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.