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No, I Don't Want To Press "One" For English
As I have to do in almost every municipal or government venue, and when I call any utility or health care facility in Los Angeles, I had to choose between English and Spanish in the automated library book checkout at the downtown LA Public library. (I raced there from Santa Monica at 4:30pm to pull some stats from an obscure book after I realized that this public institution would be closed for the [grrr!] religious holiday on Sunday.)

About the Spanish everywhere thing (not to mention the travesty of Beverly Hills ballots printed in Farsi), I'm with Newt Gingrich on the need for all Americans, including new Americans, to speak English.

The more we coddle immigrants with bilingual services at every turn, the less likely they are to learn English. And, yes, it's hard. It's terribly hard to learn a new language. Sometimes it's just awful. I know because I've gone through some pretty frustrating times in France, but it just compels me to work harder on my suckyass French.

Gingrich, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (and probably a come-from-behind candidate for prez) advises in the LA Times that we should replace bilingual ed programs in public schools with intensive English instruction, and abolish federal mandates requiring multilingual ballots and government docs. An excerpt from Gingrich's piece is below:

...Mastering the language of a country opens doors of opportunity, plain and simple.

In the United States, English is by no means our only language, but it is the language of economic success and upward mobility. More important, it is the language of our national unity and political discourse. And just as opportunity is the birthright of all native-born Americans, it becomes the inheritance of all new Americans. But this is nothing more than a nice sentiment if we don't do all we can to encourage and help new Americans learn English.

America is supposed to be a melting pot. If melting doesn't work for you -- "melting" to the degree that you become an American citizen, down to speaking the language -- maybe stay home?

And I've got a little bitchy left for some of you native-born Americans. I was listening to Leykis on Friday when some dumbshit woman from New York was on who didn't know a single potential nominee for president. She couldn't name one. Unfortunately, I find that sort of thing more common in women than men. And hey, I like shoes and frippery as much as the next girl (probably more). But, it doesn't take genius to know what's going on in the country. Just concern and attention. (No, the newspaper isn't simply a giant paper wrapper around the horoscope and Sudoku.)

Posted by aalkon at April 8, 2007 11:39 AM

Comments

Is it really a burden to push one extra button? What I hate is when you have to enter your account number via touch-tone, and then when you finally get a customer service rep, they ask for it again anyway.

When it comes to language, majority is gonna rule -- how many words of Cherokee or Navajo do you know?

Posted by: LYT at April 8, 2007 2:32 AM

That's not the point. She shouldn't have to push 1 for English. If I moved to Spain and tried to call for some kind of services, you think they're going to offer me a plethora of options, to accomodate every language on the continent? "For Basque, press 37..."

Not likely. If I go to Spain and expect to be anything more than a tourist, I have to speak the language! It's just simple courtesy to the residents of the country, and it's the only way I'll get a job better than cutting someone's grass. It would be presumptuous and arrogant of me to expect that Spain has to spend their money to provide translators for me.

Posted by: Patrick at April 8, 2007 5:13 AM

Exactly. When I travel to another country, I feel grateful that anyone there bothers to speak English at all.

And as for native-born Americans, I've met more than my share who don't speak what I recognize as "English". I don't know what it is, but I cannot understand it.

And to your last point - why should anyone bother knowing who's in the running for President almost two years out, when it's almost certain that none of them will be around next November. And with Congress and the Court rapidly usurping all the remaining power from the Executive, the office of President is becoming largely meaningless anyway.

Posted by: brian at April 8, 2007 6:18 AM

In the vast sprawl that constitutes my in-laws, there is one lady who drives me thoroughly batty. Her two kids are the ones who are always made to perform for the extended family (playing the violation, etc). She brings along their report cards to family gatherings and places them prominently on the kitchen table to ohh and ahh over. Even though she is as pale white from Iowa that you can get, she is all into the "multi-cultural" thing. I don't mean the "interesting stuff" about learning about different cultures. I mean the whole "we must accommodate other peoples" thing that sends me through the roof.

For some idiotic reason I let myself get involved in a conversation with her last Christmas. the conversation centered around language classes in elementary school.

I was talking about how when I was a kid in you were offered several languages (latin, french, spanish). I went for the two former for linguistic/foundational/personal history reasons and skipped the latter. Her response was "how useless".

Not a direct quote, but the general idea: "California was a Mexican territory and increasingly Spanish speakers will become the largest group of residents. It is your responsibility to make sure your son can speak Spanish or he is going to be at a disadvantage."

Three things about her statement.
1. She is a bloody teacher, so I guess that explains a lot.
2. I tried not to hurl right in her face.
3. Her mother-in-law (my grand-mother-in-law) was born in the U.S. to immigrants from Mexico. Very proud of heritage, etc. She (a traditional mexican, catholic, democrat) will be the first to tell you that if you come to this country, it is YOUR job to assimilate.

On the burden to press an extra number:

You have no idea how much it costs to accommodate these assholes who will not learn english. I can support certain cases (such as in court proceedings being sure a defendant understands - con law), but we could chop in half our ballot pamphlet that the SoS sends us before each election. Do you have any idea how much money we are talking about saving?

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 8, 2007 6:42 AM

oops...

"(playing the violation, etc)"

should be

"(playing the violin, etc)"

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 8, 2007 6:43 AM

I feel the same way, Brian and Patrick.

And it's a burden because it reminds me that there are a lot of people who don't learn English.

As for why anyone should "bother" knowing...I haven't "bothered" at all. Just if you read the news, you know who's running without a bit of effort at all: Romney, Giuliani, McCain, Obama, Tancredo, Hillary Clinton, Fred Thompson, Bill Richardson...and I'm betting on Newt and a few others declaring down the road after we're burnt out on all the rest (which actually happened about two months ago, for a lot of people, I think).

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 6:45 AM

Ugh...on a side note about André-Tascha's comment above, the children encouraged to play for the public thing (even the family public) is another pet peeve, and something they do much better on in France than we do. Generally speaking, children are supposed to shut up at the dinner table, as they are uninteresting, and they eat what the adults eat or they starve.

Here's America: A few weeks ago, at a café I go to on Saturday, two of the girls who worked there, both of whom sing and play guitars (and one of whom plays harmonica) did a short performance. Afterward, some kid was there with her violin, and her mother encouraged her to play for everyone there (about 100 people). People clapped to be polite when the mother said, "Who wants to hear little Bratella on her violin?" The kid hacked away (little worse than a beginning violin player) and people clapped politely (rather thunderously, unfortunately).

I hated the mother for it. That kid has public approval for being a shitty player, and was taught that people should listen to her no matter what, not that she has to earn applause by working hard to become good. And people wonder why people increasingly have a vast sense of entitlement in our society.

PS André-Tascha, loved the slip in your comment, "Playing the violation" (I think you meant "the violin," but did you ever get that one right!)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 7:18 AM

Honestly, the slip was unintentional - at least consciously...

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 8, 2007 8:06 AM

It's a very slippery slope, because once you start, the next linguistic group is going to start asking for equal treatment.

Toronto is a prime example of this happening, espeicially in the downtown area. We already have everything in English and French, even though French speakers are practically non-existent in this city, just to keep people in another province happy. Government now caters to at least 20 different languages.

Another downside is that the city has turned into a number of islands unto themselves, the residents thereof refusing to mingle with anyone outside their cultural group. A lot have lived here for most of their lives, but still speak only a few words of English, and rely on their kids and grandkids to act as translators for them.

For me, this has meant that I have had to look outside the city in the predominantly 2nd generation small towns for my dating pool, because the men in the city don't want to date outside their culture. I am 1st generation, but my parents are German/Austrian, so I think there may be an easier assimilation for certain European cultures.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 8, 2007 8:30 AM

The upside is that you are more likely to learn another language, and learn about life in other cultures, which makes for a more international world view. It makes travelling much more rewarding. I speak German, French, some Spanish and a bit of Italian. I also know many phrases, greetings, and of course swear words in about 10 other languages, thanks to my friend in public school wanting to get me in trouble with their parents.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 8, 2007 8:36 AM

LYT-

Yes, pushing one extra button is a burden. More to the point, it represents a fracturing of public consciousness that has many bad effects. And phone trees are intolerable anyway.

Your Cherokee and Navajo example may be telling. Those cultures weren't defeated in a popularity contest, they were bluntly overwhelmed.

(Does that sound too Bill OReilly? Sorry. I don't take it back though. You can be my Rivera!)

> to be anything more than a
> tourist, I have to speak
> the language!

Exactly. That's the way it should work.

> And with Congress and the Court
> rapidly usurping all the remaining
> power from the Executive,

If that's true, then they'll probably take some of the responsibility and attention as well. And that's overdue. I think the success of radio and television in the 20th century brought too much focus to the executive branch. It was the cheap way to go, because there was always just one guy to travel with and talk about. This warped the American perception of government and gave us a sort of European, my-King-is-my-Daddy feeling towards these figures. We've accepted them with too much resignation and ignored the thousands of other players in the game.

> Her two kids are the ones
> who are always made to
> perform for the extended
> family (playing the
> [violin], etc)

And

> That kid has public approval
> for being a shitty player

These are boundary violations. When friends have me over to their house for dinner, and they says "Tessy has been practicing her Bach!" and the kid drops to the piano and bashfully butchers a few arpeggios, it's OK that they expect me to give her a little applause. Because it's a family thing and I'm part of the family. It's an intimate deception, and affectionate deception happens all the time in intimacy.

But when parents expect strangers to applaud their kids for aspiring to be talented --or just for PRETENDING to be aspire-- a line is crossed. This is the onramp to Stage Motherhood, and the road ends in Bonaduce.

In such a sitch, one should offer crisp criticism: "Kinda bungled the chord changes on the refrain there, did'ntcha, Dakota? Well, it's a holiday weekend, you'll have time to practice."

Posted by: Crid at April 8, 2007 8:38 AM

"to aspire", not "to be aspire."

Gimme a break.

Hey Amy, if you buy comment software that allows journaled editing, I'll pay half the cost.

Posted by: Crid at April 8, 2007 8:40 AM

Hey Crid (and others as I have heard the complaint on this blog before): Download the latest version of Mozilla Firefox. It has spell checking and grammar checking capability. So just typing in this comment it pointed out that spellchecking (no space between the two words) was incorrect. As Firefox is free...

(Shameless plug---> go to my site (linked on my name on this posting) and download firefox from the upper right. You will get the spell checking and I will get a buck...)

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 8, 2007 8:47 AM

What's "journaled editing"?

And thanks, André-Tascha. And he just put up a new site -- he is the poster boy for civic and political involvement!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 9:08 AM

It's a holiday, everthing's closed, I got more.

> Leykis on Friday when
> some dumbshit woman from
> New York was on who
> didn't know a single
> potential nominee

Leykis is a weird case. He talks like a supermasculine teen high-school dropout, but with a voice like Sterling Holloway. Every notice how slow his show is? And how


How he'll say something simple.


But not profound.


And there will be a long pause?


That's so his audience can catch up. I'm not trying to make fun of them, it's just the honest-to-God truth. He serves a market that needs extra time. When he tries to talk to callers, it's even worse. Native english speakers need to translate into english (in real time!), so there's lots of dead air..

Here's a twofer. Sometimes you can listen to Leykis on the radio while driving and find that traffic is delayed at the freeway sign, where people are slowing down (!) and sometimes stopping (!!) to read and parse these words: "Travel time - 20 Min to 118."

I swear this isn't meant to be cruel. There are people who hate NPR not because it's putrid but because they can't understand it. There are millions of them, and they are LICENSED TO DRIVE. Radio's all about loneliness. Dim people need to be entertained too. I wish we could do better than Leykis, though.

Just saying.

Andre thanks. FIrefox is great, I use the "portable" version. I'll load the syntax check from your site.

By journaled editing, I don't know what it's really called, I just mean something that will let you fix your typos but not change what you said, so people can catch you if you try to pretend you never said that Hillary was lesbian or we should nuke Tripoli or something.

Posted by: Crid at April 8, 2007 9:35 AM

"...increasingly Spanish speakers will become the largest group of residents. It is your responsibility to make sure your son can speak Spanish or he is going to be at a disadvantage."

Por bueno o malo es la verdad. Mi espanol no es bueno pero yo apprendo.

Posted by: winston at April 8, 2007 9:47 AM

Also, I agree with you about the ballots, but isn't it telling it's happening in Beverly Hills? Maybe this is sounds cute and trivial, but next time someone tells you that the Persian dogs are religious fanatics who can't acclimate to competitive economic freedom, remember the ballots.

Posted by: Crid at April 8, 2007 9:52 AM

The real reason to learn Spanish is because of the TV novelas. Their soap operas are 100% better than ours.

Posted by: winston at April 8, 2007 10:00 AM

je suis d'un grand soutien des capacités multilingues dans les individus, mais l'anglais doit venir d'abord

- or if you prefer -

ik ben steunend van meertalige mogelijkheden in individuen, maar het Engels moet eerst komen

basically--->learn english when you come here...

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 8, 2007 10:03 AM

Bustier, prettier girls, shittier narratives. I'm not saying you're wrong.

Posted by: Crid at April 8, 2007 10:04 AM

Leykis, like Howard Stern, is much smarter than his show.

Yes, English must come first. (Per André-Tascha, en français en haut.)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 10:24 AM

I wonder why it is nobody mentioned the obvious:

Call 911.

The US Navy has had people die because of language issues - specifically, galley fires and electrical fatalities from WW2 through Vietnam. No, you're not in a steel warship in saltwater surrounded by fuel and explosives, but do you really want to deal with multicultural issues while trying to get through to cops and doctors?

The police officer pointing a gun at you needs you to do something, and right now. Her finger is on the trigger. Whose job is it to understand?

This seems melodramatic, sure, but it happens. The worst-case scenario happens to people with no regard to whether they are prepared for it.

Posted by: Radwaste at April 8, 2007 11:14 AM

"The more we coddle immigrants with bilingual services at every turn, the less likely they are to learn English."

But I'd bet most leaf-blowers come with monolingual instructions -- ie, only in Spanish. Bilingual education seems like the best way to ensure that Beverly Hills has a steady supply of low-wage gardening workers for years to come.

Posted by: Lena at April 8, 2007 11:47 AM

For so many reasons, people here need to speak English - we need a national language to be able to conduct our political business and to develop new generations of people who can participate fully in society. This can't really be negotiable if we want to avoid having a country that is even more culturally divided than we are today; there's already enough separation between the northeast, west, midwest, and south. We need not encourage those divisions.

That said, my pretty decent Spanish is really helpful here in California, certainly more useful than any other foreign language - conducting business, speaking to neighbors, finding out which carniceria sells the best carne asada, eavesdropping on people who assume no gabachos understand what they're saying, etc. There's a strong utilitarian argument for knowing Spanish.

Patrick's point about Spain is kinda off, though. Most everybody does speak Castellano (what we think of as Spanish) but, e.g., if you go to Barcelona, Catalan dominates official and colloquial discourse. I could see this sort of fragmenting eventually happening to the U.S. West. Everybody knows some degree of English, but Spanish becomes the predominant language. I hope not, but there's pressure in that direction.

Oh and this:
Maybe this is sounds cute and trivial, but next time someone tells you that the Persian dogs are religious fanatics who can't acclimate to competitive economic freedom, remember the ballots.

A Persian friend jokingly refers to L.A. as "Irangeles." Her family and lots of others came over here following the Islamic revolution - mostly educated, liberal, etc. The same brain drain you always see happen when zealots take over a country. Those with the money and the ability to get out, do. And then they generally succeed in the new country.

Posted by: justin case at April 8, 2007 12:01 PM

Is the coddling of illegal aliens also the reason police officers in my town are instructed not to question operators of vehicles who do not have a license and do not speak English?

The situation is clear, as my friend's husband recently related to me. When a person is pulled over for whatever reason (speeding, rolling through a stop sign) the cop can't ask "are you a citizen" b/c that is "discriminatory." Am I wrong to assume that if I were pulled over and didn't have my license on me that it would be a problem? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't get off the hook. I wish I had the same rights and privileges as non citizens.

Chew on that while I go chew on my Easter ham.

Posted by: Gretchen at April 8, 2007 12:17 PM

This is one of two issues I completely agree with the fierce anti-immigration right on. This and the wall.

If they would stop worrying about Carlos "the Bellman, Bus Driver and Gardener" Gomez and start worrying about Abu "Future Martyr" Abdullah, I'd agree with them more often.

Posted by: Steve W at April 8, 2007 12:26 PM

Steve W. is right on. Plus there's a great case to be made for the pernicious effect of the pro-amnesty/guest worker idea that "there are jobs Americans just won't do." It's a real step in the wrong direction for a republic when there is honest work that is perceived to be beneath its citizens. Mark Krikorian has written persuasively on this topic; I don't agree with him on much, but I'm convinced he's right about immigration. The status quo is bad for the U.S. when the legal market isn't the one putting the value on work and it's bad for our neighbors to the south - who don't have any incentive to fix their own structural problems when they receive billions of dollars from their illegals here.

Posted by: justin case at April 8, 2007 12:42 PM

I'd like to congratulate those who have supported bilingual education for the past thirty years. They've consistently ignored the lower test scores and have created a permanent under class.

I not only want immigrants to learn spoken English, I want the to learn written English if they intend to live here. I knew a perfectly intelligent woman from Russia who could speak the language but couldn't write a business letter to save her life. The result? She lasted for all of three months. (And by the way, there are plenty of native borns who speak and write abysmally as well. They have to get on the bandwagon too).

Mind you, I'm not a flaming right winger. Not a fan of that two-timer Gingrich, but a 3rd generation Asian American who always understood that the primary language of commerce in this country is English. It's not spanish, chinese, tagolog, farsi or russian. It's English.

I wouldn't go to Germany or France and expect them to write everything in English. I wouldn't go to England and expect them to drop the 'me' from programme. No, I'd adapt. Lest you think I don't want Americans to learn three languages, you're wrong. I think at the basic level, here in LA, we have to know English, an Asian language (Chinese, Korean, or Japanese or you name it) and Spanish.

Of course, this puts the onus on communities to have more English courses. Perhaps to even make those wanting residency pass a written test to make sure they can partake in our system of commerce. But you know what? The most ambitious are going to pass it. And those are the ones we want. The others? I don't care about. They can go home.


But don't line me up with those people on the right. No way. I'm just a pragmatist with a killer vocab.

Posted by: k at April 8, 2007 12:48 PM

Andre, my condolences for having a hippy dippy overweight teacher in your family. She really is clueless, does not pick up on subtletly.

Therefore, you have my complete approval to issue that mother a playing violation. A little pink ticket that has all her most obnoxious qualities ticked off.


1. self centeredness
2. propensity to embarrass her children.
3. inability to see that she embarrasses her children and they will hate her when they are teens.
4. a tendency to inflate other's shortcomings.
5. an extremely judgmental personality.
6. does not clean her sink (okay, I'm guessing, but it's probably true)


With parents like these, I eventually corner them and say: "But what do YOU do for yourself?" I remember this mother who used to shout at her Asian daughter who was doing her best to skate on the ice. One day I had it. I grabbed her hand and brought that mother out onto the ice and said, "TY THIS." Then, I watched her gingerly crawl over to the wall.


This usually shuts them up.


Posted by: k at April 8, 2007 12:59 PM

TRY this. Oh dear. I need a massage.

Posted by: k at April 8, 2007 1:00 PM

Amy-

You don't really think the "callers" on Tom Leykis' show are REAL, do you? Come on, just like "reality" tv, "reality" radio is also cast. He's got a long show, on the air 5 days a week during prime drive time, in many major markets. He can't rely on actual callers calling in to say stuff that will get everyone all hot and bothered about something, every day. Not saying all, but MOST of his callers are fake, or at least pre-booked, and potentially paid.

There are a lot of dumb people out there. But it takes a lot of interviews to find just the right idiots for "Jay Walking" or any other "Americans are So Stupid!" segment you encounter. They're out there, but they need to be culled from the flock.

"Lovelines" is real, for instance, but they still have screeners, and they still have some real dud calls go through. And they are on in the middle of the night. Art Bell has the same freedom.

Posted by: robyn at April 8, 2007 1:43 PM

By the way, this isn't a regional thing anymore. I live in Nebraska and the "press 1 for English" rot isn't any less prevalent here than it is in Texas or Florida (having visited those places frequently).

It's galling how far American institutions will go to keep Spanish speakers from having to learn even the tiniest bit of English. And I don't even mind multi-lingualism for complex or meaningful situations, like signing a lease. But "Press 1 to hear your account balance" is not a proposition from Wittgenstein. Especially when it's being voiced by a slow-talking machine you can hang up on and call back as many times as it takes to look things up in your English-Spanish dictionary.

It almost seems like an intentional attempt to keep these people ignorant, as if learning how to count to ten in English would make them a threat to the landed gentry.

Posted by: Gary S. at April 8, 2007 1:47 PM

What's your source, Robyn?

I'm pretty sure I could probably go to any mall, ask a number of people the same question and get the same inability to answer as he got on the radio with that woman.

Quite frankly, I can't imagine it being any fun to invent callers. I'm going to do a radio demo and the hardest part will be getting people and questions for it. I have to plan a little, but the idea of gettng somebody whose question I already know the answer to ahead of time -- what a bore, and if I'm bored, I'm not as good on the radio.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 1:51 PM

I had to learn to speak and write Arabic fluently to live in Cairo, Egypt. Took lessons to improve my dialect. English is the language of the elite in Egyptian society, but I lived in a working class neighborhood and had to adapt, fast.

Posted by: Joe at April 8, 2007 2:10 PM

'within Egyptian society' I will need to download Firefox too.

Posted by: Joe at April 8, 2007 2:15 PM

I remember when I first moved out here from Pennsylvania, I would ask people for directions, and was disgusted when so many people didn't speak English. And when I went to vote, and to the DMV I was so SHOCKED at instructions in Spanish, that I told everyone that I think California is un-American. (I still think that.)

I called my representatives, and no one could tell me why they did that, and why we spent money allowing, nay, encouraging, ignorant lazy-ass, usually ILLEGAL people to drive (not being able to read signs) and vote (not being able to understand candidates).

Yes, Lyt, it is a big pain to choose a language in America, when English is our only official language. And every time I have to do it, my first complaint to to the person I'm calling is about that. I also ask them if their company is encouraging America to make or add another national language, and question whether they are happy being in America. If you don't push corporate, nothing changes.

Posted by: Donna B. at April 8, 2007 2:28 PM

I agree about the need for immigrants to learn English, and the importance of maintaining a common American language.

But this is nothing new. It's been common throughout American history that many first generation immigrants never learn English.

Their children that are born here are another matter. The lure of American popular culture, the natural adolescent desire to fit in and the ease with which young children learn language make me optimistic.

Posted by: winston at April 8, 2007 2:51 PM

Would it make sense for an automated phone system to have a recording that said, "If you don't speak English, press 1"?

Most immigrants who come to America don't know English but do have to slowly learn it (their offspring usually will be fluent in English of course) for other reasons than using the phone. We are an English speaking nation, but doesn't it make sense when Americans are traveling around the world that they may offer English to help you order something either by phone or when sitting at a table in a restaurant? I think so. My brother has traveled extensively around Europe and would like to live there one day, but he's never complained because the people of those countries aren't speaking English to accommodate him. He would have to learn the language at some point and I believe immigrants who come to America think a lot like my brother does. They so badly want to be here they will eventually learn the basics at least to be just like us!

Maybe I'm a dreamer. We are a nation of immigrants and there was a time in our own bloodline where relatives had no clue how to speak English, but eventually did.

Posted by: KayInMaine at April 8, 2007 3:32 PM

Many people speak English in Paris, but many also don't. If you call a recorded line (like I do to get my voicemail, or to make an international call on a calling card, the message is in French). The fact that I can't get by with English makes me much more motivated to learn French.

Sorry, but my relatives came over from Russia and Germany and learned English. In fact, assimilating was of the utmost importance to them -- especially for German Jews (half my ancestors).

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 3:45 PM

The thing that frustrates me most about "bilingual" education here is that it flies in the face of everything we know about how the human mind acquires language - namely, that young minds have a much greater information-processing capability where language is concerned than older minds, and that the best way to learn a new language is through immersion. What we usually think of as "bilingual education" revolves around the idea that a child can't learn a second language until he/she attains a certain level of mastery in his/her first. This is absolute nonsense, and the belief in it is producing thousands of children without a mastery of EITHER language. The fact that a hell of a lot of immigrant children who start with several strikes against them to begin with are held down by this asinine idea perpetuated by comfortable English-speakers in love with their own "brilliance" makes me angry. And you won't like me when I'm angry.

So yes, I'm all for the intensive English education, everywhere. The people who need it the most are the ones least able to fight for it, so someone has to.

As for learning English...if you don't learn English past a certain level, there are serious constraints on what you can do in this country. If you happen to be born with some sort of extraordinary physical gift and manage to be discovered, your speaking ability, or lack thereof, won't really matter. The rest of us who make up the other 99.99999% of humanity need to be able to read and write English if we want to have a real slate of options. More and more, I think that intensive second-language options for phone menus, ballots and whatever stands in the way of that. However, unless our court system changes dramatically, those aren't going anywhere. I do wish there were some way for the tax dollars that currently go toward printing ballots in other languages could be re-routed toward intensive English classes for adults - charge the adults a nominal fee, because people don't value free things, but otherwise ensure that those who WANT to learn English can, assuming they're willing to work. If we are going to be using tax dollars to accommodate non-English speakers, I wish we could be teaching them to fish rather than handing them a snack and calling it dinner.

Posted by: marion at April 8, 2007 5:59 PM

This is actually part of what I study. It's absurd. There are so many politics involved in bilingual education, there are people who are afraid to publish studies for fear of being considered "politically incorrect." Immigrants don't want their kids to learn in the native language, they want their kids to learn English. If you ask immigrants if they want their kids to learn their L1, 80% or so say yes, but when asked if they want them to learn their L1, taking time away from learning English, that number drops to 12%. If someone wants me to dig out the reference, I can.

My niece had the same problem when she came here. She was in a class with Spanish speakers (Mexican), and the only thing she learned was a Mexican accent, which took two months to get rid of when she returned home. She didn't learn any English. Sort of made the point of enrolling her in school in the US pointless, didn't it?

As far as people learning to speak, but not write business letters, that's why language learning methodology in both L1 and L2 needs to be reconsidered, and it's finally starting to happen, but it's going to be years before we actually see a big difference.

Finally, regarding police letting illegals get away with not having licenses and what-not, we need to start enforcing immigration laws. I'm sick of this nonsense. It's like, when they make laws in a city that people can't rent an apartment if they can't prove they are here legally. It makes perfect sense you me, if you're not supposed to BE here, then you shouldn't be able to LIVE here, right? But apparently that is a RACIST way to think...and we all know that illegal immigrant is a race.

Posted by: Brenda at April 8, 2007 8:39 PM

I would like to start off with the fact that the majority of Hispanics are not for bilingual education, and it’s an issue that conservatives assume we support and liberals stamp on us that we support. It’s not an issue we particularly take any notice in, since we just want the kids to learn English and whatever the best way the government thinks that is, that’s generally what’s accepted.

And naww we arent gonna branch off into some seperate group cuz Hispanic women love marrying white guys and black guys and that shit is accepted...well marrying a white guy gets the thumbs up but not marrying a black guy. The Catch 22 is that a Hispanic dude being with a white chick is frowned up. Hispanics are so eager to assimilate into white culture its just funny as hell when I gotta hear all this shit from everyone.

I'm with winston on everything.

Posted by: PurplePen at April 8, 2007 8:53 PM

PurplePen: My stereotype of a bilingual education supporter is a wealthy white liberal who likes the idea that her kids are getting exposed to Spanish in school, so I, for one, am not assuming that most Latinos/Hispanics support bilingual education! Every Spanish-speaking immigrant with children I have ever spoken to has expressed a strong desire for his/her children to learn English. This obviously isn't a perfectly representative sample...but I don't think it's completely unrepresentative, either.

Posted by: marion at April 8, 2007 9:10 PM

"Sorry, but my relatives came over from Russia and Germany and learned English. In fact, assimilating was of the utmost importance to them -- especially for German Jews (half my ancestors)."

You're Jewish? Well, no wonder you hate Muslims. :)

Posted by: Hasan at April 8, 2007 9:13 PM

Marion. You are half right. Upper middle class hispanics who think of themselves as representatives of the latino community and wealthy white liberals are both in love with bilingual education. Like how half of my wealthy middle class hispanic friends are socialists. My last boyfriend derided the U.S. yet he spent all of his time in ritzy Newport Beach whilst me, his poor gf had to hit the nasty clubs in Artesia for a good time. When I told him that I loved the president of Brazil he called him a capitalist (lula is a socialist)and thank the Almighty for Cuba. He was heavily involved in politics. The majority of hispanics I have met involved in politics are liberals who arent representative of the average latinos viewpoint. The easiest way to tell who they are is by asking them, do you prefer being called hispanic or latino?? And then they'll go off on a tangent about what the correct term is. C.l.a.s.s.i.c.

Posted by: PurplePen at April 8, 2007 10:02 PM

I merely grew up Jewish, Hasan. I have no religion now. I'm rational. I don't believe in god, as there's no evidence god exists, and I criticize all god-believing religions on this blog, and the tribalism that ensues from them. Apparently, (although if you scroll down, you'll see me saying disparaging things about all religions), all it took for you to resort to tribalistic us-and-them-ism is hearing my ancestry.

Why would you say I "hate" Muslims? Because I think a religion that sends its young to blow each other and "the other" up is barbaric? That I think it's wrong that women are victims of "honor killings" and that primitive religious fanatics want to kill or convert us all in the name of that religion? Oh, and no, it isn't because of Israel that they want to do that. I don't think they're killing Tibetan monks and Hindus because of Israel.

Again, I'm no friend to any god-believing religion. But, note, as Wafa Sultan did, that Jews aren't blowing up German restaurants. Also, there are maybe five nutwads killing abortion doctors for Christianity. 12 percent of Canadian Muslims, on the other hand, thought it was okay to blow up government and kill the Canadian Premier for Islam. That's 84,000 people. What, should I "tolerate" them? I don't think so.

Know anything about dhimmitude, Hasan?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 11:43 PM

Hey, Amy, you missed the ":)".

Posted by: Radwaste at April 9, 2007 2:12 AM

Oh...I feel stupid.

I should have checked...I was shocked that was coming from Hasan.

Let me again mention (I wrote about this in a column) how I hate emoticons as speech!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 9, 2007 6:02 AM

>>we need to start enforcing immigration laws.

No, we just need to start enforcing LAWS.

Where my family lives in Florida, the county prison won't/can't keep illegal aliens. So the local police don't bother arresting them, and in turn the citizens don't bother reporting their crimes anymore. Property damage and traffic incidents involving illegals is rampant. My brother was fortunate not to be killed by one of these cretins. The police let her drive home.

I'm pro-immigration, but I'm pro-assimilation and I'm pro-equality. If the authorities can't arrest illegal residents, then they should ship their asses back wherever they came, not let them live a law-free life. It's only a matter of time before those who wish to destroy us try to take advantage of that situation.

Posted by: Gary S. at April 9, 2007 6:20 AM

FYI, Yes, I know most immigrants do NOT support efforts to indoctrinate them in their own native language. Rather, they fall into the system and go with it rather than fighting against it.


My idiot sister was one of the first bilingual ed teachers in the state of California. This was 1978, I think. She was offered more money to do it, and so she did, unthinking about the larger impact of what she was doing.


And yes, she's a stereotypical liberal, as much as I hate those terms. Like stereotypical conservatives, her belief system is simply due to laziness and not wishing to think her way through any given issue. It also gives her a good way to hide from her own truths.

Posted by: k at April 9, 2007 8:30 AM

I don't think she did miss the ":-)"

Don't forget there are many other's reading these comments who may miss the ":-)", therefore she needed to, yet again, set the record straight. Either way...

Go Amy! *\o/*

Posted by: nikki at April 9, 2007 8:36 AM

"No, we just need to start enforcing LAWS."

I agree, and it's amazing to how many things this applies. Yes, there are some laws on the books that are awful and should be changed (see: Drugs, War on), and there are times when new laws are needed. But there are a lot of areas of life in which we have no idea if existing laws can serve a particular purpose *because we aren't enforcing them.* Firearms are another area that come to mind.

I like immigration. Lots of immigration. I'd be happy with expanding the number of legal immigrants nigh-exponentially. But I think allowing laws to exist but be broken on a regular basis has a corrupting effect on the entire system. Having a speed limit of 55 when NO ONE drives 55 and 55 is too low a speed limit for ideal traffic flow on a given road leads to a lack of respect for traffic law that, IMHO, in some cases tacitly encourages other rule violations. The "broken windows" approach to policing seems to work...and it works because if people can jump turnstiles with no real repercussions, eventually some of those people will expect that other laws are similarly malleable. Etc. I sometimes feel as though I've stepped into Crazy-Land when reading about immigration issues - a town passes a law forbidding a certain type of non-lifesaving service to *illegal* immigrants, and the town is accused of being discriminatory/unlawful/whatever? I'm not in favor of letting illegal aliens bleed out on the streets or anything, but enforce the goddamned laws already. If people can't produce legitimate-looking ID, ask for their immigration status, whether they're blonde-haired and blue-eyed or very definitely otherwise...and if they're illegal, deport them.

That having been said...I keep waiting for certain representatives of the permanent underclass to figure out what a threat illegals are to them and to take serious action. Because I live in Texas, and when I (and just about everyone else here) think of illegal aliens, I think of guys lined up at 5:30 am in the dark for a difficult job that will pay very little money. I think about the woman profiled a while back in our local newspaper who bought a terribly run-down house that she's now fixing up, despite having been recently widowed, working in a job that paid little, and having several children to support. Hell, I think of the people who are currently rebuilding New Orleans. This is why I'm in favor of expanding the number of permitted immigrants - as long as they're the right immigrants. But I think the only way to overhaul immigration laws in a beneficial manner is to start by enforcing the laws on the books, and then letting the populace at large decide if those results are acceptable or not.

Posted by: marion at April 9, 2007 10:45 AM

"And I've got a little bitchy left for some of you native-born Americans. I was listening to Leykis on Friday when some dumbshit woman from New York was on who didn't know a single potential nominee for president."

I remember my best friend, a make up artist, didnt know that Canada was a country. She thought it was a state "somewhere up there, so why would I need my passport??". Classic.

I'm against illegal immigration too but I'm too lazy to explain my position. I think the majority of Americans share your view marion (that is, not against immigrants just against the whole illegal immigration problem, the goverment's lack of interest and the cost associated with it). Conservative groups always ask me to join. I guess cuz i'm hispanic and am against illegal immigration. I always say my solution is to legalize drugs, its the only way. But I'm promptly shown the door after that. I have never figured out how illegal immigrants do it, despite the fact that I've been around them my whole life. Friends, co-workers, people my parents hire, I always ask them a billion questions. The reasons why they came etc. Alot of them, I would say 50% would go back to Mexico because they find American culture a little too overwhelming, materialistic, time consuming. They speak fondly of Mexico wishing they could return if it werent for the lack of prospects. To me, the money they make here in a week is what I spend in a day so we are not talking about them making boatloads of cash. Sucks that all the production shit goes to China, instead of Mexico. Simply because some commie Middle-Classer in Mexico and the U.S. thinks it would be demeaning to Mexicans to make barbie dolls. No job is too low a job for anyone to do. From hooking to working at the UN, no job too difficult or insignificant.

Posted by: PurplePen at April 9, 2007 12:09 PM

Agree about hookers; not as much about the UN

Posted by: Crid at April 9, 2007 12:24 PM

I have always loved hookers because they prevent girls like me from getting raped. I can never understand why all women arent grateful to hookers for the sole reason that they help prevent rape.

Posted by: PurplePen at April 9, 2007 3:01 PM

This conversation seems to be dying, but I'm wondering what, if anything, this group has to say about the move to bilingualism in business. I live up in MN, so the only time I'm asked to "press 1 for English" is when I call my credit-card company, and the only time I see signs in Spanish are when I take the bus down Lake St. and the local US Bank branch is advertising loans on a banner. I don't think these are the only two entities who smell money in a Spanish-language market; one of the bigger jobs my company prints every year is a Spanish-language product guide for a national hardware retailer. Forcing the government to go English-only seems a moot point when mainstream commerce goes bilingual. I'm assuming, that is, that immigrants, illegal and otherwise, are like non-immigrants: more interested in obtaining credit and buying hammers than they in interacting with bureaucrats.

Posted by: stephanie at April 9, 2007 3:45 PM

About a decade ago, the LA Weekly ran an expose of the main architect of bilingual education in California. I don't recall all the details, but the upshot is that he basically manufactured the supporting data in order to sell his consulting services, training sessions and related rip-offs to the public school system.

He also relied on political correctness to make mega-bucks in the face of overwhelming evidence that his system was a sham - after all, attacking unfounded methodology is the same as attacking poor brown people, right?

Posted by: Melissa at April 10, 2007 11:15 AM

Stephanie, I disagree - it's not moot to insist on English-only for government, no matter how prevelant Spanish may be or become commercially.

Do you really not see a distinction between a "Se Habla Espanol" sign in a store window, and being able to study for your driver's license test from a Spanish-language brochure? If you can't deal with the DMV in English, you have no business driving here!

In particular, election materials in other languages offend me deeply. Here in LA, we pay to have election materials translated and printed in a half dozen languages, but my view is that if you can't read and write English well enough, then you have no business voting. If it's easier for you to assimilate political information in your native tongue, then pay for your own damn foreign language newspaper subscription!

Posted by: Melissa at April 10, 2007 11:55 AM

I'm 3rd-generation Italian and Irish. When my grandmother and her sister started first-grade in Boston, fresh off the boat, they had their names changed to "English" names on the first day of school by the teacher. No irate parents marched in to complain---on the contrary, they were thrilled that their kids were being treated as Americans.

Today, I live in our nation's capital, and I encounter at least 2 people every day who can't communicate with me at all (cabbies, store clerks, etc). My maid has been here for over 20 years and has worked as a civilian in an Army facility the whole time, yet we STILL have a language barrier, two decades after she arrived in this country. That tells me that neither she nor the people with whom she spends her time all day place any value whatsoever on becoming skilled in English, and that it's our fault, for making it so easy for them to remain ignorant of our language.

My pet peeve, especially living here in DC.

Posted by: Tess at April 10, 2007 12:53 PM

The Big Lie about illegal immigration is that illegals are doing jobs that Americans won't do. There may be some job sectors where that is true - stoop field labor, for example. But by and large, there are Americans who are quite willing to do construction jobs, meat packing, janitorial work, etc. - just not at the rock-bottom wages (and sometimes substandard conditions) that illegals will accept.

According to a WSJ article, when illegal workers were swept up in raids of Georgia meat packing plants, the plants had to offer a couple more dollars an hour to get replacement workers in a hurry - at which point, they had no problem finding Americans to fill the jobs.

Personally, I'm more than willing to pay what it would cost to have legal workers produce my burger (or do my house cleaning, construction work, etc.) - especially given the indirect costs of emergency room closures, unlicensed and uninsured drivers (with clunker cars spewing exhaust), third world conditions in nearby neighborhoods, and all the rest of the problems that accompany illegal immigration - not to mention the portion of my taxes that goes to people who have NO RIGHT TO BE HERE!

Posted by: Melissa at April 10, 2007 12:56 PM

Just flew back from Paris and I seem to have missed the pith of the post, but I do feel the need to address a few little points:


Donna B, the United States has no official language. That was an oversight of our founding fathers, and is too politically incorrect to change at this point.

And PurplePen, rapists don't rape because they want sex. Even if prostitution were free, rapists would still rape. Lots of rapists are in relationships. The sex is part of the control issue.

Finally, as an American who speaks French and Spanish fluently and German only to save my life, I now fully appreciate the efforts my grandparents and nanny made to make me a polyglot. I was made to understand that I was to speak only French with my grandparents, Spanish to my minder, and English at school, for the purposes of respect and survival in any situation in which I found myself. I feel empathy for anyone who can not recognize the necessity of communication, especially when they make the conscious decision to migrate to another country.

Posted by: bev at April 10, 2007 6:19 PM

Rapists DO rape because they want sex. The notion that they do it for power is bullshit put out by "advocacy researchers" -- radical feminists with an agenda. The best book on this is A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion by Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 10, 2007 6:30 PM

If we would create welfare systems that runs out eventually for people who are perfectly capable of working, and stop allowing people to use their food stamp cards as an ATM, then I think we would suddenly have Americans who would do many of these jobs. Some, obviously not, but the illegal immigrants I know are doing jobs like waiting tables, stocking shirts at the mall and other jobs that Americans are perfectly willing to do.

Posted by: Brenda at April 10, 2007 7:36 PM

In the spirit of your comment, Brenda, I recommend reading Neil Gilbert's "Welfare Justice."

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0300062028?ie=UTF8&tag=advicegoddess-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0300062028

He sent me a chapter for reference I needed for a column I just wrote, but the whole thing is about supplying some basic humanitarian needs while fostering personal responsibility.

Here's the review from Amazon:

In this provocative analysis, an eminent authority critically examines the present welfare state and highlights its failures and inequities amid growing resentment against welfare spending for the poor. Gilbert calls for a new form of social protection, the "enabling state," that would encourage private responsibility while maintaining an equitable system of public care for those unable to assist themselves.

If you're interested, a new copy is pricey, but used ones can be had cheap.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 10, 2007 9:18 PM

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