Friday, October 2, 2009


I don't want to offend anyone, but lately this has really been bugging me. I thought I'd just throw it out there on my tiny platform and see what the rest of you think.

I know Americans are notorious for expecting people to speak English around the world. They have a bad reputation. How egocentric are we? If Americans live abroad, I think they should learn the language of the country they are in. The people of the world seem to give us a pretty wide latitude. I'm guessing there are plenty of them that resent it though.

I find that we are not the only ones unwilling to speak another language. It really bothers me that there are people who move to the US (taking advantage of the things this country has to offer) and don't learn English. The language we speak in this country is English. I know that seems silly, and I feel people will think I'm heartless. I am not. Really. I'm considerate. I promise.

I understand the difficulty. I've been in the same situation. When I first arrived in France, I had only had a crash course in French. Getting around and communicating were real challenges. There were days I was so frustrated and confused that I just wanted to cry. (I did some days.) I made tons of mistakes (some of them very funny and a couple inadvertently quite profane), but eventually I learned the language. When I did, my experiences there became much richer. I was so much happier. It didn't take me long either. After a couple months I could carry on conversations about lots of subjects and get around pretty easily. After a year I could talk with anyone about anything. I didn't always understand every word, but I knew enough that I could ask for explanations and definitions. It's amazing how much people will help you when they see you are trying and how much you can learn if you try.

To me it just stands to reason that if you move to a country where you don't speak the language, you learn the language of the country you are in. That country shouldn't have to learn your language just so you feel at home. I think how much I would have missed out on if I'd had that attitude in France and Switzerland. It's important to adapt, and life is better for you when you do. I grew to appreciate the beauty of the French language, the pride the people have in it and saw how much they respect those who work to learn it.

It's not that hard to learn a foreign language, especially when you are completely immersed in it--when you are living in the country and surrounded by it every day. When I spent 3 weeks in Mexico I spoke to people in Spanish as much as I could, and by the time I came home my Spanish had improved tremendously.

I know everyone is not linguistically inclined, and English can be a real challenge as languages go, but anyone can learn another language if they try. I don't expect perfection. I just want communication and respect for the language of my forefathers. English.

Is it too much to ask?


beth said...

I think English is the unofficial official language (if that makes sense). Typically, signs, information, products, etc, are all written in English, and it's universally expected.

Also, as it is well known that English is the universally expected language of America, I consider it only polite that anyone, whether immigrant or tourist, at least attempt the language, just as I do when I travel to other countries.

But I do not think that English should be an official language of America. One of the things I love best is that America's so wide open--no official language, no official religion, no bans on alternate beliefs in government (i.e. you can be communist), etc. Developing an official language for America would be as atrocious to me if we developed an official religion, or took away the right to vote. While I do think it is rude for others not to speak the accepted language of a country, I also do not think it is right to force them to.

Alyssa said...

"If you move to a country where you don't speak the language, you learn the language of the country you are in." - HEAR, HEAR!! I couldn't agree more.

"It's not that hard to learn a foreign language" - again, HEAR, HEAR!! It really isn't that hard. I've only been speaking ASL since January and I can already interpret for church.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I agree that immersion is the best way. I spent one week in Peru, and my meager Spanish improved in that short of time. Of course I have forgotten all of that Spanish since...

B.J. Anderson said...

I completely agree with you on this one. If I ever move out of country, I will be learning the language, no question about it.

Silicon Valley Diva said...

I have so much respect for people who uproot themselves and live in another country and try to master that language. When my husband came to America more than 12 years ago, his English was pretty weak. He has come such a long way since then! He doesn't need me to correct his English as often as he used to lol.

Lady Glamis said...

My aunt and uncle lived in Germany for TWELVE years and never learned German. They even lived in a small German village off the military base they worked at. I can't imagine living anywhere for longer than a year and not at least try to learn the language!

lotusgirl said...

Beth, I can totally see your point. I didn't realize that English isn't our official language. I think there should at least be one common language in the US. I'm not saying that other languages shouldn't be used. I love diversity. I just think that it would be nice if people tried to be considerate all the way around.

A, I was thinking of you and your ASL when I was writing this. It's amazing how quickly you've gotten so proficient at it.

Jessie, Yep. There's nothing like being surrounded by the language to help you learn it or force you to learn it.

BJ, Yea! I think it's the best way.

SVD, Kudos to your husband. I really respect those who work at learning English. I know it's not a particularly easy language. I'm especially impressed when non-native speakers learn to spell well in English.

Glam, I can't believe your aunt and uncle lived in Germany that long and never learned the language. I wouldn't have been able to help myself. It's harder for military because they are surrounded mostly by Americans, but I just think of all the things they missed out on in their small village. The friends they could have made. That's too bad.

Patti said...

My sister lived in Germany as well and didn't learn the language, her daughters tried hard. She did; however, know how to ask "Do you speak English," in German.

But I totally agree. If you're going to move somewhere at least attempt to try and speak the language. In Canada we're duo language. Everyone speaks English except Quebec, but we still have to have French on all of our government signs.

I had a telemarketer call the other day and I couldn't understand a word they said, so it was easy to say no. I guess that could be one advantage.

T. Anne said...

If I'm there to live, absolutely! There's no excuse to not at least trying.

celeste said...

Another great post!

Ethan is in Mexico and his first companion is a young Mexican missionary who only speaks two or three words of English.(got that info straight from the Mission President's wife) Needless to say, I'm sure Ethan's Spanish will quickly improve. Dennis is brushing up on his Japanese. Emilee is in her fourth year of German. Mom is the only slacker in this family!

lotusgirl said...

Patti, It's always good to have an excuse to get rid of telemarketers.

T. Anne, Hear! Hear! That's what I'm saying.

Celeste, It cracks me up that after all that German Ethan is having to learn Spanish. For you I think it's a matter of not living in another country. If you were to live in a foreign country you would work at learning the language. Tell Dennis that Elizabeth is learning Japanese right now and doing pretty well. She loves it. She's always saying thing to me in Japanese. I'm starting to pick some of it up.

Kasie West said...

I live in California and maybe that's why this isn't a touchy subject for me. It really doesn't bother me when people don't learn English (I think it would make their lives easier, but it doesn't bother me). By the same thought, when I travel, I don't really try to learn the language of the country I'm visiting either.

I have other touchy subjects (believe me) but this isn't one of them. I'm surrounded by foreign language speakers here. It's kind of cool.

As far as other countries, I think people feel inclined to learn English because Europe is a comparatively small geographical area with many languages spoken. You could be a German speaker and travel 3 hours and be in France. It's important for them to have a "common" language because of the close proximity in which they all live.

Crimogenic said...


I was talking about this the other day with a friend. I just don't get it. I have a friend whose father has been here for 12 years and does not speak a word of English. From my perspective, it just seems like it makes things harder for him. But then again he lives in a community with people who don't speak english either.

lotusgirl said...

Kasie, I totally understand for a vacation trip not learning the language, even though a couple phrases would be helpful. I think it's great to have the diversity. It doesn't bother me that they speak whatever language among themselves, but I just wish they'd learn the language here so that when they need it they've got it. What really got this started running around in my head was trying to communicate with people that are doing work for me. Comprehension was non-existent, and we were frustrated on both sides. These people have been here for at least a year and I think a lot longer than that. I'm thinking it alienates the non-English speakers from the English speakers.

Crimey, I would think it would make it harder for him. It seems the community around him that does't speak English makes it possible for him to avoid learning it.

The Things We Carried said...

I have read of older people who immigrated here and just could not go from Korean, or Mandarin, and so on, to English. They felt isolated, shamed, and their children became their voices. It changed my perspective on this subject.

I am now compassionate to those older folks who have notlearned my language.

That said, if I moved to another country (as I hope to do someday!), I would do all I could to become fluent in the language there, and that is what I feel I should be willing to do.

Pen Pen said...

I'm really close to the Mexico border down here in Houston, and I actually had a run in with this yesterday. I honestly don't care too much about the signs that they put in English and then Spanish down here-If I was an immigrant, it would help me learn, but I NEEDED to know what this sign at a gas station meant yesterday-It was an official sign about prices, and it was totally in Spanish. I went in and asked the help guy-and he didn't know what it said either!! I mean, I can't put a possible flammable liquid in my car without knowing what the RED SIGN on the pump says!!!

lotusgirl said...

ttwc, I feel for the older generation, and I understand their plight.

Pen Pen, that's crazy that the sign was not in English. That's a real problem.

Davin Malasarn said...

Lois, you know I'm very grateful that you learned French! :) I agree with you. When I was living in France, I tried hard to learn the language because I knew it would be worth my while. Really, I think we do a disservice to ourselves when we don't learn a new language. Especially as writers, having a different vocabulary, a different way to express emotion, is so important.

lotusgirl said...

Such a great point, Davin. We really miss out as masters of words when we limit opportunities we have to learn new ones. I learned more about English grammar in Latin than I ever did in English class.