People Who “Hate” Their Native Languages: My Perspective

Beware the Ides of March!


Today’s topic is an interesting one that I’m surprised hasn’t been touched on in almost any language-learning blog I’ve encountered.

For many years I’ve heard comments like these:


“(Speaker’s native language) is the most useless language in existence”

“(Speaker’s native language) is only useful 0.1% of the time.”

“I suppose there are a lot better things to do with your time (rather than study my native language)”

“Why the fuck do you want to learn (speaker’s native language)?”

“I think my native language is boring”

“I would trade my native language for…”


I should mention two things:

  • I’ve been guilty of this myself. Part of me wishes that English wasn’t my native language. That was literally the second blog post I ever wrote about on this blog, actually!
  • Almost all of the people who made comments like these were westerners (although I’ve heard some people from Asia or the Americas do the same, too—but not as frequently. From Africa and the Pacific, not to date).


Before I continue I’m going to say that I do NOT include people who actively dislike their language due to trauma. (e.g. “my grandmother was a native German speaker from Nazi Germany and after she left she refused to speak German ever again”. Disclaimer: this describes neither of my grandmothers). That’s beyond the scope of what I feel qualified to talk about, and in the event you DO encounter someone like that, avoid that language altogether without questions. End of story.


But as far as ordinary people who somehow feel that they could trade their native language (or one of their native languages) for another one, there are some things that I’ve noticed.


  • Sometimes they just say that in order to get you to validate their native language.


YES. This has happened to me. Enough for me to write about it.


Only yesterday was I in a Talmud class and we had a discussion about the fact that, according to Jewish law, prospective converts have to be refused three times (in order to show that they are genuinely serious about becoming Jewish, regardless of what liabilities it may bring them in the future).


Sometimes someone who says “why bother learning (my language) if so few people speak it / everyone in my country speaks English anyhow / it’s ‘useless’” may actually want you to justify your decision passionately. Or they may actually want to hear your story in detail but don’t want to ask directly.


The more fluent you are in a language, the LESS this will happen, especially if your accent is good.


There’s a reason for that, actually. Because if you speak it well enough, it shows that you’ve had a good enough reason to invest a lot of time into it, so your reason will almost CERTAINLY not be within the realm of questioning (e.g. having done business there, married to or dating a native speaker, etc.)


  • If they use ANY amount of the language with you at all beyond basic greetings, they really DON’T hate their native language. Especially if they show telltale signs of enchantment.


If they did (and yes, I have encountered a handful of cases in which they did), they wouldn’t smile if you speak their language, they would instead appear disgusted and a tad confused. They wouldn’t be continuing the conversation in the “useless language” and playing along with you with smiles as they do it.


This is the case with me and English. I may have extremely conflicted opinions about American English, but if someone wants to learn it from me, I’ll usually play along rather than act frustrated (especially if someone really needs help with his or her English). Because whether I like it or not, American-ness is a part of who I am (in addition to my other identities).


  • Sometimes this attitude can reflect a certain sense of jealousy (that we ALL have) about speakers of certain languages.


I’m hugely jealous of Greenlandic native speakers. I make no secret of that fact. (It still remains the hardest language I’ve ever attempted to learn, bar none, to the degree that if someone lists a major language as the hardest to learn, I’m secretly scoffing on the inside.)


Throughout Europe I’ve met many people who view American English native speakers as lottery winners and view them with a certain sort of jealousy that they can’t hide. And yes, you will make friends JUST by virtue of that fact alone, especially with people who feel that they need the conversational practice or even knowledge about American culture (this is true no matter WHAT your native language is, actually! Someone out there is looking for you! This can also be the case if you’re a fluent speaker of a language, even non-natively).


My knowledge of whatever native languages I can’t have and I can’t catch up with will almost certainly never be on the level of a native speaker. But I can try and keep learning. And if it is of any comfort to you, my knowledge of other English-speaking cultures and their idioms are also going to be out of reach in terms of “perfection” as well.


But you don’t need to be a native speaker to be good. Far from it, in fact.


  • Unless someone brings up a traumatic incident or shows signs of vexation, do NOT take “I hate my native language / I think it’s useless” comments seriously.


And there also is a chance that you just MIGHT need to get better at their language in order to get them to warm up to you!


One last thing: you can actually use this to your advantage to keep conversations in your target language (which I’ve noticed is becoming less and less of an issue the more experienced I get. It was a noteworthy issue back in 2014 and is almost NOTHING now, but we’ll see how Austria and Slovakia fare later this year on that front). Benny Lewis famously would bring up his English-language Catholic school experiences in order to guilt people away from using English with him in places like Spain. I’ve never had to go to that length but I’m certainly willing to describe the darker sides of my American experience (which I won’t go into right now).


Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

4 thoughts on “People Who “Hate” Their Native Languages: My Perspective

  1. Mer says:

    This was pretty interesting to read! I have some thoughts on the issue but in a slightly different kinda vein

    In the Singaporean context, we have a different definition of Mother Tongue than most countries. It has more to do with one’s race/ethnicity than one’s actual native language(s). My “Mother Tongue” is defined as Mandarin but I am actually more of a native English speaker. I absolutely hated Chinese for a very long time. It had to do with the fact that I was simply not great at it but had to take it as a required subject in school for 12 years. If I hadn’t been required to I would probably have hated it less, but I ended up developing quite a real and pretty serious antipathy for it. It was to the point I would get irritated or angry whenever anyone directly addressed me in the language, and would just answer in English.

    I can definitely speak it beyond basic greetings, but if I did I would do it mainly out of necessity (when the other party can’t speak English) or politeness (if they were older/someone I didn’t know well). I even developed some weird mental block where I legitimately couldn’t read Chinese words without putting my finger under them and concentrating incredibly hard. A lot of my classmates and I spent a lot of time ridiculing and complaining about Chinese class. It was our Number One Most Hated Thing About School.

    Looking back, I realise that maybe this antipathy was developed because of my inability to speak my supposed “Mother Tongue” fluently, a flaw which was only highlighted from years of required Chinese classes and which I never corrected because I just hated the school subject. Also, I kind of took English-Chinese bilingualness for granted and did not see it as a useful skill/something to be thankful for, which it really is.

    I honestly think this real, real hatred for one’s Mother Tongue might (sadly) be a very Singaporean thing? Of course, not for EVERY Singaporean because a vast number of them are pretty fluent in both English and their MT, but certainly for a certain group of us who have not grown up speaking it (includes Malay speakers, Tamil speakers etc.). I have a much deeper appreciation for Chinese now, but back then the whole “forced MT-learning” really impacted how well I speak it.

    Okay I didn’t really have a point here but just wanted to share my experiences :”)

    I guess that’s just something anyone reading this and who might want to visit Singapore will now know :”) if you try to speak to someone on the streets, especially a youth, and get a reply in English, it might be that the person legitimately cannot converse in that language or doesn’t want to. So that’s that HAHAHA

  2. maxim hudon says:

    1 – i`m a native french speaker , i do not mind speaking it but when it come to writing i hate it , i just can`t get over it most of the time i would rather write a mail or anything in English since i have less difficulty with the typo , i wouldn’t say it is useless either , i believe all language are worth learning and none are useless , you can connect with more people this way.

    Still don`t like french when it come to the writing tho , i can`t even get my grade done because for me there is no logic at all with the grammar in french and i`m thinking about going to university outside my french province since i’m really bad in french.

  3. Cyberpunk says:

    English is the language I learned from birth because it was forced on most of the groups I’m mixed with [historically], which is one of the reasons I hate it. It represents part of the colonial and religious takeover of the world, but aside from that it is a very ugly language to listen to, especially when it’s used as a racial weapon (“Speak English”, “Learn to Speak English”, and “English is the native language of America [WHICH IT IS NOT]” are common phrases I’ve heard with my own ears, and what I’ve read from the experiences of others in America using languages other than English). Unfortunately I’ve struggled to learn any others or I’d give this one up entirely, so as much as I hate it I’m stuck with it.

  4. Alexa Hoi says:

    Yup this is me! I hate speaking English and I hate that even though I’m learning other languages, my first language is English and always will be English. This is more to do with me identifying as Asian (because I am, I am not English) and also the fact that being brought up in the UK has meant that my mother never bothered to teach me Chinese, because why should I learn Chinese when I can already speaking English?

    When I’m in France for example I deliberately use as much French as possible because I know for some weird reason French people want to improve their English (you guys have such a beautiful language why the hell would you wanna learn English for?! 😂) I hate that being born in the UK means it’s technically pointless for me to learn another language because more than half the workd speaks effing English 🙄🙄🙄.

    My parents generation were understandably grateful for learning and knowing English because it opened doors for them, but for me I feel like it’s the other way round. Why should I feel grateful for being accidentally able to speak English? It’s not my identity….it’s actually stopped me from connecting with my culture. It’s more of a disability than an enabling tool and I just want to almost forget it.

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