Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hablo inglés

The above photo has gotten The Blog thinking about the subject of language. Specifically, the notion that anyone that lives in The U.S. should be obligated to learn to speak English and the political football that has been passed for years about whether the English language should be made "The Official Language of The United States of America!"

To get this post rolling, let's start with a story recently recounted by an FOTB (friend of The Blog,) whose thoughts and opinions, The Blog has great respect for......

I visited my dad in Texas a few years ago. There are a lot of Mexicans there. I went into a grocery store and everyone in there was speaking Spanish. I tried asking about something in the store and get directions. I couldn't understand anything. I left without buying anything and had to go down the road to get directions. Sad, when I am in my own country and can't understand enough to make a purchase.

I think that my friend and I agree (Yes, The Blog is stepping into the first person, because The Blog is starting to irritate The Blog's self) that from a business perspective, it is a good idea to be able to speak English in America. We also agree that there are a lot of Mexicans in Texas. This stands to reason because, immigration (legal or otherwise) not withstanding, Texas was once a part of Mexico.  But, I notice that my friend did not say that the people in the store couldn't understand him, but rather he could not understand them. So, was this a language barrier or an accent barrier? I don't know. I wasn't there. But, I do know that I have on many occasions, called the customer service centers of a number of American based companies, (and in one notable case, the call center for an agency of The State of California) and tried to communicate with people in India, Asia and the Ukraine who understood me perfectly, but whose accents were so thick that they brought me to the point of tears of frustration.

*** A modest proposal*** If we are going to require everyone in America to understand and speak clear English, we should also require all American corporations and government agencies to keep their call centers in the United States. Where they can, you know, provide jobs for Americans.

The argument for making English the official language of the U.S. seems to center around people whose native language is Spanish. Thanks to today's far-right, that means Mexicans, as indicated by the obviously highly educated sign barer in the photo above.  But, growing up in Northeast Ohio so many years ago, the same "problem" was about Puerto Ricans. During my time spent in Florida, Cuban Spanish was the "problem."

But, let's be clear. Dozens, if not hundreds of languages are spoken in neighborhoods and suburbs all over America. Here in the Greater Los Angeles area, Hebrew, Korean, Vietnamese,  Japanese,  Russian, Ukrainian, Ethiopian, Portuguese, several versions of Chinese and yes, Spanish are the primary languages spoken in households and neighborhoods here. And, as a result, many businesses that cater to those who speak those languages in those neighborhoods speak those languages as well. And if your only language is English, well, they really don't care. You are simply not a member of their demographic in this free market society.

Seriously, if you only speak English, are you really going to do business in a store that sells fish heads and octopus?

The Blog (I mean "I") have/has had the honor of traveling all over the world. And in every single country that I have visited, without exception, every single place of business that I have entered has had at least one employee who speaks English. Even in (formerly Commie) Moscow. It's good for business. It is only in America, if a business "hablo español" that people are offended.

(Full disclosure... In France, as long as you make an effort to parle français, they will admit that they do speak English and won't spit in your food.)

So really America! Get off your xenophobic high horse and make learning other people's languages as important here as other countries do.

1 comment:

  1. Excellant. My question is this: If 'we' insist on English as the only language, might we start by teaching it first to our own people who don't know the difference between 'are' and 'our' (take a look at the sign again). The schools don't teach penmanship (because everythng is computerized), and now they don't even teach the correct use of our own words. Shoot me.