It may come as a surprise to some of you that English is not my first language. While it is true that it has been my primary language for over two-thirds of my life, I can honestly say that it was a five-year uphill battle to master. Yes, I had English classes one hour a day every school day, and our greatest accomplishment was to know the name of things and places, and to be able to conjugate the verbs up and down and know enough to be able to read my textbooks for chemistry and physics in English but I could not put a sentence together nor could I understand a word somebody was trying to tell me, much less pronounce the words correctly.
When I emigrated to the United States in January of 1972 to the state of California I had to come to grips with the fact that either I learned the language, or I would not be able to complete my studies and have a good job. In those days I never heard the nonsense that I hear a lot today that if you learn English you are going to lose your identity and who you are. The truth is that the only thing I lost was the inability to understand and communicate with people.
In those days we had a group of volunteers in every town that helped with free classes of “English as a Second Language”. To this day I can see the faces of the two ladies that came to our house every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to teach us and help us, and I can also see the face of the first-grade teacher who gave me private lessons for over six months. I can honestly say that because of these three kind people and their dedication to help that I was able to start speaking English and attend college courses and go back to work in IT. Without them I would not be sharing this with you today.
The same problem still exists today. We have far too many people that are not English speakers and are being taken advantage of because they don’t know their rights and don’t know what they can do about the abuses that they are subjected to.
A few years ago, the situation was reversed. I had to work in Mexico City, and we needed to have Spanish classes for my wife and our daughter. My wife took classes at the UNAM, the National University in Mexico City, but our daughter had to learn as part of the school day, with some classes in English and some in Spanish. When first we got there, we had a church that had an English Mass that we could attend, one that soon we lost and had to adjust to attend Mass in Spanish all the time.
My daughter and I were involved with the English as a second language program with the church in Ardmore a few years back. There are still many programs around that can help people that want to learn and integrate into the society, I can personally vouch for the fact that they will never lose their identity or their culture. Yes, I have acquired some customs over the years, but to this day I can still speak Spanish fluently and know exactly who I am and where I came from.
If you are a business owner consider how much business you may be losing due to the language barrier. There are many things that you can do to help people feel more comfortable walking into your business. You may provide pictures of items or have descriptions in languages other than English. Although not perfect, try the internet translators, many of the main search engines provide one, I prefer Bing translate, it is far more accurate than others that I’ve tried. You also need to be aware that not all cultures use Arabic numbers in their language, we do use Arabic numbers, however, I have been to places where they use their own characters to depict numbers, and if it had not been for the fact that they used their characters and the Arabic numbers to show the prices I would not have survived the assignments or buy a little present for my daughter and wife in some of the airports where I had layovers.
And for those of us that don’t want to help because we are helping people integrate into our society and think that they will be taking our jobs I have a message, don’t be afraid to help those that do not speak English because you will not lose your customs or your identity or your jobs. You will enrich your life so much and in the process improve and increase the health of our communities, including economic health. We all become richer and enjoy life better and more to the full. Our community will not lose jobs, on the contrary, we will be creating more jobs, and in the process make new friends.