Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Spanish Button

It has always annoyed me that we, as a country, do not know our neighbor’s languages. I am horrible with languages, yes even English. I was in Germany in 2003 and I was talking with some college students in Cologne. They are taught has children four or five different languages, German, English, Italian, and French were the primary ones. With this in my head, it was always a thorn in my side when Americans would complain about people not speaking English, when they demand that others know it everywhere they go in the world. Should we expect everyone living in this country to know English?

I often thought the answer was no. We are a multiracial, national and cultural country, we should know more than just English. I didn’t mind pushing the English button on the ATM, the credit machines at the grocery store, or while calling a company on the telephone. I thought this was simply us transforming into a multilingual society. I thought that until a DJ on the radio said something that got me thinking.

Ace, from the Ace and TJ Show, stated that when we give the option of Spanish or English we are really holding non-English speaking people back from growing and assimilating into society. I thought this was pretty wise coming from a man whose career is based on telling boob jokes from 6 am – 10 am on syndicated radio. Is the Spanish option on the ATM and so forth, really holding non-English speaking people back from growing?

I can see his point. The best way to hold a group, a race, a nationality back is to make them comfortable where they are in life. If they are comfortable there is no desire or motivation to move up in the world. Why learn English when every where I go I can use the Spanish button to get by? Why would I learn a key skill that would get me a better job, life, and opportunities in this country when I don’t have to? If I moved to France could I survive without learning French? I’m not sure. My international adventures proved you can survive a vacation without knowing the language but to live day in and day out?

Are we doing a service or a disservice to the non-English speaking population? Is this a way to keep them from speaking English, thus keeping them poor and doing jobs we don’t want to do for pay we wouldn’t take? I cannot stop thinking about that when I press the English button when I’m checking out of the grocery store.

Cross Posted at RedBlueChristian


Anonymous said...

There is one difference between the example you gave of Germany and Hispanics here. I don't expect tourists or short-term visitors to learn the language. But if they are going to live here, then it is to their advantage to learn the language.

If I were to live in a different country I would want to learn the primary language.

Unknown said...

I agree with you there. The point about Germany was that students knew at least 4 different languages and could live in a multilingual culture. Here we know 1 if that.