Here's what gets me...
I am either 2nd or 3rd generation american - depending on which side of the family you want to trace. Back when she arrived here, my grandmother, who spoke english, was shamed and bullied into speaking only
english by anyone outside the family who ever heard her speak Polish. As kids, my sister and I would beg her to speak it because it just sounded so cool to us... it was different and new which made it exciting. She wouldn't. She was scared... as if the FBI were going to swoop down out of the skies and arrest her at the first hint of a "Dzien dobry". She also made my grandfather change his first and last name so it didn't sound Polish, because she was deathly afraid he'd never get a job.
The plain fact is, no one should have to go through that. It's incredibly demeaning. And my mother, my uncle, my sister and I all lost out on a valuable learning experience because of it. I could be fluent in Polish by now. Instead, I know only enough to get my face slapped if I were to say it in public.
In my lifetime, I have studied three different languages - french, spanish and italian. I have been to Quebec... I have also been all over Italy. Surely they speak english in their major cities, but they also have signs in french, italian, german, etc. There's no anarchy afoot because they were helping others. If nothing else, I got a bit of a giggle out of some of their english translastions (in the airport they had an exit labeled as "way out". Sure I knew what it meant, but that didn't stop our group from walking around the airport going "way out man... far out dude". Eh, we were a little slaphappy after that long plane ride
) But the plain fact was, they tried
. They were accepting
. And the plain fact that they were willing to help me made me more
interested in learning about them... their language... their culture.
I learned a very valuable lesson in their acceptance when I found myself in a small mom 'n pop shop in Assissi and realized rather quickly that I didn't know the Italian word for "traveler's check". It took almost an hour, but the woman's willingness to put up with my broken Italian, and my willingness to put up with her broken English (ok, and a call to her local bank) made for not only a great experience, but a sale. I still have that container as a reminder.
There's also the time when I held a garage sale and was selling a used bike. There was a man who came to the sale and wanted to buy the bike, but as I found out very quickly, he spoke no english. With my broken spanish I found out that he has just moved to this country to make a life for himself and needed the bike to get to his ESL classes. So my few minutes of Spanish helped this man feel as if he had the chance to change his life. I can't see the harm in that.
A quick check of wikipedia
shows that: "Approximately 337 languages are spoken or signed by the population, of which 176 are indigenous to the area. 52 languages formerly spoken in the country's territory are now extinct (Grimes 2000)." 337 languages! That is not only a wonderful thought, but an amazing asset to our country. If we could learn to embrace this, could you imagine how our dealings with other countries would improve?
I once witnessed a closing done completely in Vietnamese. This couple had just moved to the US and was buying their first house. While they knew English, it was almost impossible for them to decifer all the legal mumbo jumbo in their second language. A friend of the company was happy to act as translator and it was almost magical to watch. To see this couple going from struggling, but really trying, to understand to making an informed decision on legal documents in a matter of minutes... it was almost as if they were touched by the little bit of effort we took to help them along their journey. What an amazing thing to experiece.
While I fully admit I'm being long winded here... all I am saying is, really... truly... what does it hurt if someone speaks another language? Why deny someone of their culture or their past? Why shame someone into doing something only because you want them to. Especially with the dawn of the internet, we no longer live in a closed off society confined to our own little world of americanized life. We have this grand opportunity to share with the world and learn from each other, but all we want to do is shut that door because we won't take the time to put in a little effort. We want them to speak English because it is easy for us, but why should we be the only place in the world not to learn another language because it's too hard? Let them have signs in Spanish... and French and German and Swahili for that matter. The world is not just us
... it's all of us