Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You Want To Be In America, Speak English!

Talk about a culture clash! Here I am writing professionally now, more than ever before, and I have not blogged in eight months! Time flew by! I have travelled internationally several times, but no major culture clashing incidents occurred. Except this one, so here it is.

My wife recently said something that blew my mind: "You want to be in America, speak English." Now, she was referring to some Bosnians at work, who speak their language all day long. They speak English, too, but they have all these private chats amongst themselves and it was driving her crazy because she couldn't understand. My wife is a talented linguist who speaks four languages and parts of others. She loves language.

What shocked me was, my wife is an immigrant, who frequently complains about how hard it is for immigrants in the U.S. She feels she has been discriminated against in the job market and other situations. I am not always so sure it is as bad as she thinks it is, but then I am not there when the incidents happen, and it took almost a year in the U.S. for her to find a decent job, and I had to pull strings. My wife has a bachelor's degree in English and Portuguese Literature and is a trained language instructor. So don't go thinking she doesn't have skills. But she does love to chit chat, and sometimes she seems a little strange to people. They don't know how to take her. And I tend to think this had more to do with her job troubles than the fact that she's an immigrant, but who knows. She has legitimate immigration papers. She is not illegal. I do know that people are much more wary these days of immigrants because of the government crack down.

In any case, here's my immigrant wife, who is fluent in English, criticizing these other immigrants for not using English. Again, all of them actually speak English. They just like to chat with each other. Bianca told me: "All I hear all day is spreska forska ickska Bryan spreska forska ickska Bianca. So I started talking that way, too, and they asked me where I learned Russian." LOL. She was toying with them, but they thought it was a real language. Like I said, my wife has language skills.

I did find it interesting to hear this from her though, given her rants about anti-immigrant treatment in the U.S., but I don't disagree with her. You don't have to lose your cultural identity to make an effort to communicate in a place you choose to live. Without effective communication in modern society, you will have a hard time getting anything done or succeeding in any way. So I agree with her in a sense. But no one says you have to speak English all the time. Especially when your coworkers are from the same culture and speak the same language. I am sure it eases their homesickness and helps them feel connected to speak amongst themselves in their language. And I take no issue with that. I never heard them speak to customers in anything but English when I was there.

In any case, one of the issues I have seen a lot is people from other countries sticking to their own and not making the effort, and it causes problems. At the seminary I attended, the Koreans hung together so much, they could not keep up with the school work, because their English was not improving. So the school had to make rules about it, and enforce standards for language. Some might call that discriminatory, but in any country, when you attend a school, they have to teach in the native language (except for a few private school exceptions). And you must have a certain proficiency to have academic success. I see nothing wrong with that. It's why I have not studied overseas yet, because my language skills are not up to the challenge. Portuguese is my best foreign tongue, and even in Portuguese, I know I need work.

There is nothing wrong with immigrants forming a support community, of course. Good for them! Good for them for wanting to celebrate their culture and even share it with the community around them. But they cannot ignore the need to participate in the larger culture. You cannot successfully or peacefully live amongst others without respecting and appreciating the larger culture and making some effort to belong to it. Not because you want to lose your own culture, but because you now belong to more than one culture. At least while you're there.

For what it's worth...

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