Here’s the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say…the end of the earlier blog. This post has to do with a separate, yet very related, part of the “foreigner” issue: language. Who can deny that language is an integral part of our lives? It’s fundamental to our understanding of the world. Without the ability to communicate effectively with others, we’d be “in the dark,” confused, and somewhat powerless.
In the United States, there are thousands and thousands of people who do not speak English, and we’re doing our dead-level best to help them. Not to help them learn English necessarily, but rather to communicate with them in their own native tongue. As an example, every Sunday we have several Hispanic visitors in our church, and I AM GLAD to see them. At the same time, an interpreter always sits with them and translates every word of what the speakers and teachers say. It’s a good thing, but a bit distracting. I’ve been thinking for weeks that there must be an answer, a better way of doing things.
Last week I read a great column by Kathleen Parker, a fabulous editorialist. I don’t have the article with me today, but the gist of it is that we’re really not helping Spanish speaking people succeed in our country when we’re giving them all the information they need in their own language. If you want to read instructions and/or directions, I can see how reading them in Spanish is best. If you want to be understood by a doctor or medical personnel, yes, it’s nice to have an interpreter there. Same thing goes for church…and maybe school (to an extent).
However, if a person wants to become a member of congress, teach school, practice medicine, or just in general be an informed person, then he or she needs to learn the language of the land. It’s that simple. I’ve been thinking about how lost I’d be if I were living in Mexico, France, or Italy. In fact, I wouldn’t even dream of visiting a foreign land without having at least the rudiments of the language in my mind. If I were to live there, then I’d take it a step further and try to become fluent. Why? Because I’d want to read the paper, understand the man (and woman) on the street, and comprehend television and radio.
I would hate feeling ignorant and powerless in a strange land. I shudder to think of how scary it would be to be at someone else’s mercy because I could neither read nor understand the words being spoken around me. Anything from legal documents to college entrance exams would be “Greek” to me. I don’t know of any universities who offer entrance exams in other languages, do you? If you’re going to go to college, then you have to speak English.
In my mind, it seems that not requiring others to speak English is yet another way of keeping them down, keeping others away from the bigger prizes that go with having an education, getting a decent job, casting an informed vote, and having enough self-gained information to make wise decisions. Seeing Spanish and English on signs and directions seems “nice” on the surface, but in the long run, it’s cruel.
8 thoughts on “Habla Usted Espanol?”
As someone who is half-Mexican, I can tell you that my family completely believed in speaking ‘the language’. My grandparents absolutely refused to speak to me in Spanish.
It frustrates me that people take for granted the fact that Mexicans fought side-by-side to defend the Alamo. That land was there home, no matter how the lines changed. When the land became U.S., we stayed.
It was also frustrating because I lived in Miami where there was a great influx of Cubans. The good ole’ boy network was not for white people but for Cubans. I can’t tell you how INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING it was. And, on top of it, many refused to speak English.
But, their children went to school with us and spoke English. Give it two generations and they’ll be integrated. As long as we continue to teach in English, integration will happen. Slowly but surely.
You’re as much of a perfectionist as I am!
you know there is a lot of heat on this issuue, lucy said i was wron, and all i said was there is lots of room in this country for many more and how best to convert them than to get them here lst, and then work on them, we have thousands working at our turkey plants and i know one illegal who slits turkeys at 6oo per day with his own knife in the bllod room and i teach him missionary discussions, although i can’t beleve our antiquated turkey business having humans do the killing and not machines
My Mother spoke no English when she met my Dad. I spoke very little English when we first arrived in the U.S. I had to learn b/c there were no options in school…you submersed yourself in the language and you learned. Many immigrants that came through Ellis Island “had” to learn a new language. While frustrating it is best to assimilate in the land in which you are living. We are blessed and there is plenty for all. Everyone just wants a better life. There just has to be a better way for all. No easy answers to that my friend.
Hayden, It’s always nice to get insight from someone with firsthand experience. All of your readers are delighted that your grandparents insisted on your speaking English because we get to benefit from your writing (in English).
Barl, You’re so right about there being a lot of heat on this issue. It’s a complex one with many puzzle pieces.
Connie, I agree wholeheartedly with, “While frustrating it is best to assimilate in the land in which you are living. We are blessed and there is plenty for all. Everyone just wants a better life.” Assimilation gives you better options, and yes yes yes yes yes, people want better lives, one of the primary reasons why they come here. Learning English is one of the major tools that will help provide it.
Hi: Nice post about an important topic. I feel very much the way you do. In fact, when I lived for awhile in Germany as a young man I learned German, and more recently I have made myself learn the basics of Spanish, given its importance to our society today.
(I also teach ESL to Latinos here in Santa Fe, NM, through the local community college.)
At the same time, I remind myself that not everyone has the same aptitude for languages, and for cultural reasons, the prospect of learning a language is more frightening for some. (I have written three essays on this subject, “Integral ESL”, which can be found at my integralinput.com site.)
But in any case, I agree that though well intended, our society has gone too far, out of its liberal sensibilities, enough so to contribute to the problem rather than solve it. Over-compensating for people’s failure to learn doesn’t help the situation.
Part of the problem is that we don’t do a great job of TEACHING ESL. The commercial ideology that rules, like religious dogma, is “total immersion.” Briefly, total immersion is fine as the only approach once the student reaches the high-intermediate level, but below that it is actually a DETRIMENT to learning.
Those who are interested in this subject can look online at the difference between the commercial (profitable) Rosetta Stone (“total immersion”)produt and The Pimsleur Method, which is a very intelligent alternative. I highly recommend the latter for any Americans who want to learn Spanish.
Another problem is that Spanish-speaking communnities have strong norms against Latinos speaking any English to each other. I hear from students all the time stuff like “I work in a kitchen and everyone speaks Spanish so I can’t practice my English.” Though this is perhaps understandable, it is highly unfortunate, since the best way to learn a language is to SPEAK it as much as possible.
Hopefully we can with time encourage communities to change this norm, in their own interest. It may be tempting for the fringe liberals to hear this as somehow uncharitable, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Thanks for the nice post, Jim