PSA: Intelligence is not measured by the English language

Posted by on August 8, 2016 in Uncategorized | 7 comments

Kind of wild this even needs to be said. But alas, here I am, staring at a comment on a writers forum. A comment meant as an insult, but only serves to reveal the deep-rooted ignorance of the poster. It’s not just them, though. It’s a mindset many share.

It’s this idea that people who speak “broken English” are stupid or in some way unprofessional or “less than” others.

This kills me. This idea makes my soul wither at society.

I could write this post in some vague, general manner. But I’m not going to. Because I think these issues need to be face head on. So let me begin with some context, for those who don’t know me outside of my writing or my blog.

I provide a variety of services to authors to help them with their success. I’ve helped many become USA Today Bestsellers. I’ve helped a few find literary agency representation and land publishing deals. Others, I’ve simply helped improve their audience reach so that they can actually make a living at a job they love but that doesn’t usually pay very well. In fact, I’ve spent so much time doing this, my writing has suffered because of it. Only so many hours in the day and all.

Recently, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to hire some personal assistants. Two of them are from the U.S. and one of them lives overseas. After corresponding with one of the girls from the states, an author sent me this message:

“The reply was poorly written with spelling and grammatical errors, as if it was composed by some “personal assistant” in a third world country. Thanks, but it was enough to make me stay far away from your services.”

There is so much that goes wrong in just a single sentence there, that it’s hard to even know where to begin. But first, I address the second sentence: I don’t want to do business with someone who says things such as what is written in that first sentence. So please, by all means, stay away from my services, because you couldn’t pay me enough to knowingly help someone who thinks or speaks as this author has.

I could dismantle this author’s comments so many ways. Such as that even people in the U.S. can have poor spelling and grammar skills. Or that many people in third world countries don’t have computers or internet access, and if they did, could we maybe commend them for working hard to improve their lives, rather than bashing their grammar and spelling? Or that I just so happen to know many people who speak English as a second language and do it BETTER than many Americans I know.

But the crux of the issues isn’t any of that. The issue is that he thinks that it’s okay to throw “third world country” around like an insult.

First of all, not all countries that are classified as third world countries are poor or lacking in education. Many are industrialized countries. While many do use the term to mean poor, even if that is what he meant, it is still not an insult. It’s not shameful to be poor. Where you are born is not something to be ashamed of.

Second, speaking English as a second language is FREAKING IMPRESSIVE. Most Americans that I know personally can’t speak a second language. Of those who can, it’s likely if they spoke to a native speaker of that language, their grammar wouldn’t be so hot, either. Can’t we just celebrate when people learn our language so that they can communicate with us? This language elitism is ridiculous. There are are over 6,000 beautiful languages in this world! If someone speaks yours, be grateful for the ability to communicate with them!

Finally, there seems to be pervasive idea in America that an inability to speak English “properly” means you aren’t intelligent. What’s more, I bet for many it’s subconscious. When faced with the logic, most people can agree with it: namely that there are some brilliant minds all over this world, and not all of those people speak English as a first language. Many don’t speak english at all. Guess what? They’re still intelligent.

In fact, I would bet the majority speak another language. Not because those who speak English as  first language aren’t intelligent, but because, numbers-wise, less than 10% of the world speaks English as a first language. And that number is actually declining. Which means that 90% of the world is having their brilliant ideas in another language. And if they do share those ideas in English, their English grammar might not be the best, but that doesn’t make their ideas any less.

Heck, some of the greatest minds in this world think in pictures.

I’ve spoken to people from all over the world. Sometimes, the language barrier does make it difficult. We use translation services if neither of us speak a language the other understands. At no point have they treated me as if I’m stupid if my language doesn’t come across great, and at no point have I thought for even a moment these people are less intelligent than I am just because they don’t speak my language or don’t speak it well.

Speaking English well is not a measure of intelligence.

Anyway, I’m almost ready to step off my soap box now. But if there’s anyone out there reading this who thinks that person “sounds stupid” because they don’t speak “proper” English (whatever that is…), I challenge you to stop listening to their words and start listening to their IDEAS. You never know, they may just be smarter than you…

To all the people out there who speak English as a second language: You are AMAZING. You are brilliant! I am in awe of you. I have tried, and failed, many times to learn one of the other many beautiful languages in this world. But you didn’t just try–you succeeded. Heck, some of you speak English better than I do! That impresses the hell out of me. Please keep sharing your ideas with the world in any language you so choose. We need you.

To recap:

  • Speaking english poorly doesn’t mean you are from a third world country.
  • Telling someone they “sound like” they are a third world country is not an insult, but it’s offensive that anyone thinks it would be.
  • Being from a third world country doesn’t “sound like” anything. It sounds different for everyone.
  • Some of the most intelligent ideas come from people who don’t speak english at all or who speak broken english.
  • If you attempt to insult someone based on where you think they are from…or to assume where they are from based on their english grammar…or to assume they are from a “third world country” because their english grammar isn’t good…then you, sir, are an asshat. You might not have realized that before, but now you do. So here’s your chance to stop being one. You’re welcome.
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Rebecca Hamilton is a NY Times bestselling paranormal fantasy author. Her bestselling Forever Girl Series is available at online retailers and has been optioned for film with Witten Pictures. The Hungarian edition has been published with IPC books and the German edition has been published with Darkiss, a Harlequin imprint. Learn more HERE.

7 Comments

  1. Total awesome! 🙂

  2. Very well said. You rock!

  3. Well said

  4. Amen! Well spoken. I admire your position and I thank you for speaking your mind and taking a stand.

  5. Thanks

  6. I agree in general. Speaking English – much less speaking English well – is not an indicator of intelligence. I agree that this phrase this author used in response to you was offensive.

    That being said, I agree with their sentiments about proper spelling and grammar being used on behalf of services for authors. I expect anyone offering those services to have impeccable grammar and spelling. Conversations about those services represent the services, and if you are, indeed, using someone who is using less than stellar writing skills that reflects on your service.

    I wouldn’t hire an editor who used sloppy grammar, nor would I take them seriously if I inquired about the services, and the assistant who wrote back used multiple errors on behalf of that service. Giant red flag there. I don’t disagree with your statements at all. I just think that you should keep in mind that if someone is speaking on behalf of your services, you realize that will reflect the services themselves.

    I’m sure your assistants are lovely young ladies – or gentlemen – but liking them personally and liking how they present themselves on behalf of you are quite different things. I wouldn’t judge misuse of grammar in a personal conversation. It would make me run the other way if I was looking into any services as an author. (I’m not, but I was considering becoming an author, and I ended up thinking a good deal about editors and author services.)

    • I hear you. But if someone is selecting a MARKETING service (that copies and pastes book blurbs and doesn’t write any original material in the promotion) based on their grammar abilities, then they may have a bigger problem on their hands. I don’t expect the person who fixes a race car to be great at racing one, for example. I won’t pass on hiring them or say that their inability to race makes them unqualified to repair the car. If they are good at repairing the car, that is what I am concerned with. If they are to race the car, they better be good at racing. When I go to a doctor’s office, I know the receptionist will not be able to perform open heart surgery if I need one. She may not even be able to tell me the right dose of medication I need, and may have to have the doctor get back to me to let me know. If she uses word “serving” instead of “dose” while telling me to wait for the doctor to get back to me, I’m not going to hire one of the best doctors I know over it. That just doesn’t make sense. The receptionist won’t be the one performing my surgery. So unless the gives me damaging advice, I’m not going to hold it against her if she isn’t as knowledgable as the doctor.

      By this example, I would judge an editor’s service based on their grammar and punctuation on their website. But I do not judge marketing services based on whether english is their first language. I just their marketing services based on their marketing results. Heck, I’ve gotten emails from BookBub with typos before. I certainly wouldn’t turn down working with them over that. If other authors would, that is on them. But it does not seem logical to me.

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