When is it okay to chime in when there’s a language barrier?

I came across a podcast that had a short discussion about this issue: http://yoisthisracist.com/post/55612494539/ted-lange-iv-is-back-on-the-podcast-today-as-we

I’ve thought about this a lot, mostly while learning American Sign Language. Now that I’m proficient enough to have a basic conversation, I’ve wondered if it would be offensive for me to use my ASL knowledge to help a deaf person communication with a hearing person. I am by no means a sign interpreter so I’m not in the professional position to do so. And who am I to judge if the deaf person needs help or not? The conclusion that I’ve personally come up with is that if I’m ask to help, I would definitely volunteer my efforts. If I see an apparent struggle, conflict, or discrimination as a result of the language barrier, I would offer my help (though if my help isn’t welcome, I’d willingly back off).

It’s interesting to me that I’ve never seen this as an issue with Chinese. Even though I wouldn’t consider Chinese my primary language, I think it’s still a prominent part of my language identity, enough so that I don’t feel like I’m an outsider of the language. In contrast, because I’m not deaf, I am coming into the ASL world as a guest and learner, and I feel like I need to respect their language/culture on their terms.

In the end, I think if you’re polite and not forceful about your interaction with someone, they’ll probably be more grateful than offended that you’ve offered your help.


3 thoughts on “When is it okay to chime in when there’s a language barrier?

  1. I have found that people are usually grateful if you offer to help with language issues. Here in Quebec, people speak English and French plus another language or two depending on where they’re from. I’ve helped translate from French to English for tourists and once helped a Chinese man order at a McDonald’s because the French cashier couldn’t understand his heavy Chinese accent. And you’re right, if it is done politely, there are usually smiles all around afterwards.


    1. Thanks for the comment! I don’t really come across writing about Chinese-Canadian experiences a lot so it’s cool to see some similarities with my experience as a Chinese American. Also cool to see that you’re publishing! Good luck!


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