Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why we need English

Why do we need English as our official language? Because if we don't speak a common language, we can't communicate. Case in point is a recent controversy in the Herald. Many students have great difficulty communicating with foreign students. This illustrates the problems that can and will arise if we don't all speak the the same language. This comment summarizes the problem.

posted 9/29/06 @ 6:32 PM EST
Here is one thing you never, never want to do. Don't tell a professor you don't want to be in another group with an international student who won't pull his or her weight. I had the bad luck to be assigned to a group with two foreign students who I knew from class sessions didn't speak much English.

I had been in a group my prior, Sophomore year with a foreign student and had to do my portion of the work and hers because of her language and cultural difficulties. In other words you had to talk at half speed while she checked her dictionary and when she talked, which wasn't much, wait for her to go back and forth in her little dictionary looking for words in English. The cultural difficulties were that she didn't know how things work here so a lot of things made no sense to her even when she understood the literal translation of the words.

I would do no better in her country but I didn't go to her country and I ended up doing twice as much work and got dinged on the grade because she didn't participate in the class presentation of our work.

So, I didn't want to go through that double with two foreign students. When I asked to be assigned to a different group I got the kind of lecture Jonathan Silver would give me about cultural insensitivity, blah, blah, blah and my relationship with the professor went South and I got hurt on my grade.

Supposedly it is a great life skill to be able to deal with someone who doesn't speak much English or understand much about us but I don't imagine there are many companies in America where they hire a lot of people who barely speak any English and don't know anything about America except what they see on dubbed tv. The fact that I would do just as badly in their country is irrelevant because I'm not going to their country to impose myself on them.
Many commenters offer insights on this problem. Students from other countries can't speak English, and so hang out by themselves. Professors accommodate them with special treatment, which creates resentment. Criticizing this situation is politically incorrect, and will quickly get you labeled racist. There is a huge double standard for how Americans and foreign students are treated in parallel situations.

With both legal and illegal immigration out of control, this situation is only going to get worse. We need to create a culture that makes learning English imperative. Passing official English is one part of making that happen.

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