The case of Miss USA bashing fellow Miss Universe candidates over their English skills

December 13, 2018 - 6:16 PM
Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers_Interaksyon
Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers bashed Miss Vietnam H'Hen Nie and Miss Cambodia Rern Nat for their English skills. (Facebook/Miss USA)

A video of a Miss Universe 2018 candidate bashing two of her fellow candidates for their English skills recalled the debate on whether candidates should be required to understand the language or not.

Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers slammed Miss Cambodia Rern Nat for not speaking English while she made fun of Miss Vietnam H’Hen Nie, although she gave the latter a compliment first.

Summers, who was with two other candidates at that time, said in the video, “Miss Cambodia is here and doesn’t speak any English and not a single other person speaks her language.”

“Can you imagine? Like, Franceska said that would be so isolating and I said, yes and just confusing all the time,” she added.

Summers gestured to her fellow candidates in the video and uttered, “Poor Cambodia.”

They went on to talk about Nie and how she “pretends to know English.”

Summers added, “You ask her a question and then after having a whole conversation with her and she goes…”

The USA candidate mimicked an innocently smiling expression with a nod while the two other candidates laughed at her impression.

Currently, the Miss Universe pageant does not require any of its candidates to speak English and they are allowed to have translators, especially during the Question and Answer portion of the contest.

English, a universal language?

Although there is no official decree that says English is the universal language, it is considered the co-official language within the United Nations, the European Union and other regional international organizations.

Emmersion Learning noted that English remains the dominant language among different countries since it is “a simple language that is easy to pick up.”

“The prevalence of English-language films, TV, and music makes it readily accessible and easy to practice,” the website added.

Arguments of Miss Universe requiring its candidates to speak English have surfaced before, where pro-English advocates note that candidates should be fluent in the language as it is supposedly “universal.”

A food and lifestyle blog pointed out:

“English is the universal language and most people from anywhere in the world knows little English, at the very least. These beauties are competing to be the Miss Universe, as the title of the contest suggests.”

“I just think that in this kind of internationally-known beauty pageant where people from all around the world are watching and gauging the answers given by contestants, they should be playing on the same field by saying answers in English.”

It also argued that translators can be “biased” and may possibly structure the candidate’s answer in a way that would sound more appealing to the judges.

Others argued that English fluency is needed since the winner of Miss Universe would be expected to travel and communicate with different people around the world.

A Facebook user added:

“For me, it should be… because you are representing not only your country but the whole universe… you have to talk to people of another race, understand people and freely communicate with them… it would be smooth talking to people without depending on (an) interpreter and be yourself.”

Miss Universe is more than language

A speech communications professor from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños argued that an “obsession with the perfect English” comes from the mindset that “fluent English is indicative of one’s intelligence,” even in the Philippines.

Gene Segarra Navera recalled Arielle Arida’s case, who was the Philippines representative to the Miss Universe 2013, and how she was criticized for her English skills. He wrote:

“It doesn’t require much insight to realize that this obsession with the perfect English stems from the highly suspect language ideology that speaking fluent English is indicative of one’s intelligence.”

“It is a highly discredited notion in academic circles but this warped thinking has continued to dominate our public platforms. It simply tells us that those who can speak this foreign language like our former colonial masters are or should be in a better position in society.”

“The pageant is most certainly beyond one’s capacity to speak the colonial tongue in a manner that former colonial masters want it spoken. It requires (an) immense capacity to strategize before varied audiences, the ability to adapt to difficult situations, and the indefatigable character to stay unaffected despite public pressure and criticism.”

Janine Tugonon, the country’s representative to the Miss Universe 2012, was asked in a Question and Answer portion before if English fluency should be a requirement for a Miss Universe candidate.

She answered, “For me, Miss Universe is not about being able to speak a particular language, it’s about being able to influence and inspire other people. No matter what language you have, as long as you have the heart, you can inspire other people.”

Tugonon won as first runner-up at the prestigious beauty pageant.