squirrels.  He assumed that since we spoke Hmong, we did not speak English.  So, he spoke broken English to me and my husband.

“Peanut.  Here.  Give.  [He points to the ground squirrels].  Squirrels.”

I paused, looked at him in puzzlement, then took the peanuts.  My husband said in Hmong, “Honey, koj puas hnov nws hais lus rau wb zoo li wb tsis paub lus Miskas (Did you hear him speak to us as if we didn’t speak English)?”

“Tej zaum nws tsis paub hais lus Miskas pob (Maybe he doesn’t speak English)?” I said.

We had heard the man speak English to other people right before he offered us some peanuts.  I couldn’t refrain myself from laughing, so I turned my attention to Jade and Sage while the man spoke in broken English to my husband.

My husband responded in coherent English with no accent.  After he heard my husband speak English, he spoke perfect English back.  If I was the man, I would’ve been so embarrassed.  He made a fool out of himself because of his stupid assumption about minorities.

That’s the problem I have with those who are not sensitive to minorities.  They assume too much.  Someone who speak another language doesn’t speak English.  Someone who doesn’t speak perfect English is stupid.  Someone who doesn’t speak perfect English is deaf.  I had a foreign exchange classmate in college and she complained about how English speakers raise their voices at her when she asks them to clarify what they had said.  She’s not deaf.  She just needs clarification because English isn’t her first language.

Don’t make assumptions about another person or you’ll just end up looking like a stupid ass.

9 thoughts on “Don’t assume someone doesn’t speak English

  1. Were you and your husband speaking only English when he approached you? I am sure when my son-in-law and his mom and family are speaking Serbo-Croatian that others assume they do not speak English. And that is true for some of the family. They all came here as refugees after the war in Yugoslavia and the older members still do not speak any English. Baba is in her 80’s.

    None of them spoke a word of English when they came here 12 years ago. Yes most now speak English quite well but with an accent of course. Oh and they speak Russian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, Serbo-Croatian too. 🙂

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    1. My husband and I try to speak as much Hmong as possible around our daughters. So, we were speaking only Hmong when he approached us.

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  2. Amazing post!

    This is the voice of so much people arround the world. In Mexico applies perfect to the native people, for example, in the City there’s a park called Alameda Central, you can see people who came from other states and they do speak spanish, some only speaks zapoteco but clearly, because of the offensive people they are prepared for the attack. This is sad because they are people, in this case are mexicans who are being harassed by other mexican. And this is even more sad because it happens arround the world. There are cases in Brazil, and other European countries.

    Hope that one day people understand that we are the same, that we need to care about every other human being of the planet and every other being to live a better life.

    Have a nice day!

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  3. It’s true that people always assume and sometimes they just make a fool out of themselves. I don’t like how some people think that I don”t have an American name then I must be an international student. They like to ask where I am from. Since I spend most of my life here, of course I will tell them I am from a certain city in the U.S. But then they will continue to ask where are you originally from. Sometimes it annoys me.

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  4. I currently live in Sweden and wherever I go, people address me in Swedish, despite seeing my foreign name and hearing me talk Dutch. I speak only little Swedish. Thàt is embarrassing. For me. And I would wish they would speak slowly and in simple words, like that man in the park did.
    You were talking Hmong and you look foreign, why would the assumption “they are Americans who speak English” be any more plausible than “they are tourists who don’t speak English”? That man has no reason to be embarrassed, I bet his action had nothing to do with lack of sensitivity or contempt, he only tried to help. I can imagine it can be annoying that people make wrong assumptions, but unless you tell them otherwise, they can start from what you’re giving them – and that was foreign-looking people talking a foreign language. If I ever meet people in a park speaking Hmong and want to offer them peanuts, I may ask them if they speak English, but I will never assume so. Because not everybody does.

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    1. Don’t assume someone doesn’t speak English. And don’t assume someone does either. If I don’t speak English, speaking broken English wouldn’t make a difference because I wouldn’t understand it anyway. I would prefer it if someone asked me before assuming.

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  5. it is the voice of many americans believe me, if you are in the us you should speak english. it is a requirement to obtain citizenship but our government screwed up when they didnt say it should be practiced at all times. if you like your original language that much you should go back to that country that uses that language.

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    1. I don’t agree with you. America is made up of a diverse group of people. Whether we speak our native language is up to us, but one shouldn’t bash on another who speaks a language other than English and tell that person to go back to their country. The wonderful thing about America is we have the freedom to be culturally diverse. It is only ignorance when people believe America should be a place for only those who are “American.” But then again, what is the meaning of being an American?

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