To anyone in America who moans over the fact that they have to push “1″ for English when they call customer service; to anyone in the US who thinks our country is headed downhill because teenagers can be heard on buses across our nation conversing in languages you don’t understand; to anyone who does not see a need to correct their child when that child is blatantly making fun of someone with a different accent than them; to anyone who cries “well, when my ancestors came here they learned ENGLISH! They didn’t expect everyone else to learn their language! They became AMERICAN!”; to anyone who has ever looked at a 5-year old child in an ELL class with contempt because their parents didn’t know enough English to teach them the basics for passing the inane exams required in public school; to anyone who whines about the “lazy immigrant minorities” getting free rides to college without having to work as hard as “real American” kids; to anyone who has ever, even once, listened to a child speaking Spanish and thought “you will one day be a drain on MY society”;  …. I have news for you, my friend….

You sound like an ass. And you don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Not a clue.

I am in the minority where I am. I do not have the basic grasp of the local language (Spanish) needed to pass fourth grade exams in this country. I would fail. Miserably. I am the one who needs to have officials repeat instructions over and over again because my language skills are still developing. I am the one who sits on the bus and jabbers away to my partner in a language no one around us understands. I am the one who does not, not even for a second, expect anyone in this country to learn my language but does, just once in a while, wish I could turn my brain off, push “2″ for Inglés, and get the f***ing instructions in a a language I understand! I am the one with the accent that makes it impossible to pronounce some Spanish words correctly. I am the one people could get irritated with because I get things “handed to me” seemingly because of my lack of language comprehension. I am the one whose brain is going, going, going all the time as I try to follow conversations and pick up new phrases. I am the one, I am sorry to say, that some people might look at and think “your presence here is the reason my society, my community, my family is changing.”

Aaron is upstairs repeating Spanish words over and over to himself as I type this. He reads Spanish newspapers and meticulously looks up every single word he does not understand. He has been at it for months. I try to get out every single day and practice my Spanish with everyone that will let me. I buy groceries in Spanish, argue with boat drivers in Spanish, ask for directions in Spanish, and talk to babies in Spanish. Today, both of us visited a government office to obtain instructions on some paperwork we need to complete- in Spanish. We were there for over an hour trying to comprehend instructions that should have taken 20 minutes to communicate. Neither of us could pass an elementary school exam en Español. If we were school kids, we would both need language services.

Do you know how people treat us here? Do you have any idea how they treat us?

WONDERFULLY! 

People slow their Spanish down so we can participate in conversations, guide us to the right place when we aren’t comprehending complex directions, smile at us and listen patiently while we try our best to communicate, and welcome us into their homes for “extra practice”. We do not get ridiculed; we are not accused of being lazy; we are not told we should “leave the country until we learn the language”. We do not expect people here to cater to our lack of language comprehension, they show us kindness because we are human and so are they. We appreciate that. Not only do we appreciate it, it makes us feel comfortable enough to practice, practice, practice our Spanish without fear of judgment or ridicule.

I can feel you getting upset already. I can hear your protests… “I don’t have a problem with people who actually TRY to learn our language! I don’t have a problem with people like YOU! I have a problem with the lazy immigrants who don’t bother to learn English and become real AMERICANS! What’s wrong with THAT?!”

Well, a lot is wrong with that.

First of all, “our” language in America is varied and diverse. Despite popular belief, we do not have an official language. I hope it stays that way. The language of the US is the language of immigrants. English from the first settlers, new words with no English equivalent peppered in from the far corners of the earth, phrases made popular after they were first heard streaming out of open tenement windows. Modern day American English itself can be heard in an unbelievable amount of variants across the country. New Yorkers, Bostonians, and Georgians can all agree that “English” is just a bit different depending on your location in our fine nation. The definition of “our” language is far more complex than “English”. Just ask someone from Great Britain and they’ll set you straight on what “English” really is.

Second, please explain to me how you know how hard or how long someone has been working to learn English? It seems to me that unless you have seen someone’s passport, you have no idea how long any immigrant has been in the USA. In fact, you don’t even know if they are an immigrant, short-term, or a long-term visitor. You also have not one inking of a clue as to how hard someone has been working to learn English nor do you hold the definitive definition of “working hard” or “lazy”. So, here’s a thought… back off.

Third, since when did the definition of “American” come to rest solely upon your definition of acceptable English comprehension? And what the hell does “real American” even mean?!

Finally, I am very glad you don’t have a problem with language learners “like me” but let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we? You don’t have a problem with language learners “like me” because I am American. Better yet, I’m white. Even better still, my first language is English. Ask yourself this, friends….. how many times have you walked by an English language learner with brown skin and thought to yourself “Gee, she is sure working hard to learn English! What a fabulous addition to our country!” Never. Of course not. Because somehow every brown-skinned newcomer to the USA who barely knows any English is someone you now first assume to be 1) “illegal” 2) lazy 3) a possible terrorist and/or 4) a drain on society. Stop wasting your time trying to justify judgements based on ignorance, look beyond your own biased assumptions, and show a little kindness to your fellow man. Geez.

Learning a new language is a task that is not well understood by anyone who has not done it. And, no, high school French does not count. As our 13 year old travel buddy realized a few months ago, an “A” in an American foreign language class means absolutely nothing when you are actually tasked with communicating with people who ONLY speak that language.

For those of you who are so upset about people in America who “refuse to learn G** D*** ENGLISH” here’s a newsflash…. LEARNING A LANGUAGE IS RIDICULOUSLY HARD! Especially as an adult. On top of that, the language you are so upset that “immigrants refuse to learn” is one of the most difficult and non-sensical languages in the entire world. Learning a language takes time, practice, and patience. Learning it well takes years and is much better done in an environment where the learner feels comfortable making mistakes, saying silly things by accident, and knowingly saying the wrong thing in an effort to just communicate and learn the right way to say it next time.

Belittling English language learners, calling them names, looking upon them with disgust and distrust, judging them negatively based solely upon their language ability, and singling out their children for ridicule is the absolute worst way to support people learning English. THE WORST. 

No one moves to a new country thinking “I just won’t learn the language! That will be fun!”. The ancestors whose memory you invoke to belittle current immigrants certainly didn’t think that. They did, in fact, work hard to learn the language to at least a passable degree and didn’t purposely hold their kids back from learning English. They also simultaneously worked their butts off raising kids, trying to make money, running a house, and learning all of the cultural nuances that come with moving to a new country. Guess what? It’s the same story for current immigrants.

In other news, your ancestors were treated poorly for any number of reasons by the “real Americans” of the time (sound familiar?) and would be absolutely horrified to know that you are invoking their names and their super-human language abilities to make life harder on new immigrants. A few of you have an Italian grandmother who never stopped speaking Italian, the language of her grandparents. Well, guess what? Some Mexicans don’t want to forget how to speak Spanish….. the language of their grandparents. Crazy, isn’t it?

Who do you think you are? You think you know who non-English speaking American immigrants are…. but who do you think YOU are?

I am the descendant of immigrants who looks on in befuddlement and disgust at the way some of my fellow citizens treat new immigrants, often based solely on a language barrier. I am a descendent of immigrants who believes that our “melting pot” is always made more interesting when new voices are added to the mix, no matter which language is their first. I am the descendent of immigrants who has benefited from the journey my ancestors took to create the life they wanted and believe all people should still be free to do the same and that language should not be an indication of worthiness for such a right. I am a descendent of immigrants who thinks politics too often trumps common sense and creates a barrier to treating individual people with respect, kindness, and dignity. I am also currently a language learner who appreciates kindness and guidance over negativity and hostility.

My honest thoughts on the matter?

Pushing “1″ for English is not going to give you a finger sprain, it’s a first world problem and you need to find something worthy to complain about. Current immigrants are not beneath you nor are they “not really American” because they have not yet learned (or may never learn) English to an “acceptable” degree. The rest of the world values knowledge of several languages and children in most other countries know 2, 3, or even 4 languages; your contempt for the kids chattering on the bus in an unfamiliar language is not only misspent energy it betrays your lack of knowledge in this area. Your sweet children who are making fun of that other kid for his accent are being bullies, be an adult and tell them to knock it off. While you’re at it, do us all a favor and educate them on their own immigrant roots.

And finally….

Get over yourself. Your immigrant ancestors did not have super-human language learning skills any more than mine did. My great-grandmother had an accent until the day she died and so did yours. Have a little compassion. It goes a long way.