After 31 years in the United States, I find myself more American than I ever expected to be, yet not so American in many ways.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Learn to speak English, why doncha?
As evidenced by my blogroll, I love to read about other people's ex-pat experiences. I have a lot of ex-pat Brits listed here, but that's mostly only because I followed links from one to the next, to the next . . . However, most of the ex-pats I encounter in my 'real' life are not Brits. In fact, most of them do not speak English as their first language. Some speak almost no English at all. I remember being in that situation when I was in Asia - the foreigner who doesn't speak the language. The grownup who is treated as a child. The college-educated adult who is treated like an idiot. It's frustrating, and it's not a situation you can remedy quickly. It takes time (and a lot of effort) to learn a language, and some languages are harder to learn than others. Even when I lived in France and spoke the language well, I was always an outsider.
When I think of what new immigrants with children have to deal with in terms of language - specifically communications from their kids' schools - it makes me really angry when I hear people complaining "Why don't they learn English?" "Why should we have to provide interpreters and translations?" "They should just go home if they don't want to learn English!" These are all legal immigrants, and the United States government did not require a language test of them. They are hard-working members of society and the reality is that many of the parents are so busy working in menial jobs that people born here won't do that they have no time now to take English classes.
I met a teacher last year who has been in the US as long as I have - over 20 years. Originally from Germany, her English is excellent. (In fact, she teaches English to new immigrants.) Yet even she - a fluent English speaker, familiar with the public school system - said she felt discombobulated trying to navigate the system trying to get support for her special needs child. The people who are complaining that parents in our school system should make more effort to learn English clearly have no experience themselves of having to navigate real daily life (not just tourist life) in a second language and culture. I'd love to drop some of those complainers off somewhere like China or Russia for a year and see how they fare! Sadly, the experience would probably do nothing for them except to 'prove' to their blinkered satisfaction that the United States is the best place in the world to live.