Nothing Obligates You to Learn English. Oh Wait Am I a Right Winger?

Daiki Nakashita
5 min readMay 20, 2023

I probably shouldn't say this… But fuck it because there’s no logical reason for anyone in Asia to be Bobby Lee.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

I’ve been writing a small program with Rust, and as much as I’d love to nerd out and delve into the quirks of what I call the awesomest programming language of 2023 (or 2022. idk I guess it’s been around for a while), that’s totally NOT what I’m writing about this time. But I just wanted to pathetically complain about what I’ve been observing over the past few years of my life. And whoever knows me well probably is already sick of me whining about how things are, but I’d appreciate y’all bearing with me.

So, what I wanted to gabble about is the fact that I recently started working for a tech start-up based in the center of Seoul, Korea, and their primary language used during internal meetings seems to be…. English…. at a company where the demographics of the employees is approximately 85% native speakers of Korean.
Yes, I know. I’m the foreigner dude that sucks at speaking and even comprehending Korean. I probably shouldn’t try to be a pedantic douche about it and appreciate them speaking the language easier for me to understand. But let me give you the context of why it triggered me to write this article.

As a Japanese dude living in Korea, although they mostly tend to be minor, I experience a lot of microaggressions. (Whoever wants to counter this statement by saying your Korean counterparts in Japan are experiencing the same thing. I won’t deny that. That’s 100% possible), And the most common thing I’m frequently told is “Your people suck at English. We say 맥도날드(meg-do-nal-due), but you guys say マクドナルド(ma-ku-do-na-ru-do). The way you guys say it is so funny. How we say it is better.”

Now I can definitely confirm that the average English proficiency of people in South Korea is significantly higher than that of people in Japan, and with the history and the political tension, I understand where this attitude comes from. But what really saddens me is that in order to claim that their people are somehow superior, they seem to be essentially saying that they are culturally (for lack of a better term…) whiter. What’s more, I’ve had a few encounters with English teachers in Korea who unashamedly say something like “They are stupid. They don’t speak English”, referring to local Koreans they previously struck up a conversation with. (WTF?)

I’m not exactly sure who started this who-is-whiter competition, but it seems incredibly…. dumb.

So many times, I’ve heard Asian Americans say “I’m not Chinese, I’m American”, “I’m not like those fobs, I was basically born here.” (basically…?)

Sure, I get it. In a country where the majority of the population is white, though I’d say it’s pretty xenophobic, I get that people internalize racism and accept the notion that being whiter is superior. Second-generation Asian Americans whose American identity is relatively more fragile than the rest of society might refuse to “kick it with fobs” because they still need to establish their American identity. It’s so easy to infer where Bobby Lee’s self-deprecating comedic style comes from. He’s an Asian dude born and raised in a predominantly white country where people of his ethnic background weren’t exactly considered the coolest.

Korea is not it. It’s not a predominantly white country. It’s a country with a different set of rules and a different sense of morality from the West. Being able to speak only Korean or being culturally less white should carry absolutely 0 negative implications, and the inability of speaking English shouldn’t be a factor that prevents someone from effectively functioning as part of a company or society.

I have nothing against supplementary usage of English in a professional environment. Rather, I’d definitely appreciate it if someone helped me out in English because I sometimes misconstrue or simply can’t comprehend what’s being said in Korean. (Yea, I kinda suck) But just maybe, the use of English in a Korean company where most employees are Korean probably should be limited to at most supplementary because, in all honesty, the word that popped up in my head when I first encountered this English-first policy at a Rakuten tech conference in Tokyo was… self-colonization.

And I thought I awesomely made up this word “self-colonization” on the spot, but just in case, I did some googling to make sure that it’s not an existing word that means something else, and well it turned out… it’s an existing word that means what I thought it should.

“The concept of self-colonizing can be used for cultures having succumbed to the cultural power of Europe and the west without having been invaded and turned into colonies in actual fact”

When I used to work in Singapore, someone told me that some Singaporeans aren’t very good at English, and it’s a huge factor when they get a job. The inability to speak English apparently prevents them from getting certain types of jobs. My previous coworker from Uganda told me something similar as well, but these two countries were in fact colonized by The UK in the past. So why would you voluntarily create this situation in an already fully functioning society?

I told my friend about my thoughts on this, and he responded by saying something along the line of “You’re very conservative. English is the world’s business language. People need to learn it.”

Am I though?

What exactly obligates anyone to spend thousands of hours learning English when they don't even live in an English-speaking country?

Why are some cultures and people of certain racial backgrounds more praised and worshipped than others?

Now if I question the way things seem to be to my eyes, does it make me a right-wing douchebag? Well, if that’s the case, I’d rather be an unashamed Asian douche and peacefully enjoy my Kimchi Jjigae.

--

--

Daiki Nakashita

UC San Diego grad, working as a software developer in a foreign land while struggling to get a grasp of the culture and language.