This is a follow-up post to my earlier one regarding the challenges of learning German. I wanted to have a separate post that related to that topic, as this topic warrants its own preaching moment from my soap box….so, here it goes….
There is a famous quote by Mark Twain that goes like this:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
What do I take away from this and my opening comment about needing to preach from on top of a soap box…well, here it goes….
It is not uncommon to hear someone in the US say this, “If you are going to come to ‘Merica, you better learn English.” Or, “I am sick and tired of having to press #1 on the phone for English, this is ‘Merica”!
Or better yet, there are people against wanting to add Spanish as an official second language or to be included in various signs to help people out who do not know English.
Well, let me tell you, we Americans are really prejudice when it comes to statements and policies like this! Do you not actually think that if someone who is coming to live in the US does NOT want to learn English? Learning a language can be really, really hard!! And, sometimes, if one can walk a mile in their shoes, a different appreciation for this can happen.
Here is my personal example…I live in Germany. In Germany, Germans speak German (hunh, imagine that!?). In the German education system (and most European countries), a second language from your native one is required learning. And, by learning, I mean LEARNING!! I have found that a lot of Germans can speak excellent English. In fact, their ability to understand English grammar is better than a lot of people (Americans) that I know. And, not only do they know English, some know others like French or Spanish too.
So, what is the message that I am trying to send here….for the past couple of years, I have taken close to 120 hours of personal one-on-one German studies, I have the Rosetta Stone program and two CD courses on my iPod. I am comfortable with my ability to speak general German statements. But, trying to string together multiple, train-of-thought sentences is challenging, filled with stuttering and blank looks on my face as I try to remember vocabulary and sentence structure.
Then, when it comes to very technical or important conversations, I do not even attempt to speak German, and will ask, “Sprechen Sie English?” (Do you speak English) — this usually occurs when I need help at a bank, or calling the utility company on the phone to ask about a charge on a bill.
So, here is my thought….those that are coming to the US from countries that do not speak English, want and are most likely learning English. But, English is just as hard to learn as a foreign language as any other. And, sometimes if a family from Mexico is having problems with a power bill that is too high, sometimes, they want, no, make that they need to press #2 for Spanish on the phone.
I am jealous of a lot of Europeans who can speak multiple languages. It comes from the countries being smaller here filled with people from different backgrounds. And, to travel and live in Europe, one needs to the ability to be multicultural, especially with languages. Now, granted in the Americas, the only languages primarily found are English, Spanish, and French. But, the distances and size of the countries, makes it a real challenge for someone say living in Iowa to ever need to learn another language. And, if the US is truly a melting pot society, created from mass immigrations from around the world, then tolerance and understanding is needed, especially when it comes to learning the language.
Instead of being frustrated with someone who cannot speak English, empathize with them and realize that they wish just as much as you that they could as well. I know this is true with me when I meet someone speaking German.
Okay, I am off my soap box now…..