How Dare You Speak A Language Other Than English!

I ran across a 2012 news story about a Wisconsin teacher who chastised a student for speaking a language other than English, reportedly telling 12 year old Miranda Washinawatok:

“You are not to speak like that! How do I know you’re not saying something bad? How would you like it if I spoke in Polish and you didn’t understand?”

The student’s offensive words? She was teaching her friends how to say “Hello” and “I love you”.*

Love-filled Greetings

A child might not know what’s going to happen from day to day – none of us do – but they know if they are in a place where they are loved. Whether it’s the home, classroom or playground, children who are loved are children who feel safe. That’s what makes the teacher’s actions so tragic. She unwittingly made the classroom a place where love could not be shared and expressed. She made the classroom a place that isn’t safe.

The Bible tells us we are to greet each other in love, and that this love is how people will know we belong to Jesus.

Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Peter 5:14.)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35.)

Love is how the gospel of Jesus – the good news that God loves us and wants us to be his people – is best expressed. In fact, the gospel and love cannot be separated. Love and faith and hope are all part of the gospel itself and it is ingrained in the lives of God’s people.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. (Colossians 1:3-6.)

This is what the gospel looks like – lives of love and faith and hope. That is the gospel you have been given, and God is working in you to realize the fullness of that good news. (Philippians 2:13.)

And when it comes to spreading this good news, there is no language it cannot be said in.

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. (Revelation 14:6.)

So don’t be reluctant to use whatever language you have to tell people “Hello” and “I love you.” And if you want to know how to say it in Menominee, here’s what Miranda Washinawatok was telling her friends: Posoh, ketapanen.

That’s gospel.


Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15.)


*My thanks to Olivia Faix for linking the news article on her Facebook page.


[This is the second of three posts on language. Yesterday looked at the origin of being “meanspirited”, and tomorrow features a grammar tip on commas.]


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12 Responses to How Dare You Speak A Language Other Than English!

  1. Pastor Bob says:

    Oh the simialr stories to tell! Living in a bilingual area (okay multilingual) the tales of woe, and the stories of acceptance shown by so many. Tying th two main points together is crucial if we are to communicate the love of Jesus Christ.

    In one program I was working with, my assistant was a young Muslim. At the end of the project she said that she had never met a man quite like me. She went on to talk about my love and acceptance for the students, and her as well. I told here that her kind words were a positive reflection on the God that I serve – in and through Jesus Christ. Another Muslim family thinks highly of me, all of thse actions communicate the love of Jesus better than words alone.

    The teacher made an unfortunate error, but this highlights something I have known for years, the problem with living and working with humans is–


    • Tim says:

      You’re not the first pastor I’ve heard make that observation about humans. Or as I like to put it –

      To live above with saints I love: that would be glory.
      But here below with saints I know? Now that’s another story!

  2. Jeannie says:

    Tim, I appreciate this post very much, especially in light of what’s going on up here in Canada. Yesterday the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which has been examining the history of native residential schools, released its report. The words “cultural genocide” were used to describe the effects of this disastrous program on our fellow human beings, our fellow Canadians. And of course one serious aspect of this was that the children in the schools weren’t allowed to speak their own language — exactly the kind of tragically unsafe setting you allude to hear. So I appreciate your pointing out that we should have the freedom to speak our own language — after all, God understands all languages.

    • Tim says:

      The decision to prevent speaking one’s language and the horrible effect of that policy are inexplicable. God understand all languages and he calls people from every tongue to himself. People should revel in the differences as we come together in him.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      There is times for the use of (a) unifying language(s), and times when individuality is good or needed. In this area, making an official language is unifying, but when the supervisor forbids private discussions in Spanish, that is not the intent.

      When my grandparents arrived from Norway, the worked on perfecting English, for communicating with others (French, Italians, Pakistani’s -etc.) would have been difficult. I was privileged to flex my growing language skills in the various ethnic stores, and surprised at the English grammar corrections offered as well. Alas, I fear those times of tolerance are fading all too quickly.

      We can and have done far better at unifying and celebrating diversity when it was NOT mandated, but simply “the way it should be done.”

      Can you send a link about this study? Sad but …..

      • Tim says:

        In my region people arrive from all over the world. It seems that by the third generation the original language is all but forgotten. I’m hoping that we can retain those rich cultural aspects of everyone’s heritage while joining together in our much greater commonalities as people in community.

  3. It sounds to me like that school teacher was suffering a case of perfidious albion. What’s that oft-quoted thing ‘if English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me’? Doesn’t ‘Perfidious Albion’ sound like a character from Dickens?
    Language is a gift from God. It is one of the ways in which being ‘made in His image’ manifests. Christ Himself is referred to as ‘The Word’ or ‘logos’. How can we not celebrate language? Being bilingual, or multilingual, is a huge asset in the 21st century. I’ve been learning Mandarin myself lately. It’s fun (although I am far, far away from being bilingual).

  4. It’s a very sad reality that story relays. How we automatically assume what we don’t understand is something wrong. How even if at one point we were willing to give the charity to do so, we were burned by it. When we’re saying something loving, and it gets assumed to be something bad.

    We can be a fearful, distrustful, and untrustworthy bunch we can be. It makes you thankful for the love of God that can be expressed in all languages, but also feeling very unworthy of it.

    • Tim says:

      I hope everyone told that student that her words were completely appropriate, and that the teacher has learned to honor and celebrate differences people bring to,her life. ________________________________________

  5. Tuija says:

    That poor teacher missed a great teching opportunity. A chance to let her whole class learn about languages. (The article says the school is more than 60% Native American. Possibly there were children from other language groups who could have taught the same phrases in their languages? Or was Miranda teaching the phrases to English-speaking kids so that they could reach out to other Menominee children?) But what also caught my attention was that the teacher said “if I spoke in Polish” – which suggests to me that she comes from a Polish family herself. Perhaps she herself had been chastised for speaking Polish – for speaking a language others couldn’t understand…?

    Like Jeremy says, it’s sad how easily we feel fear and suspicion when there’s something we don’t understand: a different language, a different culture. The variety of languages comes from God (I’m thinking about the Tower of Babel 🙂 ) but this fear and rejection doesn’t.

    • Tim says:

      I wonder too if she might have been chastised at some point. As for teaching a little Polish, I figure she could have followed Bobby Vinton’s lead:

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