Sunday, August 8, 2010

I'm Glad to Press 1 for English

Yes, it adds about 2 seconds to your phone call and requires you to move the phone from the side of your head and lift a finger to press the button, but hey, exercise is good for you.

I, for one, am glad to press 1 for English if it means that new immigrants and recent immigrants and long ago immigrants get better service with banks and stores and utilities and better access to health care and to get tax questions answered as they fill out the forms to pay their share of taxes to city, county, state, and national governments.

There is a myth out there perpetuated by bigots that their ancestors assimilated faster than the current Mexican immigrants. That is simply false. A higher percentage of first generation Mexican immigrants uses English than previous waves of, say, German immigrants and Polish immigrants and Irish immigrants and Chinese immigrants, and an even higher percentage of second generation immigrants uses English, usually nearly exclusively. And contrary to bigot belief, there were multilingual services and multilingual schools in nearly every language all along the way.

Another ugly myth out there in bigotland is that bilingual schools delay assimilation, while the opposite is true. Kids who are taught with both languages in school learn English faster and more thoroughly, because it is used side by side with their first language, so that the differences in structure and grammar are obvious with daily exposure to the languages in use in real situations, and the kids taught in bilingual classrooms are more likely to be performing at grade level than those forced into English-only classrooms.

In all waves of immigration from all lands, it has been the young that learn the language of the land and served as interpreters for older family members, a burden that is not fair to them and not effective, asking children to interpret adult issues that they might not understand. And believe it or not, English only at the driver's licence department or the bank or on the phone to the electric company would result in longer lines and longer wait for YOU as other customers had to talk through their own family-member interpreters. Having Spanish available for those that can better understand in it keeps the country running efficiently and effectively for everyone.

And you know and I know how very difficult it is for an adult, especially an older adult, to learn a new language, once our brains are all firmed up and all. And think of how hard it is to find time for exercising or reading and you know how hard, especially when there is so much to do keep up with daily life, it would be to take a language class. And you probably know that if you had to move to France tomorrow, that you might pick up some words just from daily living there, but instead of massively re-educating yourself to speak French at the ripe old age of whatever you are, you'd probably just find some English-speaking folks to hang out with in some English-speaking neighborhood. But even then, it'd be easier for you because so many of the French over there have had the polite good taste to learn English. Maybe that is the answer: Make all English-speaking Americans go to school in the evenings to learn Spanish. Yeah, I like that. Free Spanish classes for those that can't afford them and at a fair cost to those who can. Then when we go to the Mexican restaurant or the Mexican bakery or the Mexican grocer, they won't have to put up with us trying to share their culture in English.

3 comments:

Stella said...

Good points about learning English. My ancestors were French and German,and I've found no sign that they took over the country with their evil foreign ways instead of learning the local language and assimilating. They'd have been prevented anyway, by pointless racist laws like this: http://www.stevesachs.com/papers/paper_98a.html
Though my English ancestors actually did bring their filthy imperial ways, owning land and lots of slaves in the colonies even before the Revolutionary War, and showing what happens when you assume English culture is superior, I guess. -stella

goprairie said...

I did some reading before I wrote this. I hear so often 'Well, my ancestors learned English when they got here' from people who are certain but really have no way of knowing. Actual historical records indicate that the generation that came over generally did NOT learn much English and spoke their native tongue exclusively at home. They had churches and social gatherins where their language was used. Kids grew up speaking that language, learned English quickly when they got to school, used a mix at home after that, and when they established their own homes, used English there. Their kids never even learned the native tongue and spoke English exclusively. And learned a 'foreign' language in high school sometimes. That is exactly the pattern of the current immigrants from Mexico that the recent brand of bigotry is all about. But it is a big big myth that the actual immigrants themselves, all those Germans and Poles and Norvegians and Swedes and Scots and Irish and Chinese and Japanese and Indian all learned English. It was a generation later that that happened.

Mom Cat said...

I remember my cousins being forced to learn Polish, although not a bad thing to be bilingual, because their grandmother refused to learn English. I'm hoping to go to Waubonsee this fall to brush up on my Spanish. It's amazing how much I remember after 45 years. I know I'll hear the usual crap but I'll bet those same people will ask for my help at some point!