Why is having fluency in a specific, dominant or an additional language seen as a privilege?


Why is having fluency in a specific, dominant or an additional language seen as a privilege?
Language is a system of sounds and symbols used to communicate, express identity, convey emotions and create meaning. Language can be spoken, written, signed or based solely on sounds. The assumption is that individuals who speak the dominant language in a culture with a particular accent and articulation are deemed to be more capable and intelligent and are highly regarded in society.

Why is Language seen as a privilege?

Society assigns greater confidence and likeability to native and well-spoken people. Proficiency in the dominant language of your place of work/residence facilitates communication and enhances credibility. Speaking two or more languages, particularly a global business language, increases personal and professional opportunities. Being able to use your native language in your interactions provides great advantage.

What is your privilege?

  • When I communicate, I can be easily understood.
  • I am fluent in one or more languages regarded as globally dominant (English, Mandarin, Spanish).
  • I do not change my accent to sound more credible in conversations and professional interactions.
  • The technology platforms setup at work is available in a language I understand.
  • My main language is a spoken language (as opposed to unspoken stats)

Stats Don’t Lie 

  • Of the approximately 1.5 billion people who speak English, less than a third use it as a first language. That means over 1 billion speak it as a secondary language. (World Economic Forum, 2019)
  • Studies have shown it can take just 30 milliseconds of speech – enough to say “hello” – for listeners to identify a person’s ethnic or cultural background as being different from their own and make snap judgements about the kind of person they might be, whether positive or negative. (BBC Worklife, 2017)
  • Unspoken languages around the world are non-verbal and can consist of sign language, whistling, tongue clicks, humming and drums. (Racoma, 2018)

What to do next?

In conversations and meetings, be mindful of giving space, listen actively to everyone in the room, and do so without judgement. Acknowledge that we all have accents, and these differences reflect our social identities. You can supportively encourage others to do the same. If you’re interested in starting a journey to learn more, then join The Privilege Project today.

Watch the recorded session on Language privilege from our September event.