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the language of understanding each other

I've been called a lot of things - some of them true and some of them not - but this was a banner week for name calling.

First, my new buddy Vince from Indymedia called me a homophobe. Well, I don't think I have to explain how wrong he is and because he's a cretin and probably doesn't understand things like logic and reasoning and listening when someone else speaks, I won't bother.

Yesterday, in an email, I was called a multiculturalist. This one, I will explain.

I have no problem with people coming here from other countries. America is called the melting pot for a reason. This country was founded by and flourished because of people from other nations who brought their skills and determination to this country.

It's a wonderful thing to acknowledge your heritage, to practice the customs of the place where you and/or your ancestors are from. But once you live here, once you are a citizen of this country, there are few things that should be expected of you and one of them is to learn how to speak the language.

We have cable tv. Of the first 22 channels, seven are broadcast in other languages. Most of them are Spanish language stations. There's one that switches back and forth between Chinese and Arabic. These stations used to be down in the 40's. Somehow over the years they have crept up to the top of the lineup.

There are bilingual signs everywhere. Every company I phone has options for other languages.

There is hardly a fast-food drive-in that I can use around here and be sure my order is going to be right because no one understand what I am saying and I don't understand what they are saying to me.

I don't care if immigrants speak their own language in their own home or to each other, I would never try to trample on someone's language in that extreme. It doesn't even bother me when the nice Korean ladies in the salon talk to each other in front of me in their native language. That is their right and their prerogitave.

What I do care about is the languages other than English being so pervasive in our country that, instead of trying to educate immigrants to get them to speak English, we just do everything in two or three or even four languages.

If I were to move to Germany or Italy or Mexico, I would not have the gall to think that I could just waltz in there and get a job, educate my kids and make friends outside of my home without learning to speak the language of the land which provides me with the means to have those things.

How ingratiated have foreign languages become in American society? In my daughter's school, the term foreign language has been stricken from the books and kids now take classes in LOTE; Languages Other Than English.

Spanish and Latin American dialects are no longer foreign. They have been assimilated into our cutlure, making their culture ours. I see nothing wrong with my stance that if you are going to go to a country to live, breed, work and play, you should make an attempt to not only learn the language of that country, but use it outside of your home as well.

Yes, America is the melting pot. But it is America. It is a country with a language and its own customs and culture. Join us, I don't mind. But don't come here and try to take over our ways and means of doing things. Don't insist that schoolbooks be translated so your children can understand them. Don't get mad when I have no idea what you are saying to me when I order my food or if I am just trying to converse with you at your job. Don't insist on menus and local papers being printed in the language of your choice.

You chose this country. You made it yours. Now get off your ass and learn our language. I would do the same were this situation reversed.

And that, folks, is just one reason why calling me a multicutluralist is just plain stupid.

Y Úsa, gente, es apenas una razˇn por la que llamarme un multicutluralist es apenas est˙pido llano.

Et ce, gens, est juste une raison pour laquelle m'appeler un multicutluralist est juste stupide plat.

E quella, gente, Ŕ appena una ragione per la quale denominarlo un multicutluralist Ŕ appena stupid normale.


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» There is a new post up over at from my single mom life
Micheles about multiculturalism and language issues. She says "There is hardly a fast-food drive-in that I can use around here and be sure my order is going to be right because no one understands what I am saying and I don't understand what they ... [Read More]

» Correction from Inoperable Terran
Michele is called a "multiculturalist". She explains.... [Read More]



that's right girl. i feel exactly the same way. i can't go anywhere down here without someone talking some other language. paper or plastic becomes a battle of phonics and sometimes actually grabbing the preferred method of grocery sack and showing them. try saying double bag that when they don't even know what type of bag i asked for. should i have to learn spanish or Russian ( we have allot of russian immigrants moving here) just so i can grocery shop? they came here. learn it, speak it, teach it you your kids.

The definition of multicultural is "Of or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture"

I don't see a conflict with being a "multiculturalist" and favoring a standard, or official, language. I certainly think we should encourage interest in and education about other cultures, and that people should practice the customs of their ancestors if they so desire. I also believe that English should be the official language here and that people should freakin know how to speak it if they expect to be successful in our society.

I think you probably ARE a multi-culturalist, michele, according to the definition. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Still, a gan ni niang good rant.

All my junk mail and all the annoying telemarketing calls I get are in Spanish. My husband is hispanic and I suppose the assumption is that since my last name is also hispanic, I can't speak English. Apparently the ridiculously white first name (Misty) is not enough to overshadown the last name.

My view:

All U.S. government transactions should be handled in English. English should be the official language of the United States. Government monies should not support translating all of our forms into multiple languages.

That said, what private companies and private citizens do is not my concern. If people in a restaurant only want to speak Spanish, that's fine - I don't have to eat there. I would never coercively compel, via the machinations of the law, any restaurant, store, or other private enterprise to cater to me in English. My wallet will do the talking for me.

When I lived in Finland, I had to file my taxes, apply for my visa, etc all using forms that were written in Finnish and Swedish (as it's the second language of Finland). I happen to speak neither worth a damn. I got a Finnish friend to help me out. Easy.

In the marketplace, however, shopowners and restaurants who wanted my business were generally willing to meet me halfway in our conversations, using broken English and myriad hand gestures. I did learn the words for "large beer" though just to speed things along.

Wow, this ran kind of long - maybe I'll blog on it as I've got nothin' else going at the WWR at the moment.

I am in total agreement with you on this. My husband came to this country from Mexico when he was in the first grade. He didn't speak a word of English. They enrolled him in public school. They didn't have all these programs we have in school now (such as E.S.L english as a second language) He was forced to LEARN the language. And guess what? He did, and quickly. It was do or die and can you imagine, he did it. He would agree with you as well.

Muchas gracias por la truth-o.

Es verdad, dammit!

Heh, I just had this conversation with my "Brother" for the millionth time; sadly, as we've noticed, things haven't gotten any better.

I'm glad it's not just us who feel this way. We were starting to wonder if we were the only ones...

I basically agree with you, but I also believe that we should be doing a vastly better job of teaching foreign languages to our kids. The easiest and best way to learn a language is in childhood - if you wait until high school or college it becomes much more difficult.

I've never seen any conflict between teaching our kids foreign languages and the idea that people who come to live in this country should be expected to learn at least enough English to be functional. If I were to go to Europe I'd expect that there would be some situations where I'd be able to use English, but to think that I wouldn't have to learn the language of my host country would be absurd.

Doing a better job of teaching foreign languages is a critical component. There are a lot of jingoistic folks out there who take up "Official English" as their mantra, and they're just as wrong as the folks who think we should have to provide every government document in any language anyone requests.

I drive by the federal pen in Pittsburgh a couple times a month. All the signs are in english and spanish. People in Pittsburgh are more likely to speak polish than spanish. Why no polish signs?

My bank, based in Youngstown, Ohio, again not a bastion of hispanic culture, has choices in both english and spanish on their tele-banking system. I have less of a problem with this in that they are a private company and should do whatever they deem necessary to advance their business. Spanish in Youngstown, however, seems like overkill.

IMO, government communication in the USA should be done entirely in english. If that means someone needs to learn it to fill out a form or read a sign, so be it.

People ought to travel the world and learn languages to advance themselves. Personally I speak german and french semi-fluently and can muddle my way through a conversation in spanish. How anyone could consider even visiting, let alone emigrating to, a country without learning the language on at least a conversational basis, is beyond me.

Andy stole most of my thunder. Government business should be done in English (though it should be SIMPLE English, not the law gobbledygook).

The reason for the foreign language cable channels and such proliferating is because they are making money at it, and more power to them. It grows our economy and in the end helps us more than it hurts.

You are really right. When I move to live at a friends house, I behave myself, I don't rape the hamster and I try to speak in a way I get understood. I never understand people who go and want to live in a country and refuse just any tiny little bit about it. It should not be the job of the country to be understood.

What possible counter-argument could there be for this? It's as if people think our country is a big handout for everyone else...

I agree whole-heartedly. I once worked with a guy who had been in this country for twelve years and still couldn't hold a basic restaurant-related conversation. His wife didn't speak English either, so their ten year-old son had to translate for them every time something official or important came up.

I've studied hard to learn French, Quebecois, Russian and Czech so that I can communicate with others. I don't think it's out of the question to ask everyone else to do the same.

By all means, keep your culture and language, but don't be so arrogant as to think it unnecessary to learn English in an English speaking country.

I agree completely. In the course of helping my brother with some forms for the government, we noticed that all of the welfare forms and websites are in several languages. Excuse me, but if you're going to move to this country you might have a better chance of supporting yourself instead of going on welfare if you take the time to learn English!

As a side note, I have worked as an ESL tutor and managed to teach two wonderful women from Sudan to speak English in a relatively short period of time.

"The definition of multicultural is..."

That's nice, but that's not what it really means today.

And, this problem is much more than just a matter of people speaking different languages.

For instance, try sneaking illegally into France and then demanding social welfare programs and, instead of immediately being deported, receiving said programs. Here's that process at its midway point from North Carolina.

For more information, check out my illegal immigration posts.

I'm a newspaper editor, and the editorial board (which does nothing else) came up with the bright idea that I should start getting my columns and stories translated into Spanish.

This posed two major quandries for me:

1. Who the hell is going to pay for it when I have to double the size of my publication to accommodate the columns? And how am I going to pay someone to do this?

2. Why just Spanish? Fuck it, why not into Arabic, Italian, German, Japanese and all the other languages spoken here in scenic D.C.?

I grew up with a girl from India and another from Italy. They were required to speak their native tongues at home -- it was their parents' way of ensuring the girls retained their cultural heritage. But in school, they spoke better English than most of those born in America. Seems to me that we need to be better educating EVERYONE in how to speak and write English, not just those who don't speak it as their first language. :)

And I could not agree with you more, Michele.
My grandparents came here from Russia and Poland, respectively, back in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The first thing either of them did was attend evening classes in English, which neither of them spoke(That is also where they first met).
After they were married, English was the only language they PERMITTED in their home("We are Americans now, and English is our language").
Things sure have changed, haven't they?
It is indeed irritating when you go to Wendy's and order a cheeseburger, specifying "no vegetables, just the burger on a bun and whatever dressing you put on it", then are asked, "Onion?"
"No vegetables."
"How about peekle?"
"So no vegebal?"
What's happening in large part, I think, is that a lot of people come here only to earn U.S. dollars, then ship 'em home to their families in the old country. They are not interested in making any changes like learning English or becoming Americans, they just want to reap the rewards of living in a free country with a better economy(and at its worst, our economy is better than most) without being part of it. They couldn't care less about our culture, our history or our political attitudes, except those of the latter that are advantageous to them.
A lot of American business owners hire these particular types of immigrants, knowing full well that they cannot communicate with and therefore not provide an even moderately comfortable level of service to those of us who speak the language that is coin of the realm in the United States, for one basic reason: In most of their countries of origin, there are no minimum wage, no OSHA, no federal set of guidelines for employee rights and damn few benefits. These non English speaking newbies are not hip to all those things, and the employers in question can get cheap labor(at the expense of the customer, who back in the day was "always right") and ignore a lot of the costly rules and regs they would have to adhere to if their employees were all either native born or longtime Americans.
The two operative themes there are "greed" and "a case of the cheaps". It also says a lot about how many entrepreneurs have become. They no longer take pride in making doing business with them a pleasant experience.

i agree with dave. there is nothing wrong with being a multiculturist and i don't see a conflict involved in your belief that people should try to assimilate better.(which i agree with) just because people have twisted the word around today doesn't mean we should go by their definition. a true multiculturalist is all-inclusive... which includes white heterosexual males... dead or otherwise.

My grandmother came here from Liverpool in the 20's. You either learned the language or you starve in them days. If she can learn English... anybody can.

Try living in northern New Mexico. Rural
hispanics here (whose families have lived here for
over 400 years) often cannot speak or understand
English, though they've been US citizens since the
Mexican war. The worst of them, in Taos and Rio
Arriba counties, take a perverse pride in being so
socially nonfunctional. But then, these same folks
see nothing wrong with being dangerously inbred.

"My grandmother came here from Liverpool in the 20's. You either learned the language or you starve in them days. If she can learn English... anybody can."

Thanks for the chuckle!

Did she make your parent speak Scouse at home, or only English?

Seth brings up an interesting point about customer service in general. Companies are trying to fill positions with just bodies, not with people who want to be of any kind of service to those of us who want to spend money at said establishments.

I mean, shit, you end up buying a combo you don't want at your local burger joint drive-thru because all the person who greets you can say is, "You want combo?" And god forbid if you have a drink request that isn't Coke. "Diet Coke, no ice" prompts, "No Coke?" I've taken to parking at the drive thru window, opening my food and tasting my drink -- and 2 out of 3 times, I have to re-explain what I ordered.

Oh, and e, thank you because I just sprayed a whole mouthful of coffee all over my screen with that LIverpool reference! ;)

well,all i have to say is ummm i can agree with yall a whole lot! because my grandfather came down here to mississippi and he was speaking in chinese.wag3 yea dats some of his words he taught me when he was down here for thanksgiving yea tha shit was tight and tha fucking house was full.remind me of that fucking show full house,kids running they bad ass around and shit.