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When Adults Set Bad Examples: Guiliana Rancic Mocks Sofia Vergara's Accent

How the pain of mocking can affect bilingual kids

Some watching the Golden Globe Awards red carpet bristled after Giuliana Rancic appeared to mock Sofía Vergara’s accent on the live telecast.

As for Sofía, I hope she didn’t lose any sleep. I doubt she did. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that it’s not far-fetched to think someone, even Sofía, might be hurt from being mocked in public for a cheap laugh—if laughs were the motivation.

And whatever the motivation, it doesn’t mean Rancic’s comments weren’t offensive and demeaning to Sofía. As a public figure, Guiliana Rancic should know better—and as a mom, she has a responsibility to set a good example by treating others respectfully. Perhaps she hasn’t gotten around to teaching the golden rule in her house yet?

As a native Spanish-speaker, sometimes when I mean “yellow,” it sounds like “jello.” Sometimes, on the phone, people don’t understand me and I have to repeat myself. Most of the time, I laugh about it and chalk it up to the cost of doing business in my second language.

But sometimes, I’m hurt when others mock or laugh at my accent. There’s no hard and fast rule that says when it will hurt and when it won’t. Most of the time, people aren’t trying to be mean. But even as an adult, the mocking still hurts enough that at times I feel I should just stop speaking altogether.

And that’s the part I worry about most when one person mocks another’s accent: Will it reach a point where it shuts my kids up completely? I worry my kids may sometimes feel this way when they speak Spanish. If they see people behaving this way toward others on TV, will they expect others to act this way to them? Does it send a message that it’s OK to mock others for a laugh if people are doing it on TV?

Last year, we spent an extended period of time in Mexico with family. One day at the dinner table, my oldest son was making a great effort to say something in Spanish. He suddenly got up from the table and ran out of the house. A couple of cousins were laughing and he thought they were laughing at him—a case of crossed wires because he didn’t understand. He was sad and didn’t want to speak any more that day. Afterward, I made it clear to my son that I want to hear him—no matter whether he has an accent or not.

Being mocked for one’s accent can be a potential barrier when your child is learning to be bilingual. To be sure, there will likely be some accent in both languages while they are learning; it’s natural and expected. But the last thing you want is for a child to become self-conscious about his or her accent and clam up completely. If they’re self-conscious about speaking because they don’t want to be made fun of, they’re less likely to be open to the experience.

How do you talk to your kids about mocking others or being mocked?

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