Topic Tuesdays: Random

Is Learning a New Language Considered “Cultural Appropriation”?

Dear, guys – welcome back to Letters From Liz!

So, my self-judgment has been speaking to me as of late. As a matter of fact, she’s been screaming at me for the last couple of weeks as I started to partake in a new hobby: learning a new skill. Although I try to not listen to her, I can’t help but see some truth in the things she says. I mean, a self-judgment side usually tries to twist some truth in your beliefs or make you change something that you’re doing, right?

She has accused me of engaging in “cultural appropriation.”

Lemme explain.

Image result for korean language

For the last couple of weeks, I started to teach myself how to read and write in Korean. I decided that after being frustrated in waiting for English subtitles to be written and released for my favorite girl group variety shows and competition shows, I wanted to see if I could at least understand the characters, Hangul, that is used in Korean. So, I downloaded Duolingo (#notsponsored) and started to learn the Korean Alphabet. As of this moment of me writing this, I’ve learned the consonants, vowels, and native Korean numbers pretty well and currently learning some essential words and sentence structure, which is quite hard to learn on your own, in my opinion. 

As happy as I am learning a new skill and keeping my mind productive and busy, I do sometimes feel as if I’m engaging in cultural appropriation. Am I learning this new language for the right reasons? Am I now this “koreaboo”? Why am I so embarrassed to share the fact to my family and friends that I’m learning Korean?” It’s this weird, complex situation where I’m interested in learning the language due to my interests, but ultimately sticking by it to build a new skill and gain a new hobby to keep my mind productive and out of the places where my anxiety could heighten. But, I do understand what the self-judgment is coming from.

You see, in this Quora forum, the question exists, and many of the people in the forum talk about how ridiculous it is for people to possibly think that learning a new language (which in NYC is mandatory to take a language class in both high school and college), is now considered to be a form of cultural appropriation. The top answer to on this forum comes from a linguist actually, and he does an amazing job explaining how in certain cases, it could be seen as cultural appropriation.

He explains that in certain scenarios, learning a language can be seen as cultural appropriation. For example, a classroom full of anime lovers learning Japanese could be seen as cultural appropriation because the only thing they really know about the Japanese culture is its anime. Another example is learning an endangered language (one that is becoming extinct, like Hawaiian) just to “save” the language from dying out. Another interesting example (which I didn’t even consider) is learning a language for job-related purposes, like a translator or interpreter, ultimately taking the place meant for a native Korean speaker. He explains in cases where you are learning more universal languages (i.e. English) and other big languages (typically the ones you learn in high school/college courses) it isn’t considered cultural appropriation.

So, where do I personally stand?

To be quite honest with you, I think I’ll always believe I’m in the unfamiliar gray area of the scenario. While my interest in Kpop and Korean shows influenced me into specifically learning Korean, I’m also in no ways trying to appear more Korean or pass as being Korean, nor am I practicing their ideas, beliefs, or think their culture is superior to every other culture. As for the definition of cultural appropriation, it’s “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

I just simply want to learn the language and find the process to be really good for my mental health. That is all.

So, is learning a new language considered cultural appropriation? It’s crazy to think that in certain scenarios, it could be. To believe that wanting to learn a new language for the sake of learning a new language is now a part of the spectrum of cultural appropriation really does baffle me. Are we all really engaging in it in our language classes all these years?

What do you guys think?

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