For quite some time now, posters and status updates of this quote are doing rounds on Facebook.

“Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”


Most of the people who had shared this, along with the commenters were in agreement with this and cheered the support they had received. Of course, this seemed natural for many to feel so on account of the ridicule they may have faced at some point for their broken English.

When I did think about it, it made me think of my own parents at first. My English grasp is better than theirs. Most of the times when we receive some letter or communication from banks, service providers or such, it is kept aside for me to read. While mum can easily read and understand, she insists that I run through it just in case she may have understood or missed something. I can understand where this comes from because she like many people, had received formal education in Hindi. English classes were either discontinued after primary school, or given very little focus and treated as a second language.

I found it hard to understand why some people would ridicule or make of fun of others in college for their English usage, who had had their education in a regional language. While of our own generation, they were given the same treatment when it came to English, as my mother and most likely their parents did as well. It was a secondary language of which they needed a working understanding because that is what they would end up using for work. It really was/is on the back burner when it comes to being taught.

So when it came to people like them, I understood where their feelings came from. What I still do not understand, and made my eye twitch when I first saw this, was that it was shared by many people who have received a formal education in English! People who studied English in “English medium” schools, where it is the primary language taught. Over the course of growing standards/classes special emphasis is given on aspects like grammar, structure at the same level as prose. People who’ve learnt the language for ten years, out of which at least 5 years have been for correct usage of this language.

I am not saying that we should have perfect usage of the language. Everyone is prone to mistakes at times. Not everyone is expected to have a practical understanding of Calculus, but we’re expected to be able to perform basic math. You can question me for not being able to perform Integration because I studied Calculus till the second year of my college. We don’t expect people to know at which concentrations and thermodynamic conditions stable Iron and Carbon alloys are formed. But we do expect people to know what atoms are, and how elements differ from compounds. All of it is part of the basic schooling we have received.

So people who went to English medium schools are expected to NOT speak broken English, just like everyone is expected to know that it rains on account of evaporation, condensation and precipitation of water, and not because of the tears, or blessing sprouting of some divine being’s hands. So when people speak broken English it just doesn’t mean that they know a second language, but can also mean that they didn’t pay attention to what was taught in school.


11 thoughts on “When someone speaks broken English

  1. Hmmm…so it was not just me who was thinking about this poster and the ridiculing part. I would still prefer to correct someone than ridicule them. In a class of 40 students, not necessarily everyone has the same taste for a subject or maybe they developed the taste much later. Making mistakes I believe is much better than doing nothing at all. And if we’re really concerned about the mistake, we must politely point it out to them with the corrections. I’m glad you wrote this post.

  2. you know my view 😉 People make fun of just about everything. they even laugh at rape jokes in movies/blogs. I don’t understand why broken English is sacred, all of a sudden.
    Let me add Groucho Marx style: Someone speaking broken English means they are not proficient in the language.
    I don’t see how it means they know another language. What if that is also spoken all broken-broken? Jokes apart, we all make mistakes and people laugh at times. What I don’t get is the sacred cow status being given to broken English!

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more Count. People are very inclined to find illogical alibis for their poor performance. This is one such case.

    Another thing which always annoys me… though many disagree with me… is your competence with the language in which you blog. If you choose to blog in English, you ought (at least) to have your grammar in place. If you dont, dont expect people to wade through your terrible sentence constructs. 

    It is to the blogger’s advantage to make sure their language is clean. They’d be able to communicate more accurately and hence engage better with their readers.

    Defenders of poor language always say ‘it is the thought that counts’. I agree. But if so, what stops you from blogging in the vernacular? 

    Sent from my Samsung device

  4. I believe the poster refers to people from non-English-speaking countries who may have emigrated and face having to now learn a new language. It’s definitely not meant for relics of the British Raj!! : D

  5. I believe the poster suggests that someone is not superior if they can speak English. Its appealing not to judge someone just because they are not fluent in English.
    It perhaps also suggests that if the person fluent in English was to learn another language (e.g. Mandarin), he may find it much more difficult to learn

  6. There are several children (a majority) who learn English, even if it is the medium of instruction in school with no support at home whatsoever. Their English will be broken, much like my Hindi learned in South India will have holes in grammar, gender and sentence construction. I could go on.

    By the way, these people who share stuff about not laughing at people with broken English laugh regularly at my broken Hindi (which I know as one of the 6 languages I can make myself understood in).

    Laughing at people for their inabilities is not a good idea, regardless of where they come from, what they studied or what I think their abilities should be. In any case, most aspirational environments discriminate on the basis of language (try being the only English speaker – broken or not in a room full of Chinese people or even a Tamilian in a room full of Bengalis!), there’s enough shaming happening without people laughing on top of it. And really, what kind of a person laughs at another’s mistakes?

  7. Both hold true. We shouldn’t make fun of someone who is making effort to learn the language and teach them the correct way but it’s also true that we need to pay heed to write a clean story. I also believe that some may be proficient in a regional language which may hold true that we would lag behind if we start learning it. Two sides of the same coin.
    Cheerz for this one.

  8. I totally agree with you. What is even sadder is the fact that sometimes it so happens that the Native English speakers who spoke broken English actually make fun of the Non-Native English speakers and treat them badly because their English is better even though they studied it as a second or third language. It happened to me a few times before too, which gives me the feeling that the world is slowly heading towards illiteracy, since this is what society today seems to promote.

  9. Yes, it could mean that people did not pay enough attention in school, but it could also mean that people have significant language learning difficulties, and must learn to overcome these in addition to learning the language. Even some people who have learnt the language well enough and have been good students, do forget grammar rules and speak/write sentences incorrectly sometimes (for instance, when they speak more than one language on a daily basis).

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