Saturday, May 20, 2006

Welcome to the Presidency. Now learn English!

From White House Press Secretary Tony Snow's "Press Gaggle" of May 19, 2006:
So the answer is the administration -- as the President has said, one of the things that you want to make sure is that when at the end of a path, people who wish to become American citizens are ready for that, that they have a command of the English language.
It's unfortunate that a command of the English language isn't a requirement for the Office of the President.

Has anybody really thought this through? My grandmother was the daughter of Polish immigrants, and she spoke fluent Polish and unaccented English. (Not even a Nanticoke accent. At best she had an "accent" that consisted of words and phrases that she had picked up over 60 years before I was born.) She and my mother, who also speaks Polish, were able to hold conversations in Polish in front of me and I had no idea what they were saying.

I took two years of Spanish in High School and one semester of Scientific German in college, and am fluent in neither language. Thanks to my job I can distinguish written Spanish from written Portuguese, and written Icelandic from written Danish or Norwegian. I can also distinguish Norwegian from Danish some of the time (the "jag" vs. "jeg" rule - or is that Swedish?), and I can distinguish written Finnish from pretty much any other language on Earth. But I don't have a command of any other language but English. Like most Americans, I am monolingual.

So here we are, telling people that if they want to become U.S. citizens and do not already speak English, they have to become bilingual. What a terrible idea! Suddenly bilingual immigrants-turned-citizens will have a huge advantage over monolingual citizens-by-birth. They will be able to speak two languages, while the rest of us will know only one. And why should they stop there? Once they've learned a second language, how do we stop them from learning a third or a fourth? Next thing you'll know, somebody will be expecting us to stretch our minds by learning stuff. And learning stuff is hard!

Well, best to get started. I found some stuff on the Internets about Latin. "Orge-Geay Ush-bay is an oron-may." Hey, I might just get the hang of this second language thing!


Anonymous said...

Umm, he never said that they had to use english all the time. If you would think about it, it would HELP THEM to get settled here easier and it would help them get better jobs instead of cleaning hotel rooms and bussing tables.

If you were going to MOVE not just visit but live in China wouldn't you want to atleast grasp the basic words of the language so you could make your life easier? Or do you plan on just hiring an interpreter the entire time you LIVE there? Not to mention, if you were to move to China, you are not only entering another culture, but you are expected to embrace it. If you don't, then you are just there for the benefits of being a citizen and not a citizen in your heart.

These people are coming to the US for a reason, and it's because they don't have the opportunties where they are for freedom, work or to live out their dreams. And knowing the english language would make their lives easier, as well as the people around them who only know English. Too bad you have to be sarcastic and I wish you luck with your Latin.
Also, President Bush was not the first president to ask and expect citizens to learn english if they don't already know it. There was another president who wanted the same thing.

D.B. Echo said...

All excellent points. This post was more a swipe at most American's staunch monolinguality, and the grammatical ineptness of our current President. I always feel kinda lame when I go to the site of Camilla in Norway, since she (like many Norwegians) speaks and writes fluent English. This may be more a result of English's position as the global language of business (for the moment...maybe we SHOULD all start learning Chinese!) than of any laziness on the part of us Americans.

D.B. Echo said...

And by the way, thank you for your thorough, thoughtful, and polite comment. (Although I must insist I was being more flippant than sarcastic. My sarcasm can flay flesh from bones, and when I use it, you'll know it. I do sincerely hope all immigrants to the U.S. learn English, and I hope someday I master at least one other language.) I only wish your comment - well, you - were not anonymous. In any case, I hope you become a regular reader and commenter - or a blogger yourself!

betz said...

i am biased to the immigration thing down to the way we were treated when we were trying to get my husband "legalized" and he speaks proper english.
land of the free? i think not.
i must have paid 4 grand to the ins. and it is not over yet.