Be understanding of immigrants

By By Steven Warrick

By Steven Warrick

One common, but misguided, statement we often hear about Latino immigrants in the United States is: “Why don’t they learn to speak English?” The implication is that these people could easily be speaking our language but because of a combination of arrogance and contempt for American culture, they choose to continue speaking Spanish. Not only is this incorrect on the basis that many do speak English8212;a favor many Americans aren’t willing to return by learning Spanish8212;this view is also wrong with reference to their relationship to both our language and our culture.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States, numbering some 44.3 million people, out of which some 32.2 million people speak Spanish as their primary language at home. This makes the United States second only to Mexico in the number of people who speak Spanish. Utah has the 13th highest proportion of Spanish-speaking residents of the 50 states at some 9.4 percent. Latinos are also the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, mainly because of immigration. One of the responses to this immigration is the above quoted statement, which is unfortunately based on a number of misconceptions.

The first misconception is that these immigrants do not want to speak English. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you talk to people who are here from Mexico or other places in Latin America, you will find that most of them are very anxious to speak English and speak it well. Being able to speak English in the United States opens a whole new world of social, educational and career opportunities for immigrants. Most of us would no doubt prefer to speak the local language if we were living in a foreign country for an extended period of time.

One of the largest advertisers on Spanish language television networks such as Univision, Telemundo and Azteca America has been Lexicon Bilingual Resources, which has an office in Orem and markets Inglés sin Barreras (English without Barriers) and El Mundo Inglés de Disney (The English World of Disney) products to respectively teach adults and children English. Lexicon would not have done this if there was not a large group of Spanish-speaking people eager to learn English.

The second misconception is that it’s easy to learn English. Learning foreign languages is tough for many, if not most, adults. Companies such as Rosetta Stone and Berlitz have long capitalized on the difficulty Americans have in learning foreign languages. Considering the obvious difficulty of learning any language and America’s comparatively poor language acquisition on an international curve, you’d think we’d understand. I took Spanish at the U during Fall Semester of 2007. A lot of otherwise very good students did poorly or dropped the course. English is one of the more difficult Indo-European languages to learn because of its inconsistent rules and words with pronunciations that do not match their spellings.

Finally, there has been a major misconception about the threat that immigrants represent to our culture. Sure, they will impact our culture, but this is nothing new. There has been a strong Latino influence in American culture since the early 1800s, and this influence is part of what differentiates us from our British cousins. Our two most populous, and some would argue most “American,” states of Texas and California were part of New Spain and then Mexico before becoming part of the United States. There is a strong Latin influence evident in the names, architecture and customs of both states. Even the most American of all figures, the cowboy, came to us from Mexico.

At the same time, it should be remembered that we have influenced and continue to influence the culture of Latin America. Anybody doubting this should spend some time watching the above noted Spanish-language television networks. Latinos eat our food, watch our movies and listen to our music. It is likely that some of the immigration from Latin America to this country is motivated by an appreciation of American culture.

In the final analysis, if left to their own devices, many people will naturally adopt the better parts of those other cultures they come in contact with. We should neither fear what recent immigrants have to show us nor worry that our culture is noncompetitive.

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