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How Do I Free Myself of Shame from Only Knowing English?

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From a young woman in Malawi:  I’m a college student in my final year born and raised in an African country. Every time I try to remember my childhood I remember mostly speaking English and not my native language…combined with my love for american cartoons and English being the official language in my country, my native language was never prioritized so I’m not really good at speaking it. I can greet people, and say basic things but I can’t hold a conversation for long.

Because of this I’ve grown up feeling very insecure, being labelled as different or an “impostor”. Some have gone as far as saying I’m “bougie” or “fancy”. But i don’t think I;m superior if English feels like my first and only language its actually the opposite. When I meet new people I dread the moment when they ask me why I can’t speak my native language and to be honest the only answer I can give them is I was raised this way…

sometimes I blame my parents I feel like they failed me in that important part of my upbringing…Because of this and the shame I feel I tend to keep to myself and keep people at bay…I’ve thought of learning the language now but no one’s trying to teach a language everyone is expected to know even in schools…how do I overcome this? How do I free myself of this shame I feel?

How Do I Free Myself of Shame from Only Knowing English?

Answered by on -


I think I can understand at least a little how you feel. I struggle with a second language. I can get around okay, but not have a real, meaningful conversation. It is a distinct disadvantage when I travel to that country.

That being said, it does sound to me that you are giving up way too easily. Studies show that adults can and do learn new languages. You have the distinct advantage of having heard and spoken your native language a little bit. That means you are familiar with its sounds. You probably won’t have an English accent once you learn more of the language.

The project of actually engaging in the discipline required to learn the language may seem overwhelming to you. I think that may be why you are blaming your parents instead of getting busy yourself. But blaming them won’t help. Once you’ve established that they “failed you”, you still won’t know the language.

By the way: I don’t think they failed you by not anticipating a negative effect that only speaking English would have on you. While you were growing up, they were probably doing what they thought was best for your future.

Where did you get the idea that “no one will teach a language you’re supposed to know”? That’s false. Even if there are no formal lessons available, there are tutors, Youtube videos, books, audio programs for purchase, and internet programs, etc. Get yourself a dictionary and learn 10 new words a day. Immerse yourself in the language. Go to movies and watch TV shows that are in your native language. Hang out in places where most of the people speak it. Go shopping in markets where you need your native language to get along. You could even ask your parents or adult relatives to work with you for a few hours every week to get you fluent. People are usually very interested in teaching an enthusiastic and willing student.

You are young and smart. It is very likely that you can become fluent in a year or two if you really apply yourself. If you don’t apply yourself, you’ll still be in the same situation 2 years from now. It’s your choice.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

How Do I Free Myself of Shame from Only Knowing English?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). How Do I Free Myself of Shame from Only Knowing English?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Oct 2019 (Originally: 7 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Oct 2019
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