I don’t get the whole brouhaha

We had a new ordinance pass in a small town here in MN. I’m not sure if any of you’ve heard it or not. I can’t imagine it went national but hey, who knows. Here it is: Lino Lakes, MN to pass English only ordinance.

Okay, normally I would say that’s fine and a good idea. But there are a few things here that bother me. They are stating it’s for “future budget impact of translating documents to other languages.” The funny thing is they’re not spending any on that now. So I’m wondering if they’re worried about the Arizona law passing and people migrating? I’m just not sure why they felt they had to make a decision like this.

Also, it does bother me somewhat because immigrants that are here legally and learning to speak English, I feel, have a right to read something important so that they understand it. I’m not in any way a “press 1 for English” person. I feel anyone who wants to live here should speak English but not all people know that language when they first come here and I feel until they learn, it should be there. Also, for elderly people, English is very hard to learn and for important things….you know??

So just what do you make of this? People are calling “racist” but I don’t buy that. They aren’t mentioning any language and people come here from all over. We have directions in French, German, Spanish and many others when we buy something as simple as a telephone so no, I don’t buy that. They’re trying to prove some kind of a point, I just can’t figure out what that point is.

So this brings us to the good question the following night. Should immigrants learn English? I really feel everyone should speak English just so we can communicate with one another. It’s the language our ancestors picked and I feel if we are all going to be “one,” we need to speak the same thing.

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19 Responses to I don’t get the whole brouhaha

  1. Sue says:

    I don’t even know where to begin b/c we’ve been having similar discussions at work! I feel that if you’re going to live in a country that does not speak your native language, you should learn the country’s native language. There are too many things that happen in your life that are ‘important’ and to not understand them b/c you don’t want to learn a language is kind of a sad excuse. In my job, it’s very frustrating when the patient doesn’t speak English and the nurse/doc/anesthesia is trying to explain what’s happening. All you get is a blank scared stare! It has happened more than once that a non English speaking patient has come in after hours and there we are needing to do surgery and the patient has not a clue what you’re saying! Yes, we have interpretors, but not always at 10pm or 2am.

    As far as what this city did, I’m not sure what their goal is either. If you don’t budget for it now, why even worry about it? I think they’re jumping the gun a little!

  2. LVISS says:


  3. SKL says:

    I absolutely believe that anyone choosing to live in the USA should have a serious goal of being able to communicate important “external” things in English. So you can understand what your kids are dealing with in school, talk to doctors and nurses, learn the laws that apply to your situation, understand the issues you will vote on (assuming citizenship is a goal), report emergencies and crimes, understand emergency instructions, get and keep a job, pay your bills, read signs and warnings . . . it’s unreasonable to expect all of this to be translated into every other language. Even if it is, how can you really be confident it’s being translated right?

    A couple of real life examples come to mind.

    One, a Hispanic woman claimed she was sterilized without her consent after giving birth. Doctor claims she said she didn’t want any more children and asked him to arrange that for her. Patient claims she never wanted to be permanently sterilized. Obviously a huge communication problem, most likely due to a language barrier.

    Two, when I adopted my girls, I learned everything about them through interpreters. Over the years, I have realized that some of the things I was told were most likely inaccurate. I just assumed the translator would be accurate, but what if she really didn’t understand English well enough to translate my questions? Another thing, due to a translation error, all of Little A’s special things that were meant to help bridge her transition from foster care to “home” were lost. So even though there was a translator involved in all communications (and even though I understand some Spanish), we still had some screw-ups.

    When I go to another country, I don’t expect accommodations, except at places where international travelers come through every day – the big airports and nearby hotels, travel guides, etc. I have managed to get by without being able to “speak,” because there are some things everyone understands. But if I’m more than a tourist, I’m either learning the language or hiring me a full-time translator (or both). As it is, people get irritated with my foreign-ness. How come the USA is the only country where we apologize to foreigners for not knowing “their” languages?

    If there were only one foreign language spoken in the US, that would be one thing, but we’re talking hundreds of languages. I understand in some of those southern cities where a large % (sometimes a majority) speak Spanish, you are wise to learn Spanish and write standard stuff (forms, etc) in Spanish. Not because it’s your “duty,” but because it’s practical. I still think “they” should learn English as well, if their goal is citizenship. How can you really be a participating American if you can’t read the founding documents?

    My kids’ ex-nanny (now Saturday nanny) frustrates me, because she won’t read to the girls, not to mention her poor English grammar and pronunciation. I also think she does not read signs such as the rules posted by the pool. It’s hard to say just how much she can understand, because she rarely admits it when she’s confused. She does go to a Spanish-speaking lawyer and accountant for important stuff, and I commend her for that. But I think as a caretaker to English-speaking kids, she ought to be working really hard on improving her English. Just because it’s possible to “get by” doesn’t mean it’s right. And sooner or later, it will catch up with them.

    Not sure why they felt the need for that law. Maybe someone had suggesting translating some documents during a recent meeting. Or like you said, maybe they are making a statement. I think the Federal government should translate forms and instructions and such, but I don’t think every small town should have to do so. It’s too hard to spread the cost for a small town. I think that for the most part, if you need a foreign language translation of something, you should be prepared to pay for it.

    • mssc54 says:

      SKL you are too intelligent to act like you don’t know what’s going on with your nanny. Employees ONLY do what is required of them by their employer. If she isn’t reading to the children it’s because it is not REQUIRED. 😉

      • SKL says:

        I know I am a softy. I did fire her, by the way, after about 17 months; now she only comes on Saturday mornings. I asked her numerous times to change certain things and she would always say “yes, of course” but still not change most of them. I said, please talk to them in Spanish since you aren’t teaching them proper English; she wouldn’t do that either. I felt sorry for her with her employability issues and special-needs daughter to take care of, but eventually I had to put my kids’ interests first – they needed to be exposed to proper English well in advance of school age. Now she is caring for another baby who is about 1.5, and I am pretty sure she’s not working on her English still. You’d think a person would learn . . . .

  4. Ellen says:

    Being an immigrant, I can only agree with all of you. It is ridiculous, that people, who want to live here, do not want to speak English. Here, in CA they have everything in English and Spanish? My question is, Why??? Are we living in the States of in Mexico? Come on, learn the language at the free schools that are all over CA for immigrants, or better, when you decide to live in the States, start to learn the language before you enter this country. It sounds maybe strange, but when people wants to emigrate to the Netherlands, they have to to a citizen test: Know the basic rules, know, some laws, know the culture, way of life and know the basic of the Dutch language. Especially for the adults, it is necessary to do that. Otherwise, they stay in there house and do not integrate with the Dutch society. Children do learn it easily at school and on the playground. I had to do my biometrics recently, and luckily all the form were only in English. There were women of my age or younger, that had their daughters with them to fill in the forms. How isolated can you make yourself and how committed are you then to be a part of this country. But again, this is my opinion.

    • Joy says:

      It’s kind of sad also that these “older” people can’t really live their own lives nor can their children if they have to go everywhere with them in order to read and talk “for” them. I never really thought of that. I know I go with my mom to important things but that’s for moral support and not because I have to communicate for her.

  5. Laura says:

    Joy, you make a good point about gov’t forms being a necessity, however… where does it stop? As someone, possibly SKL mentioned, we’re not just talking about English and Spanish here. There are hundreds of pockets of non-English speaking groups around. Near my parents, there are whole strip-malls where every single sign is written in some form of Arabic (and, strangely enough, not an English word can be found on those signs…). I know that in Chicago, there are mini-“towns” – ChinaTown, GreekTown, etc. Given that those people also live in the region, exactly how many languages should the government translate documents into. Because if you do one, you must do them all, lest someone come after you for discrimination.

    I agree with most here that, if you’re going to be a citizen of this country, you learn English. If I’m going to France with the intention of becoming a French Citizen, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m purchasing one of those language-learning computer programs and getting started, or going to a class, or something.

    Now, as for private organizations (like those strip malls near my parents house)? They can do whatever they want. Unfortunately, “press 1 for English” usually falls under that umbrella, because most places I’m calling that do that are private. Drives me up a wall, but it’s their prerogative. So it’s also my prerogative to not call them or use their services… of course, then I’m going to end up stringing my own phone cord, creating my own cellular network, building my own car, heating my home with wood, etc., etc., etc…

  6. Joy says:

    I absolutely feel if you live in this country that you must be able to speak the language of the USA. I only meant in the very beginning while they are learning should these materials be available to them.

    I also like what Ellen said about starting to learn “before” you come here. I sure know I would. It’s not like you decide to move and leave the next day.

    • Laura says:

      The problem with the “beginning learner” is… how do you know that they are “beginners”? And when are they not beginners? If they know that they must speak English (not fluently, just functionally) in order to obtain a driver’s license, or qualify for social security, or get a library card or whatever… they’ll do it a lot faster than they will if the stuff is available, even only to “beginners”. Otherwise, they’ll claim to be “beginners” ten years down the road!! The Human Being is a lazy one… it’ll take the simpler path 9 times out of 10.

      • Joy says:

        *shakes head* You’re right.

      • SKL says:

        Yeah, Nanny had been in this country for 10 years when I hired her. She had worked with English-speaking kids the whole time. In my home, when the kids napped, she would watch the Spanish channel and read books in Spanish. She got all her news in Spanish, etc. I can understand wanting some ease and comfort, but I would think you’d want to spend at least an hour a day being immersed in the language of the country you aspire to call your own. (She was expecting her citizenship to be final this summer.)

  7. kweenmama says:

    Others said it before me…if I chose to go live in another country I would learn the native language so that I could function there. I’ve never understood why certain groups expect US to conform to THEM. It is almost like they expect us to learn THEIR language because THEY moved here!

    • Ellen says:

      I do not think those people do think that far 🙂 It is a kind of ignorance to come here and not speak the language. It is as when you go somewhere and forgot your wallet. Oops, can you borrow me some coins, please??? And to be honest, I think this country makes it so easy for immigrants. Not to come into the country, that is, believe me, a lot of work. No, America accept that lots of Spanish speaking people do not speak English. In town hall, at doctors offices, etc. they hire only people who are bilingual to “help” those persons. I do not think it is helping, I think it is keeping them “low”. I am forced to learn the Spanish language if I want to work there or I do not get that job. A bit inconsequential. I am so glad nothing is in the Dutch language here (except some Dutch friends 🙂 ), otherwise my English would never improve.

      • Joy says:

        You’re so right Ellen. In order to learn anything, you need to do it. The more you do it the better you get. You’ve added a lot to this conversation. Thank you. I never really even thought about hospitals until you and Sue mentioned it.

  8. Nikki says:

    I agree, live here, then speak the language that was given to us. We all had to learn it, every ancestor before us learned it. I have heard it is a hard language to learn. So? Get on it..IF you are going to live here.
    I do think other languages should be available. It makes me think, what if I went to another country to visit. I’d like to have SOME things in English. I feel we are such a diverse world, and so many travel, that it’s kind of foolish to not provide some other languages.

    • Laura says:

      I don’t think I’d have a problem if stuff was provided out of courtesy, but suddenly, it’s a requirement – and that’s what happens when the gov’t gets involved. And in this case – with the town’s governmental and administrative forms – they either restrict to English, or they have to print in every language that a citizen requests. So if one citizen comes into town and speaks Swahili, and requests the forms be printed in Swahili, they’d have to do it. Same with [pick a language]…

      I do not, however, have any argument with either private corporations or not-for-profits printing up those forms (or any others) and donating them for use.

  9. mssc54 says:

    Both of my parents were born in Cajun Country Louisiana. My father’s family was so Cajun that when he started school he could not speak English only French. So since the second grade teacher spoke both English AND French he started school in the second grade.

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