I hate seeing posts like this. They make me so mad I think those who author them must be narrow minded, selfish, and non-understanding.
I came across this particular post a few days ago on Facebook. It immediately sparked feelings of anger and frustration. I read through some of the responses and became more angry. But instead of starting a debate and chiming in with my poorly thoughtout two cents, I set it aside and dwelled on it as I continued with my day.
The more I thought about it though, the more I would have to admit I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t agree to it. Why? This is exactly the standard I hold myself to in my new country. Even though Spanish and English are both officially the language of Puerto Rico, and probably around 60% or so of people here can speak even a small degree of English, I feel it would be selfish and narrow minded of me to not to learn Spanish. Or at least even try a little. So if I hold that standard to myself, shouldn’t it stand to reason that I hold that standard to non-English speakers in the United States? Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite otherwise?
Of course when I was trolling through the comments all I could think about was, “What about the Native Americans when we arrived centuries ago? They didn’t tell us to learn their language or get out. (Don’t think we gave them the chance). English is not the original language of North America. But that was years ago and today is today.
So I guess I have to admit I agree with this meme. I do not however agree with the anger, nor the sense of elitism, nor the sense of otherness that people associate with it.
As far as I know English is still the only official language of the United States, though I suspect that will change in my life time to be English and Spanish. I’ve heard far too many of my acquaintances bitch and moan about having to hear the option “Press two for Spanish” when using the phone. But this is something I totally support! As much as I’ve learned Spanish (and I can tell that I’ve grown in my knowledge exponentially over the past year), when it comes to very important things like organizing insurance, paying bills over the phone, or talking to a doctor, I much prefer to do it in English. (“Press 1 for English is quite a relief) First of all I don’t have the vernacular yet for those topics I don’t talk about very often, and I don’t want to mess something important up. So for all those non-English speakers in United States, yes let’s have options for them to speak their native language for very important issues such as these. I can personally tell you when I’m frustrated or feeling emotional my capacity to understand Spanish pretty much shuts off. I would hate to think about what would happen in an emergency if no one around me could speak English.
So, as much as I agree with this meme, let’s keep the options and the cultural diversity flowing. There should be no reason to cast out culture individuality and personal expression just to have everyone assimilate to some white/middle class standard. Speak two languages!
But learning and especially mastering the second or even third language takes a ton of time. If it’s not absolutely necessary for you to get through day by day in your second language, and you have to do important things like your job and take care of your family at home, then there may be not enough time to proficiently learn a second language quickly. I think as long as there is some effort put forth to learning and assimilating to your chosen location then just do the best you can do.
So in the end, without being prejudice, pigheaded, narrow minded, or any other synonyms, yes, do the best you can to learn the main language in the country where you live. You’ll expand your horizons, be able to learn from your new country, and be able to open more doors and opportunities for yourself. And maybe those around you can learn from you too.
Thanks Laura for these great topics and discussions!
The main factor in bigotry/discrimination/racism is power. Whoever has the power can ruin the lives of others without it (housing, food, access, health, just about everything…) And the main factor in power is money. So while we sometimes may hear things like “reverse discrimination” it is unlikely that this type of prejudice will have the same major impact on someone’s life the way the forces in power can have against those without it.
Sometimes it seems easy to simply reverse the situation and agree with the statement (live in X, speak X language), but there is a lot missing in the assessment. Namely, power, privilege and money -those with these things have a LOT more opportunity than those without. And also as you know, becoming fluent in a language is quite the task even without those!
Oh, and quick tidbit: the Federal US government has no official language though English is most commonly spoken.
Thanks for the input!
And I think a lot is based on fear down at the grassroots level. There’s unfortunately so much ingrained belief that ‘different is bad’ 🙁
Great post, Laura, and very interesting. I do hear so many say that everyone should basically only be speaking English in the states. But that is a very good point about having the native language option for things that could be so very important and needs good communication. It is important to learn as much as you can of the language of where you choose to live.
My experience visiting Canada is that learning different languages is not a big issue like in theUSA. The ATM machine are in english,french and chinese.It is common hear different languagesin Toronto,Montrealand Vancouver.It seems the USAwill be like Canada like in 1 generation.