Working in a second language -- why I stand with Sergio Dipp
When I get up some mornings, my mind is awake, but my English is still in slumber.
I have admitted that to less than four people in the whole world. But I try to talk to people, and I can't form words. Not because I don't speak English, or I don't think in English, but because it is not my "mother tongue," as they say in India. It is not the language my mom spoke to me when she held me in her arms for the first time. It is not the language my dad taught me when he carried me to the flower shop each morning.
I moved to America about two years ago, and I've had this ongoing internal dialogue with myself: "Why can't you speak English like your American friends? Why do you struggle to complete sentences sometimes?"
With time, I've come to realize there was no reason for me to be ashamed. It doesn't mean that I don't know English. Nope. It just means that sometimes, your mind thinks in various languages and you need to give it a minute to think and respond in English.
This is why when I saw internet trolls rip ESPN's Sergio Dipp, who is a Mexico-native, after making his NFL sideline debut during Monday Night Football on Sept. 11, it affected me deeply.
Agreed, it was not a great day for him -- he was nervous, but he was also making his first English-language national television appearance on a massive platform. Just saying that out loud makes me queasy. Even for a seasoned journalist such as Dipp, going live in his second language must be have been nerve-wracking.
I put myself in his shoes: What if in those 20 seconds, I forgot English completely? What if I responded in Tamil (my first language)? These are some of the questions that ran through my mind while when I placed myself in Dipp's situation.
However, Dipp was graceful throughout. He smiled when he was finished. He even smiled in his explanation video he posted via Twitter.
"On the most heartfelt day in this great country made up of immigrants and based on some people's perspective, it all went wrong. But I truly meant no disrespect, because all I wanted to do was show some love to [these] two historical head coaches. Hopefully, I will have another chance," Dipp said in that video.
"Country made up of immigrants" -- that is such a powerful phrase. So many people, journalists and otherwise, have embraced English and worked hard to make it their dominant language. Incidents like these place a shadow on all of us.
I fluently speak in five languages. I can probably go on air and talk in three of those tongues. When I first moved to America, I was shocked that most people couldn't speak more than English. My whole perspective on English changed -- it was this magical language, the pinnacle of all languages. And then, it wasn't anymore. It was a beautiful language, but it wasn't the only language.
Many who trolled Dipp need to ask if they could go on air and talk for five seconds in their native tongue, let alone in another language. With the lights, the camera and millions of critical eyes on them, would they even be able to form a sentence?
ESPN anchor and reporter Bob Ley took to "Outside the Lines" on Tuesday to discuss his own experience switching from Spanish to English during an on-air taping several years ago. He talked about the immense respect he had for journalists who could go on live television and speak in multiple languages.
In all, as Ley noted, Dipp was courageous.
Think about it. Could you come to Tamil Nadu, my state in South India, go on air for a Tamil-language news channel and speak flawlessly? Here is a Spanish-speaking man from Mexico speaking impeccable English. Unless you can go to Mexico and speak fluent Spanish on-air, how can you ever comment on his performance?
My first year in America, I had to repeat most of my sentences twice because people couldn't understand my Indian accent. "Say that again," was relayed to me more than any other phrase. I was an English-language journalist and wanted everyone to know that. So, I started twirling my R's and opening up my mouth more. Eventually, I reached a point where I can have a conversation with people and no one stops me for further explanation or asks me to repeat a word.
It is still a struggle. It requires my English "waking up" every morning. But, I will not be ashamed of who I am. Neither should Sergio Dipp.