I'm from the States.
Have you ever heard someone outright say or imply that foreigners who move to the States just need to learn to speak English?
Many years ago, I think I might have actually said it myself. Something to the effect of: "If they want to come live in our country, they need to learn to communicate in English."
I don't feel nearly so dogmatic about it, now.
Maybe because I've walked more than a single mile in those shoes. And I probably have many more to walk...
There's a joke you hear circulating in many expat communities. I've heard a few variations, but it basically goes like this:
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
~ European or South American
What do you call someone who speaks four languages?
What do you call someone who speaks five or more languages?
What do you call someone who speaks only one language?
~ AmericanAnd people laugh - especially in those expatriate circles.
Why is it funny? Because... in the majority of instances, it is true - sadly and sometimes embarrassingly so.
Connor Ludovissy, in an article titled "Monolingual America" published on line in September of 2011, writes:
...The vast majority of us are more or less globally illiterate, despite the growing number of people in the United States for whom English is not a first language. In the age of globalization, United States citizens must learn to speak more than English or face the consequences – a weaker position internationally and an increasingly difficult time communicating back in the States.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 47 million United States residents reported that they spoke a language other than English at home in 2000. In 2007, that number jumped to 55 million. That’s about 14 and 18 percent of the population, respectively. Not only that, but Americans do business all over the world and offer aid to numerous countries in times of distress. We negotiate with foreign governments and merchants, we tour foreign countries and we study abroad at foreign schools. Yet only 26 percent of adult Americans claim to speak a foreign language well enough to maintain a conversation, according to the Gallup organization.
How could this happen? How could a country with such far-reaching influence have so little experience with foreign languages? How could the so-called “melting pot of the world” be an English-only environment?
The answer is pretty simple – our disregard for other languages probably stems from good, old fashioned arrogance. We perceive that we do not need to learn any languages other than English, so we don’t. As a powerful country, we prefer to make other countries learn our language instead of learning theirs.As one who is working on learning bits and pieces of both 3rd and 4th languages, as one who still struggles to communicate in the truly local heart languages of the people who live all around me...
Can I encourage you to be gracious and welcoming when the Lord causes your path to intersect with that of someone who doesn't speak English?
Can I also encourage you, that when God gives you the opportunity to friend someone who does not speak English as his/her first language, take the time and make the effort to learn some words in their mother tongue... their heart language... instead of insisting on English.