If you’re an English speaker and listen to K-Pop (or any language that isn’t English) I’m sure you’re familiar with at least one of these irritating questions:

“Can you understand that?”
“Do you even know what they’re saying?”
“Why are you listening to something you can’t understand?”
“Don’t you want to know what they’re saying?”
“How can you like it if you don’t know what they’re saying?”
“Are you _____ (insert ethnicity/race here)? If not, why are you listening to it?”

To all of these questions and more, I’d usually respond with: “It’s music – you don’t have to understand it to feel it.” In my experience, that would usually be enough to garner a dismissive one word sentence with an extremely judgemental side-glance.

I’ve listened to music in other languages almost exclusively for over 10 years, and I’ve received those same questions from people of every age, routinely, if I played my favorite music outloud.

Occasionally I’ve had people be respectful, or even interested in my music, and they were happy to not only learn something new, but be introduced to something they had never thought of before. If anyone knew anything about music in other languages, it was usually a song from an Anime they had seen on late night cartoon channels.

I have so many questions of my own about this phenomenon.

Why are native English speakers taught that their language is the “right” language? English is the Universal language, but for about 75% of the world’s population, English isn’t even a second language. In primarily English speaking countries, such as the UK and USA, you often hear of native English speakers disrespecting non-native speakers. It’s nearly impossible to find employment if you don’t speak English, and you’re generally treated as an unintelligent, unimportant second-class citizen.

Outside of international business, why should anyone be forced to speak in English? Also, if people with English Privilege expect everyone else to bend to their needs, why are most English speakers not required to learn a second language? In American educational curriculums, students are supposed to take at least one language class in high school, but in almost every other first world country, especially European and Asian countries, students are required to study English (and sometimes at least one other language) from elementary school until high school at least. I think Americans should be required to learn at least Spanish or French, to grant neighboring countries (Mexico and Canada) the same courtesy Americans are granted.

Even within the realm of K-Pop fandom, you’ll find some people asking why a musician doesn’t speak or perform in English if they understand it. Why should we expect someone to speak outside of their Mother Tongue for our convenience? And why does not understanding a language seem to invalidate its worth?

The double standard of English Privilege is especially obvious when you pay attention to the music that is played on the radio and on television in other countries. English speaking musicians, primarily American musicians, are played internationally everyday, but it takes a huge amount of success and honestly a streak of good luck (i.e. Psy’s Gangnam Style) to land a non-English song on American radio or television.

Why are we, in English speaking countries, forced to have our music exposure be so limited? That limited exposure is the main cause of ignorant questions, and frankly, it’s a sad situation. Finding new music to be passionate about is not only fun, but liberating. Music is renowned for healing, teaching, and uniting; and many fans will tell anyone who’s asking, that their favorite bands are a fundamental part of their health and lifestyle.

Music is the one truly Universal language – why are so many of us muted?

I hope, as time goes on, the “Hallyu Wave” will ripple its way even further into other countries, and music from around the world will find its way to eager listeners who have yet to hear their new favorite band.

What do you think? Leave a comment below; let’s keep this important conversation going!

Locke Kaito

Writer at UnitedKpop
Writer, reader, relatively respectable citizen, part-time merboy and desperate shipper.

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Writer, reader, relatively respectable citizen, part-time merboy and desperate shipper.

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