Speak English!

Lot’s of people — left and right — complain about people who live in the US and can’t speak English. Personally, I figure if someone doesn’t learn English, they’re just making it hard on themselves — and that has got to be a bigger burden than any amount of annoyance it may cause me… by not learning English, people are limiting their own chances, and that is their business…

What I find interesting is that most people think it was different in the past, that immigrants would jump off their trans-Atlantic voyage and immediately start studying English grammar. Greg Laden has an interesting post that challenges this assumption: When Do Immigrants Learn English? Likely, not when you think.

He states:

In Wisconsin, entire communities retained German as the primary language for decades after immigration. I once met … at a centenary celebration of some kind … the grandchild of a man who moved as a teenager from the old country to southern Wisconsin, ahead of his family, to learn the local customs, farming techniques, and language. After a few years in a small town in Wisconsin, his family arrived to start farming. The young man had indeed learned the local practices, the local farming techniques, and the local language. German. His family, arab speakers from Palestine, were well served by this young man because German was all they needed to get along in the US.

Again, I believe folks are better off (here or anywhere) when they learn to speak the local language, but we should be realistic about different people’s desire and ability to learn. “Learn to speak English mother fucker!” really should not be a clarion call for political action…


One Response

  1. The one area where these US – Style – Quebecois may have a point is in a social services type area. I am thinking about where things get gummed up w/language: Emergency Rooms, driving tests and rules, instructions on packages of fireworks, education, etc. Wonder if anyone out there has quantified that. But mostly I think this sentiment is tied to resentment: that there are a lot of signs in both English and Spanish, therefore some sort of leg up is being given to people who haven’t even bothered to learn the language etc. I’m just going off of anecdotal stuff I’ve heard people say. Personally I think French should be the official language of the US.

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