‘It’s tough being an Asian male growing up in a Western country. You’re often subjected to Asian stereotypes, and white guys tend to steal your girls a whole lot. However, you wanna know one great upside to being a Gen Y Asian in a Western country? If you keep your mouth shut and say nothing, people will make the assumption that you’re multilingual!
- Anonymous monolingual Asian
A white friend of mine once marveled at the supposed “superior” intelligence of the Asian. I quickly berated him for buying into such stereotypes. Who is to say one race is more intelligent than another? However, he was specifically referring to the uncanny ability of many Asians to be proficient in multiple languages/dialects. To be honest, I had to agree with him somewhat. (I do not totally agree with the above quote though. It is, however, nice for people to assume you have certain proficiencies based on your race.)
Nevertheless, those occasions where a random Asian on the street asks you something in a language/dialect you obviously do not understand can be a little annoying. But of course, even Asians themselves can fall for that stereotype which dictates that all Asians look alike. I’ve been mistaken for a Korean, Japanese, Malay and a Cantonese speaker in the past, and I’m quite bemused by this. But I digress”
Chances are if you’re Asian and you’re reading this, then it is quite probable that you are multilingual. One would like to think that along with English (assuming that since you are here, you can read English, right?), as an Asian, it is almost a cultural obligation to speak the language of your predecessors. Many privileged Asians often have the otherwise-incomprehensible ability to grasp all of the following: their mother’s tongue(s), their ethnic language(s), their country’s national language(s), and regional dialect(s) along with English. (Hey, why not add French, German & Spanish to the mix, and have a virtual United Nations on your hand!)
It has little to do with an Asian’s perceived intelligence, but rather the linguistic opportunities presented to us. Asians residing in Asian countries naturally speak their native language, along with a multitude of regional dialects ““ that is to be expected. Due to the rising prominence of English, many upper-class Asians who can afford a decent education are competent English speakers as well.
Westernized Asians are another matter. Although English may be the medium of instruction in the majority of these countries, Asians often converse with their family members and sometimes, their Asian friends in a communal Asian language. (Asian Asian Asian”¦ it’s lost all meaning now, hasn’t it? Let’s face it, we are suckers for tradition, and although it’d be far more convenient for us to unify under one singular language, oh no, we just have to continue to speaking ‘Asian”, don’t we?)
Even if you live in a Western country, those with first, second or even third generational Asian parents are often brought up on their mother’s tongues. Consider this phenomenon in the case of Caucasians with second or third generation parents from Europe. There is not always that obligation that they should be able to converse in the language of their predecessors. Should an Australian of Irish origin be expected to be able to converse in Gaelic? Is there an expectation that African-Americans should have the ability to speak the language of their ancestors, centuries past? How about a Canadian with the last name Schmidt, are they expected to be fluent in German? Of course not! Why then, is that double standard present when it comes to Asians? Even if we’ve lived in Western environments all our lives, why are we expected to have extra linguistic skills based on our race?
Asians realize that to be truly successful in the modern day and age, they have to have optimum skills ““ and in many cases, being fluent in several languages is a prerequisite to becoming elite in your chosen field. Someone like Lucy Liu speaks 5 languages/dialects with varying degrees of fluency, as does fellow actor Takeshi Kaneshiro and singer-songwriter Wang Lee-hom, among many, many others. I’m sure that this is barely the tip of the iceberg. For the record, yours truly knows people who speak at least 8 languages/dialects ““ English, Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Shanghainese, Hakka & Teochew – all fluently. Anyone know any other cunning linguists of equal or more talent?
Last 5 posts by Shaun
- Busting the Stereotype: All Asians are Intelligent - April 18th, 2009
- #114 World of Warcraft - April 10th, 2009
- #102 Being Modest about *** - December 3rd, 2008
- #99 MSG - November 12th, 2008
- #98 Studying Overseas - October 29th, 2008