Archive for the 'Bilingualism' Category

May 30 2006

Immigrants Make English a Priority

As Congress weighs a Senate measure to make English the national or common language of the United States, many of the immigrants the legislation would affect say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The need to learn English” is what Colombian immigrants Claudia Lopez and Christian Echeverry say drives them to attend night classes twice a week at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, near Azalea Park. They do so even though they have to bring their two daughters because they can’t afford baby-sitting.

They know that speaking English can open doors. And despite concerns from immigrant advocates who see the language measures as divisive, some newcomers, such as Lopez and Echeverry, echo advocates of the proposed legislation who say the U.S. is within its rights to decide what language to call its own.

It’s one reason English classes are in high demand in Orlando, where the immigrant population has surged as more Mexicans, Colombians, Venezuelans and Dominicans discover Central Florida’s strong job market.

Whenever free courses are offered, community groups say, waiting lists quickly soar from dozens to hundreds.

“One sees more opportunities with English,” Lopez, 33, said in Spanish. “You can connect to other people and get better jobs. I personally think that Americans become exasperated when we don’t understand what they say. I get frustrated, too.”

The immigration-reform bill passed Thursday by the Senate included a provision declaring English the official national language, sending immigrants such as Lopez the message that they should learn English if they want to live in this country.

In Senate votes on May 18, an amendment made English “the national language.” Another called it “the common and unifying language” of the United States. Both proposals stated that government should not be expected to provide services in any other language, unless specified by law, as in bilingual ballots and bilingual education.

But the language measures, some critics say, do not address a real problem.

“The vote was a waste of time. English is the de facto language of government and business in this country,” said Kenya Dworkin y Mendez, a Hispanic-studies professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “The officialization of the language is simply a rhetorical exercise. . . . Hispanic immigrants are learning and becoming English monolinguals faster than previous generations of immigrants.”

Numbers show that Hispanics — now the majority of the U.S. immigrant population — are not only learning English, but also are losing their language in the process.

A 2002 national survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 60 percent of all Hispanics either are bilingual or speak mostly English. Moreover, 59 percent of first-generation immigrants eventually become bilingual or even prefer English. By the second generation of U.S.-born Hispanics, only 3 percent prefer Spanish.

“It’s happening with all immigrants,” said Eduardo Blanchet, director of Berlitz Language Center in south Orlando. “Nowadays, the U.S. government is desperate to find people who speak Arab, Farsi or Chinese, and the same government knows that the pressure on immigrants to assimilate has led many to forget their languages.”

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May 30 2006

Bush’s Won’t Support Official-English Bill

Published by under Bilingualism

The Senate’s vote to make English the “national” language of the United States is largely symbolic, and even that is not likely to pass into law. Certainly not as long as George W. Bush is President of the United States.

What Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.) proposed has been tried before, and then, as now, political demagoguery got in the way.

It was August 1, 1996, and the now-infamous former California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham had authored a bill to make English the “official” language of the nation. The ensuing discussion—about such things as citizenship and the melting pot—was loud and raucous—but even so, the bill passed 259-169.

This bill had teeth in it. It would have required most official documents to be printed in English and would have allowed (but not required) states to stop using bilingual ballots. The bill also contained logical exceptions for such items as public safety warnings and to ensure that criminals could be informed of charges against them in their native languages.

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May 29 2006

Worry Over English Erosion Hardly New

The way we English-speaking Americans see ourselves at home and in the world is necessarily changing. No matter how often we hear that we live in a big, diverse, multicultural country and a global economy, it still surprises us to see English as just one of our languages, not the exclusive one.

That’s because many of us didn’t grow up with language pluralism. The multilingual packaging that frustrated the Sunday shopper is the result of the demands of a global marketplace that blossomed in the 1990s.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1992 by the first President Bush, requires multilingual packaging. Companies want to sell to Mexico and Canada as well as the United States without changing their packages. North America is one big store, and customers are a picky lot.

Mexican law requires that if you want to sell your widgets retail in Mexico, the label information in Spanish must be equally displayed with the English. To put it more plainly: The English can’t be bigger or more prominent on the packaging than the Spanish.

To make Canadian customers happy, a manufacturer will want not only to be sure the commercial information is in French but that the French is idiomatic, as spoken in Quebec, not in Paris.

Americans have been worrying about the erosion of English for decades. It may be some consolation to know that our neighbors in Quebec complain that, despite their best efforts to foster French, English remains the dominant language in the world for business, science and commerce.

That doesn’t mean English will be our sole language. The 2000 Census also found that 47 million people — almost one in five — speak a language other than English at home. The vast majority said they also speak English well. Only about 8 percent of people said they spoke English less than very well.

The reality is that votes in the Senate declaring English the “national language” and the “common and unifying language” were purely symbolic. The measures wouldn’t change a thing, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said. In this country, federal law protects the rights of those who speak other languages.

A brochure, “Federal Protections Against National Origin Discrimination” by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, explains that federal laws prohibit discrimination based on a person’s national origin, ancestry, culture or language.

“This means,” the brochure says, “people cannot be denied equal opportunity because they or their family are from another country, because they have a name or accent associated with a national origin group, because they participate in certain customs associated with a national origin group, or because they are married to or associate with people of a certain national origin.”

The brochure is available in 17 languages, including English.

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May 29 2006

Generations Lost in Translation

Published by under Bilingualism

A crucial point is being missed in the debate about which of the 11 Liberal leadership candidates are truly bilingual. We’re not talking here about a university grad who burnishes his résumé when applying for a job in the private sector. Nor is this about a botanist who’s sweating a federal language test in order to land, or keep, a job in Ottawa. We’re talking here about the job requirements for the highest elected office in the land.

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