Mispronouncing Foreign Students’ Names is a MICROAGGRESSION

Saying ‘you guys’ is one of many “microaggressions” these days. Using the incorrect pronoun to refer to someone else is also considered a microaggression, and in severe cases can carry with it criminal penalties.

Now, mispronouncing a student’s name – even if it’s particularly difficult – is considered a microaggression.

I’m talking about people from other countries who speak other languages and come from different cultures who have names that are difficult for us English-speaking people to pronounce.

We’ve all had encounters with people from Central America, or India, or China, or somewhere in Eastern Europe, and have to have them repeat their name slowly so that we can – to the best of our abilities – pronounce it correctly.

But unless you speak their native language fluently, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t matter how close it sounds to you, inside, they’re laughing at the way you say their name.

And I think most of these people understand that their names might be difficult for others – such as in America – to pronounce.

But now, teachers mispronouncing their students’ names – even if they’re difficult – is a “microaggression.” And there’s a national movement to make sure teachers across the country aren’t guilty of this microaggression. CNS News reported:

According to ‘My Name, My Identity: A Declaration of Self,’ a national campaign launched in 2015 by the Santa Clara County, Calif. Office of Education (SCCOE) and the National Association for Bilingual Education, a teacher who mispronounces a student’s name can cause that student “anxiety and resentment”.

“Mispronouncing a student’s name truly negates his or her identity, which, in turn, can hinder academic progress,” according to Yee Wan, SCCOE’s director of multilingual education services.

Rita Kohli, assistant professor of education at the University of California at Riverside, says it is a sign of “microagression” when a teacher mispronounces, disregards, or changes a child’s name, because “they are in a sense disregarding the family and culture of the student as well.”

The Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada is one of 528 school districts across the country that have recently implemented a campaign to “pronounce students’ names correctly” – including names teachers and administrators find difficult or unfamiliar – in order to be sensitive to the ancestral and historical significance of a child’s name.

CNS News linked to a 2014 blog post by a former teacher Jennifer Gonzalez who argued that “mutilating someone’s name is a tiny act of bigotry.”

She continued:  “Whether you intend to or not, what you’re communicating is this: Your name is different. Foreign. Weird. It’s not worth my time to get it right….

“And before you get all defensive about the bigotry thing, let’s be clear: Discovering that something you do might be construed as bigotry doesn’t mean anyone is calling you a bigot. It’s just an opportunity to grow.”

What wasn’t brought up, of course, is how people from outside the U.S. pronounce Americans’ names. My name is easy for me to pronounce, but non-Americans often have a hard time pronouncing it. And guess how much it hurts my feelings when they “mispronounce” it? Not a bit.

But sometimes, I do feel like Samir Nagheenanajar from Office Space:

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com

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