Sunday, August 16, 2009

A strange apology

I still had my government badge on in the subway last week, and it ended up starting an interesting conversation between myself and this woman. She was Hispanic, and we started talking about bilingual services in the government, and the fact that more and more services would become bilingual in the future as the Hispanic population in the U.S. continues to rise.
Then the conversation changed. She noted that she didn't think that bilingual services helped people and thought that more Hispanics should learn English and to pursue higher education.
She remarked sadly that she's tried to get her own daughter to read more but that she's not interested and prefers TV.
She expressed concern what will happen to the United States when Hispanics become the largest racial group in the U.S.
"So.... um.... I'm sorry," she said.
It sounded like she was apologizing behalf of her own racial group to me. Had I become... a token white guy? Wow.....


shesthesheriff said...

I think this reflects more of just an educational crisis in America rather than stubbornness about learning languages. You have to consider the reality that a lot of people who were born here, not of recent immigrant stock at all, don't speak, read, or write proper English.

If we were as efficient as the Europeans we'd all be bilingual and it wouldn't be a issue, but you have immigrants moving to poor areas with no tax base, so the schools aren't really equipped to give them the right training/attention to get them assimilated, and at home the parents are often working 2-3 jobs so they're not as available as they'd/we'd like to be to encourage their kids to study. So bilingual services are necessary, like it or not, until we can solve the issue with the failing schools.

It's really hard to learn a language later in life-I worked for LVA for a while and one of the guys I tutored was from Nigeria, this guy literally worked around the clock, sending almost everything he made back home to his wife and kids, and still found time to take GED classes, do homework for me, and copy entire sections of the bible by hand. It sounds like I'm making it up, believe me I'm not, the crazy thing is, and I hate to say this, his English was very difficult to understand, to unknowing eyes he might look like someone who wasn't making any effort to learn English.

Zeyev said...

What I have read (possibly true, possibly not) is that the current wave of Hispanic immigrants is following the traditional American pattern.

- The immigrants themselves have trouble with English but learn a little bit. Some become proficient but most do not. (My grandparents and their peers.)

- Their children usually (but not always) know both languages and may speak English with an accent. (My mother spoke both languages as a child but my father spoke only English since his mother was in an English-speaking environment. She spoke her native tongue only to a select few and to hide things from her kids.)

- Their grandchildren - in the absence of intervention - are very likely to be monolingual in English (that would be me).

Again, what I have read supports the view that Hispanics are following this pattern. What may be delaying the process may or may not have anything to do with the Government - it may have to do with capitalism and the attention paid to both languages by merchandisers and the media. The Yiddish-language newspapers of my grandparents' era have now become English only - if they have survived at all.

In other words, I agree - sort of - with your new friend on the subway. Let's make sure that other languages are available to those who need them and focus on education para los niños.

Shesthesheriff hit the nail on the head, IMHO, about failing schools nationwide being a major problem for this issue - except of course in North Dakota. :-)