Director Steven Spielberg deliberately omitted subtitles for scenes in Spanish in his remake of the film "West Side Story'' which is currently in theaters. "If I subtitled the Spanish I'd simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. This was not going to happen in this film, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it," he said. This is a bold move, as speaking a language other than English in this country inherits an apology. Please, forgive my occasional verbal stumbles and awkward English pronunciation. English is not my first language. Sounds familiar? The term "nonnative speaker" is commonly used to describe people like me who grew up with another language and then learned English later on in life.
It's time to change this demeaning adjective for one that respectfully refers to our linguistic identity. In the spirit of respect, stop making us apologize for who we are. Calling anybody non-anything is invalidating. It's like a woman being called a non-man or a minority being called non-White. If "native" is the so-called norm, then calling someone a "nonnative '' perpetuates the departure from the "norm," and does not reflect who the speakers really are. We should replace "nonnative speaker" with "English learner" or "multilingual speaker." The change could transform how we teach students and could shift public attitudes to be more welcoming toward us.