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Press two for Spanish

Harley L. Sachs - June 29th, 2006
The story of the Tower of Babel applies today. The project was an attempt to reach heaven by building a high tower, a plan that failed when God made people all speak different languages. They could no longer work together. For a cohesive society, people must be able to speak the same language.
The Dutch have the right idea. Faced with a troubling influx of immigrants who want the benefits of life in Holland but do not learn Dutch, the country has changed the laws. If you want to stay in Holland and be a citizen you must learn Dutch. To not embrace the language and culture of your adopted land undermines it. We have that problem here.
English is now the official language for the state of Michigan. In the 1900s when this country had a huge influx of foreign immigrants those folks could not wait to learn English. Nobody wanted to be a “greenhorn.”
My mother was born in London and told us of a visit to an American farm. She asked what they did with all those beans and was told, “We eat what we can and what we can’t we can.” A friend explained, “Oh, they put them in tins.” Though my mother was English and knew the language, she didn’t know American.
Unfortunately the current wave of Spanish-speaking immigrants is encouraged NOT to learn English. Why learn English if you can get a driver’s license even if you can’t read road signs, like “Fines doubled in Construction Zones”? Why learn English if you can press two for Spanish? Why learn English if packaging is all bilingual?
Accommodating immigrants who have no interest in learning the official language of the country does them a disservice and undermines our national identity. You do not cure an alcoholic by providing her with booze. You do not encourage a kid to get a job if you provide free room and board. It’s wrong to provide that kind of enablement.
French Moslems can’t find work in part because of poor education and poor French language skills. Not knowing the language limits the employment opportunities of new immigrants. If you can’t drive a car without knowing English, you can’t get many jobs. If you can’t read and write English fluently you are stuck in menial jobs and may never rise out of poverty. It is essential to know the language of the country you live in.
When my wife and I married she knew four languages, but not English. She was determined to learn English before she moved to the United States and in one year became fluent. Yet we have met immigrants who have lived in the United States for 10 years and cannot carry on a conversation in English or read a newspaper.
Knowing foreign languages is useful and rewarding. Not knowing the language in the country where you live and work is a disaster. Providing bilingual signs and options to “press two for Spanish” dooms the illiterate and uneducated to menial jobs and poverty.
Some people here in the Keweenaw, in the Upper Peninsula, spoke only Finnish until they went to school. They soon learned American English. People need motivation to learn the local language. If they cannot drive a car without knowing English, they’ll have to learn. If they don’t, the gap between the cultures will only widen and our country follow the example of the Tower of Babel.
Tell the folks who give the option of “press two for Spanish” that they do the country a disservice by not encouraging immigrants to learn our language. It is folly to encourage illiteracy. If you find it objectionable to have to “press one for English” and see bilingual signs and labels as a threat to our national identity, speak up!

Visit the web site www.hu.mtu.edu/~hlsachs where you can listen to two stories, read a third, read reviews, and find links to the publishers of my books.
 
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