Having spent a good chunk of time abroad in the past year, I've come to realize the importance of language. As in, being able to communicate in ones you don't speak.
It led me to bring up a controversial issue -- the idea that America should actually embrace more languages
-- in my post last week.
Here's my argument: I don't speak Czech. I don't speak German, Austrian or Hungarian either, but that didn't keep me from getting around those countries on my first trip abroad. Often the menus, and the dishes, were written in several languages, including English, for the tourists' sake. Which made it possible for me to know what I was ordering, smile and point.
Not in America. Here, it's English or starve. We don't even accommodate our own second language: Spanish. I mean, if you come to America, you better learn the language, right? I'm pretty sure I've said that before and meant it, but after traveling abroad and having trouble asking for simple things like a bathroom or a tissue to blow my nose, I see why being a multilingual nation could greatly help our failing economy.
So why don't we have more multilingual signage, menus and packaging? We sure have enough citizens of different stripes.
I'm aware of the outrage (some) people feel about illegal immigrants. So let's leave them aside for a minute. But what about the tourists?!
Tourists spend money, and we need it. So why not make it easier for them to get around? Spend 10 minutes outside the United States, and you will see what a relief it is to see the word "Schnitzel" written in your own native tongue.
Why don't we, as Americans, want to be a part of making that accessible to as many people as possible? From as many places as possible? America isn't just for those of us who happen to live here -- it represents so much to so many. It's the American Dream.
And living it -- even if you're only here for a week or two -- would be far easier if we were more willing to translate.
When the train schedule is posted in your language, it feels like a warm hug in a foreign land -- like you're welcome there. Now I'd like to return the favor. I would like to extend that sort of lingual hug (oh, quit it, bottom-dwellers) to as many people from as many different countries as possible.
Of course, not everybody agrees with me. One Lemondrop reader, Chistaya
, pointed out that I might only notice the "warm, friendly hug of English" because well, that's what we speak.
She thinks it's totally impractical for us, as a country, to provide for the language needs of every visiting foreigner because, and I kind of agree, how do you choose?
"Oh, please, tell us, author," she wrote, "when you were in all those foreign countries, how many of them had their menus and restroom signs and train schedules posted in every single spoken language in the world, plus Esperanto and Klingon? ... Perhaps two hundred years ago, things would have been double printed in French. Maybe 50 years from now it will be Mandarin. So what? There are over 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. Which ones would you like to start with? Better use them all, because we wouldn't want anyone to think we didn't honor their culture as much as someone else's."
swooped in as the voice of reason. "It's not that other countries want to welcome us in a warm embrace -- they operate in multiple languages out of necessity," she says.
"For example, if you lived in Maryland and the surrounding state [sic]
all spoke different languages, chances are you'd know how to speak more then your native language. So I don't think it's fair to insinuate that Americans only speak English simply because we're lazy and arrogant; we just don't have the same social and cultural pressures that other countries do."
But I want to know what you think: Do foreign countries adopt English because it's beneficial to them, not us? And should we be embracing more languages in America? Tell us, below.
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