Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Clash Of The Linguas

One interesting culture clash I have begin to take more notice of, now that I travel a lot, is how spoiled immigrants here are compared to those in other places. In every country I have visited -- Ghana, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, etc. it is assumed that if you come there, you will make an effort at learning the native language. Schools teach in it, signs are posted in it, everyone speaks it and thus so should you. Sure a few hotels and restaurants and shops which cater to tourists have people who might speak some halting English or even be fluent, but these are the minority. The obligation is on you to make the effort.

It is interesting to me how this contrasts with our own attitude of creating Spanish catering schools, shops, etc. for Hispanic immigrants (just as one group for example). We are too nice to actually require them to learn our language. Instead, we will conform to them. Why should they be penalized for being in one of the largest nations on Earth and not knowing the language. How absurd of anyone to think they should do that!

To me, this is another example of the culture clash of values presently ongoing in our own culture. The Feminist-Homosexual-Political Correctness types who want everyone to feel loved and happy and wholy accepted and never see anyone offended. I say these groups because they are leading voices, not because they alone believe this. It seems to be the opinion of a larger and larger segment of our population every day.

Take it from someone who is very sensitive, loves immigrants, travels a lot, and works hard to understand and empathize with other cultures on a regular basis -- we are not doing them a favor! This idea is actually hurting them. It is helping take away their motivation to participate in a land they are calling home. And in the process we lose -- we lose their voices, we lose their full participation, we lose the opportunity to learn fully from them and allow them to help shape who we are and to know who they are. And that is a big loss. There is a lot to learn from other cultures.

I had never given this policy much thought until missionary friends on the border said they think our country should require people to learn English and stop spoiling them by trying to cater too much to their own lingual needs. It was then that it hit me how right they are. Why should someone who moves to another country be offended that they have to learn the local language? I was not offended when I needed to do this in Brazil or Mexico (as I am now). It makes sense. Interpersonal communication is necessary to everyday life. So of course one has to learn it to function for long periods in such a place. Now that I have thought about it I am actually more offended that some of our fellow countrymen actually want me to believe I should feel sorry for people who just have to make the same effort I or anyone else would to go to their country when they come to ours.

Okay, some people are already offended by this. Que pena! Too bad! God made a multicultural world with many languages to enrich the world. If we stop trying to benefit from learning from each other, we are the losers. And we are going against His will and design. And maybe some people want to live that way, but I don't.

And before you get started whining about how hard it is to learn other languages, don't waste my time. Of course it's hard. But no harder than trying to live in another country without being able to communicate. If it was easy, we would all do it. But that is beside the point. Besides, part of what people in other cultures have told me they like about my efforts to speak their languages is that my efforts shows respect for their culture. So why can't immigrants to America make some effort to respect our culture. Most of them came here because they desired aspects of our culture in their lives anyway, so since language is at the heart of a culture, one should expect an effort to be familiar with language. It's natural.

I am not anti-immigrants. I am not pro-assimilation. They don't have to lose their cultural identity to live here. In fact, I strongly desire that they don't. After all, as I said above, we have so much to learn from them. I am just suggesting that a fundamental requirement of daily life anywhere is knowing the local language enough to communicate basically with natives. And that requires effort anywhere in the world. They expect it of us when we go to their cultures, so we have a right to expect it of them. We deserve the same respect for our culture which they want us to have for theirs.

Something to think about...

No comments: