Monday, July 2, 2007

English please....

More and more I am hearing people complain about immigrants to the United States who do not learn to speak English. I personally think it would be wonderful if the entire world population spoke English. I think it is a pretty wonderful language with plenty of choices for wording things and the ability to add subtle nuances to seemingly simple words.

But do I think it should be used to judge someones fitness to be a citizen or a prerequisite to their holding a job here? NO! Oh, don't get me wrong, it would sure make things a lot easier for me if the person on the phone or behind the counter always spoke English. But should I be upset if they do not? Why?

I took a year of Spanish in High School. The result is that I can say "Hello, how are you?" and "Very well, thank you, and you?" I can count to 20 and know about 10 other words.

My first husband was American of Mexican descent. Most of his family spoke Spanish and English. By the end of the marriage 5 years later I spoke about 25 words of usable Spanish. But when the assorted family members came to visit from Mexico most of them could not speak English at all. We spent many a visit using signs and pointing to things. They would say the Spanish word and I would say the English. I never did manage to learn Spanish. I tried. I failed.

Learning a second language is easy for some people. For some it is difficult but they manage. For some it is impossible. For me, I know that with concentrated effort and hard work, I could have done much better but I doubt I would ever have been fluent.

Now let's look at it from a different point of view. " This is America and if you want to live here learn the language or go home" Boy, I bet the Indians wish they had told the Pilgrims that. Maybe they wouldn't have been forced onto reservations and their Children forced to speak and dress like the white men.

And the Spanish people that owned vast areas of the country long before the new European arrivals came should have insisted they learn Spanish in order to fit into their newly chosen home or leave immediately.

This nation has been called a melting pot. We have a Statue on Ellis Island that holds the inscription "Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door." Granted, it was a gift and the inscription was not written by an American.... But we accepted the gift and we didn't request the inscription be changed. Obviously we liked the sentiment enough to place it in the harbor and treat it as a national treasure. But we only meant poor huddled masses that speak English...and only a few at a time, and only those who we deem to be desirable... but most important is that speaking English part...

Officially, by law there is no National language here. I personally do not think there should be one. I do not believe that Freedom of speech should be limited to English only and I do not think that a persons ability or willingness to learn English is a reasonable test of their commitment to or love for this nation.

But it sure would make life easier if everyone spoke English....I think it is wonderful that children in many countries are being taught English as a part of their basic educations....I wonder if our schools will ever get back to teaching it to our children.