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I’m Not Deaf, I Just Don’t Understand Your Western Dialect

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In 2007, Citizen and Immigration Canada (CIC) released preliminary data regarding the immigration statistics in Canada. In that year, Canada reportedly accepted the highest number of immigrants to date – a staggering amount of 429,649 temporary foreign workers, permanent residents and foreign students.

Among those foreign students, I have no doubt that they’ve been asked the infamous welcome to Canada question: DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?

This question is usually assisted with a loud condescending tone and body language commonly reserved for nursery school children. As a former ‘foreigner’, myself, I have been subjected to this type of behaviour in the past. I was born in Canada but moved to Ghana, West Africa when I was two years old. I returned in Grade 3 – cut to Ms. Whelan’s classroom with a young and wide eyed version of myself, asking a fellow classmate where the paper towels were.

Now, I had heard of those Canadians; I was well informed of their worldly views, urbane worry-free lifestyles and yes, their rapid speech. So when this girl, Andrea, spoke, this was all I heard: blahblahblah towels blahblahblah.

A confused expression crawled upon my face. What in the world was this girl talking about? Then, as I was about to politely ask her to rephrase her question, she uttered those dreaded words:

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

Well. Thank you for spitting on my face and treating me like a deaf elderly and no, I do not understand the pace of your western dialect so please, SLOW DOWN.

Thieny Nguyen, a Grade 10 student and former native of Vietnam recollects a time when she didn’t quite comprehend the western dialect of a Canadian. “Once me and my mom got lost and a police officer tried to help but we didn't understand him.”

As I have adapted to the Canadian culture and their rapid speech, I have often observed and heard stories about close friends and immigrants being asked similar variations of the same question. I have witnessed the confused expressions of substitute teachers and the corresponding condescending smirks of classmates as they rambled on in their Canadian accent. Even though that time around, I was not the victim of the infamous question, it was easy to identify with the confused teachers because I had been in that similar position.

Luis Marmol, an immigrant from El Salvador also struggled with trying to understand the Western dialect. “In school, kids were very mean and nasty to me, they thought I was mentally challenged or something.”

What is the solution?

Native citizens should learn to be more empathetic towards new immigrants and for Christ’s sakes, Andrea, I do not have wax in my ears, I just need you to slow down while I mentally translate your western dialect into something comprehendible.

Now, do you understand?




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