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Sunday, October 07, 2007

New Dirty Words

We all know that there is certain language that one shouldn't use in polite company, at work, and at school. That language has typically been limited to the list of four letter words and slurs, or particularly hurtful talk.

That list is rapidly expanding. For example, my son told me on Friday that they are not allowed to say: "This is America, speak English". This new forbidden phrase was revealed to the student body in an assembly where a group of students acted out a little skit, where (I guess) some people were speaking a language other than English, and another kid said: "This is America, speak English." The students were then instructed that this was not allowed.

I am not so happy with this new rule. First of all, why isn't the school administration telling the foreign language speakers that it is rude to carry on a conversation in another language when not everybody can understand what is being said.

Secondly, why is the school interfering with the students' freedom of speech? High school students are old enough to regulate their own social interactions, without being censored by politically correct zealots.

Thirdly, forbidding English speaking students from speaking out against rude behavior is in effect forcing them to be subjected to rudeness without recourse. Are they just supposed to suffer in silence?

Didn't we all kind of agree that English was going to be the language we Americans speak? Neither my mother's nor father's families came from English speaking countries, but they happily learned English because that is the common language here, and they were here to be Americans. My father was 15 when he started learning English.

Shouldn't the school be actively encouraging speaking English? We really don't want this country to turn into a dual- or multi language country. Why? There is not one place in the world where two languages are spoken that doesn't have trouble because of it.

With all the different religions, cultures and traditions we have in the US, it is the use of a common language that unites us. You may be Jewish, your neighbor a Christian, and the mailman a Muslim. Perhaps the family across the street worships trees. But, when we open our yaps, we can talk to each other because we all speak English.

So, before it becomes a crime, I am going to say it!




Jessie said...

In California, we no longer have strictly spanish classrooms (other than the language course in HS) and we make the kids learn english...or thats what the law we passed said anyway.

Retro Housewife said...

This is in California! Not only that, they have taken time out of the kids' day and have given them "Extra lunch time" so that they can focus on the Non-English speaking kids.

Many resources are geared towards Spanish speakers...which is frustrating. Everything that gets sent home is in English and is a pain to try and read, and I wonder how much it costs to create everything twice, once in English and once in Spanish!

Anonymous said...

I understand why you want all Americans to speak English, but I lived in Japan for a year on student exchange and it is VERY lonely when you live in a country and dont speak the language. The kids speaking different languages are lucky to find someone they can actually communicate with, otherwise it would be nearly impossible for them to make friends with the kids who are lucky enough to have been born in America and who are actually able to speak "proper english".

Retro Housewife said...

I am not criticizing the kids for speaking Spanish amongst each other. What bothers me is the apparent attempt by the powers that be to put Spanish on equal footing with English, and preventing the kids from speaking out when it may be entirely appropriate.

When you were in Japan, did you insist that everything be translated into English? I sometimes feel like I am a foreigner in my own country. We are always in such a hurry to respect everybody else's culture, that we forget to respect our own.

Back to the school issue: like I said before, there will be situations where speaking up is appropriate, and others where it is not. You can't just forbid a phrase completely.


twinklemom said...

It sounds more like people are just afraid to say no...we've become a PC, people pleasing nation that we've forgotten basic common sense.

If we were to move to Japan...we would be required: 1. to have a necessary skill and 2. we would be required to learn the language..there is no sneaking in and there is NO tolerance

Unless we were in the military, the Japanese would not accomodate us with english translation and the trouble is that here in the States, we're more worried about everyone else then ourselves (not in a self center way but as in taking care of our own citizens).

It's disturbing the complacency and lack of common they are talking about tuition breaks for illegal why aren't we pushing for tuition breaks in other countries for AMERICAN students as well then?? Why are we the ONLY ones to have to take care of everyone else but our own.

How does that make us less "American"?

As for being lonely not speaking the language..there is such a thing as When in Rome do as the Romans which basically means...learn the language and the culture of the country you are in.

Macgyver Mommy said...

Sorry to inform you Retro Housewife Spanish IS on equal footing with English. I normally agree with your blog entries but I find this argument way too "retro." Saying "This is America. Speak English!" is a rude and ignorant way of voicing an opinion. We should not teach children to fight "rudeness" with "rudeness." Perhaps teaching a child to say "Please speak English when there are only English speakers around" would be a much nicer way to phrase this. I am a born American citizen, but I speak Spanish and English. My family immigrated here from Cuba in the 50's. My family is proud of its culture and language. I am not a minority anymore; neither is my mother. There is a large population of educated first generation citizens who speak English AND Spanish and will continue to do so within there communities along with their immigrant parents. BTW a good portion of the "hispanic" population in this country does not consist of uneducated illegals. On the contrary, the push towards teaching and allowing spanish to flourish as a language comes from many forces. Usually the phrase "This is America. Speak English!" is a phrase backed by anger regarding a troubling immigration problem we have in this country and the phrase has no place in a school where tolerance should be taught. I remember helping many girls who only spoke Spanish in high school. Our country was strange and new to them. Having a friend who they could communicate with made them light up and feel WELCOME. So I have to agree with the previous post Anonymous. Have you ever seen "Gangs of New York"? Perhaps you should rent it. Although it is a bit theatrical it brings home a good point. It is ignorant to fight change that comes from the melding of cultures; which is, by the way, the foundation of this country. OUR CULTURE? Just what is our culture? It is a melding of different cultures. The Anglo's treated the Irish horrendously when they arrived in America. They spoke differently (Oh No!) and were Catholic's (Gasp!). BTW I'M IRISH TOO! YIKES! Ever been to BOSTON? :-) They don't speak my English. Their dialect was influenced by immigrants. Our English language has changed (BTW OUR English is a variant of British English) and evolved with the addition of new cultures even early on. Most American citizens are the ultimate result of immigrants (unless you are Cherokee, Sioux, etc.). Etiquette regarding language use should be taught to foreign students and immigrants. However I agree with the school. Saying "This is America. Speak English!" is just as rude as speaking a foreign language in front of those who don't understand. But what if that is all you can speak! What if you just arrived in this country! What do you expect this poor kids to do? They aren't ALL illegals. Also, your point about "freedom of speech" totally negates your argument. Precisely because of "Freedom of Speech" foreign languages in this country have there place. "Freedom of speech" does not mean "Rudeness of Speech." I love ya Retro Housewife but there are many sides to this you may want to explore.

Retro Housewife said...

Macgyver Mommy:

Yes, there are better ways to correct somebody who is being rude, what I don't like is the school stepping in and telling them they can't say it.

Also, that's great that you speak Spanish and English, more power to you! I am bilingual too, and so are my kids and husband. I think everybody should have at least some foreign language training. My family spoke English at home, but both my parents spoke their respective languages in their parent's homes, and my grand parents seemed to know every eastern European foreigner from here to Toledo.

That's not really my point though.
My point is that for some reason, many "Latinos" seem to think that they are the only ones who showed up here poor and not speaking the language, and the rest of us are just a bunch of racists. Add the PC morons in the government to that, and you have the current situation of US government supported Mexican imperialism.

I am also well aware that many Spanish speakers are here legally. I have a very good friend from Chile who had to spend thousands to hire a lawyer during the 1986 amnesty to try and find some loop hole so that he could show that he had been here illegally. (He was one of the dumb ones who followed the law, and was therefore not
eligible for US citizenship.)

Finally, there is an American culture, it is exactly as you described; a melting pot. The problem is that there isn't much melting going on anymore. The pot has been pushed aside and now there are two pots, and the second pot is getting bigger and bigger and shows
absolutely no signs of slowing down.

If you are in the first pot, it can seem a bit unfair and at times somewhat daunting.

The Southern Fried Vegan said...

I'm finding a problem with your argument in that it is, in fact, rude to point out another's ettiquette indescretions.

Miguelina. said...

I agree that having every document, voicemail menu, etc in both English and Spanish is tiring. I don't think it's necessary.

But I have to agree with the others. Saying "THIS IS AMERICA! SPEAK ENGLISH!" is rude, and implies that those speaking Spanish are deserving of less respect than people who don't. If you're bothered by it, by all means, ask that the behavior be stopped. If someone was yapping away on their cell phone in front of you you wouldn't tell your kids that it's OK to yell "DON'T TALK ON THE PHONE! THIS IS AMERICA!" At least I hope so. Instead, you'd probably find a polite way to do it unless you thought the person on the phone was of a lesser status than you (and that would simply show lack of class on your part anyways, so it's probably not a good idea).

It is incorrect to say that "many" latinos are here legally - most of us are here legally, and aren't necessarily recent arrivals. Latinos that are law-abiding, productive members of society are the rule, not the exception.

I speak Spanish to my children in public, and I know that as an American it is my right to do so.

Anonymous said...

There are countries that speak different languages that are at about Switzerland...French, German, Italian, Swiss-Deutsch, and English? In London on the tube you hear several different languages spoken every day. Folks here know that English is the official language, but also recognize that the UK is multicultural and multilingual.

Sure, immigrants need to learn English to integrate into American society, but Americans are also notorious for being monolingual and isolationist too. I think that putting down recent immigrants for speaking in their mother tongue is just rude.

Anna Marie

Retro Housewife said...

A. It is not the speaking of the language that I have a problem with. That would be stupid. I would get just as riled up if the school administration told the kids that they had to speak English, and that speaking Spanish, Chinese, German or Pig Latin was forbidden.

What I dislike is for one group to be singled out and told "you may not say this". In my opinion, there are situations where this may be appropriate. Yes, there are many situations where it is rude. It depends on the situation.

B. Speak whatever you want to your kids, dogs, friends! But the language of the US is English, and no matter where you come from or what language you speak, it is in your interest to keep English as the language of the US.

I was just waiting from somebody to bring up Switzerland as an example. Yes, Switzerland has 4 official languages: German, French, Italian and Rumantsch. However, they are geographically separate. When you are in Geneva, you speak French, Zurich, German, etc. You don't just bop around and pick a language to speak based on your mood. The Swiss I have met usually speak only one or two of the 4. So yes, in Switzerland, it works. (BTW, Try to emigrate to Switzerland and see how that works for you...after you recover from the giant kick in the rear you will get booting you right out of the country, maybe you can share your experience!)

What about Spain? Belgium? Canada? How is it working out there? How about the former Yugoslavia? Like what happened there? Turkey? The USSR?

I mean what are a few bombs or armed uprisings or secession attempts between friends? Right?

It is far more important to be politically correct.

dogsRbetter said...

I usually keep my yap shut when hearing the rapid fire language of Spanish spoken. I have neither the energy nor the desire to take on the Politically Correct willing to give away vast sums of taxpayer money (it is MY money, and YOURS, not "the Governments"-think about THAT when you feel all warm and cozy about people who are breaking the law just to get here.) earmarked for infrastucture such as education, (we run out of paper in February here in California schools) medical care for indigent, roads, fire, law enforcement, other government services, housing, etc. This subject, however, just chaps my hide! I turned down a FREE 4 year scholarship because Spanish was a REQUIRED course. Not me. No one is going to force me to speak it, ever. I am sick, Sick, SICK and tired of pushing a number to hear the message in English. Everything BUT English should push a button. I refuse to shop at stores where English is the second language, will not hire illegals and refuse to have the employees of others, such as contractors, laborers, gardeners, etc. speak no English on my private property. This is MY right, so far, as an American, born and raised and I will have that right until the PC police decide differently, just wait. In California some schools are making children learn the Pledge in Spanish, the Star Spangled Banner, etc. If the rest of you want to give away the country, wait until I'm gone, willya? When they come to my door with guns and force me to use Spanish I will take a bullet instead. Ya'll just seem so doggone nice, and maybe that's why my country is being over run, overtaxed and going to hell in a hand basket. Is it discriminatory not to offer 40, 50, 100 languages? I am, by virtue of being asked to push a button for English, being discriminated against. Retro Housewife, you almost did it, you almost said it like you mean it. I plan to say it and keep on saying it, and I don't give a Rat's behind who likes it and who doesn't. dogsRbetter.

Anonymous said... about maybe looking at things from the other side...if it's reached the point that California is doing that and we have to have everything bilingual and even paperwork in two diffent languages...why just Spanish? There are other ethnicities that should have the same shouldn't they have the same paperwork in their language too...and while we're at it...I say when we go to OTHER don't would be nice if they do the same thing and require their citizens (we do have American's living there) to speak English and start providing English version of their stores, streets and menus to help accomodate not only Enlish speaking immigrants (and people do move to Mexico and other countries) so that we can live and work in that country too...

It would be nice for a change since we are having to switch a lot of things to Spanish here...that Mexico does the same for us and the same to be said when we go say to Italy and there are a LOT of military personnal living in Japan and I think that it's fair and our right to demand tha the Japanese start providing Enlish versions on their streets and menus and when we go to Cancun that everyone there who works with tourists provide english signs for the Americans visiting.

Why does the United States have to be the ONLY country to accomodate non-English speaking individuals but other countries don't?

It would save us having to learn a different language and read a different language when we decide to go on a trip overseas.

Why is it wrong for us to ask for that but not wrong for people to ask for things to be translated into Spanish?

What was it? Oh yes...I remember now from history, it's called assimilation of the we're being assimiliated into the Spanish culture and not vice versa, and speaking, reading and writing just English is wrong in our country but it's not wrong if say we go to Italy, Russia or Japan.

Hmm...does that mean using English is the next "dirty word"?

La Chouette said...

I'm a French Canadian. Meaning, I was born and raised in the French part of Canada (I live in Montreal which is bilingual - a bit more French than English) - please do not call me a frog or insult me with freedom fries comments OK? That is hurtful, I'm a nice person! Anyways, as you may know, French Canadians have fought to protect their language and culture within an English-speaking North-America. Most educated Montrealers are bilingual but we are proud of our French heritage - we live here since 1650... So, I understand perfectly well that Americans wish you keep their culture alive as well. It's not a rational issue. It's sentimental. Language is a part of your identity as a person and as a people. In Canada, we speak English in English-Canada and French in Quebec and other parts of French Canada. It works pretty well most of the time, like in Switzerland - it is unlikely that Quebec will separate from Canada at this point. When I see immigrants that neither learn French or English, it drives me crazy. Out of respect for the country that welcomed you to start a new life, you should make the effort to learn the local language. If I were to move to Italy, I would learn Italian and live my public life in Italian. I would not expect Italians to learn French of English to please me.

Anonymous said...

The two ladies being brave enough to respond to my post give me hope. That is a powerful thing. We saw hope at the Alamo. We saw it on the beach in Normandy, we see it on the face of the Statue of Liberty. We see it when people of other ethnicities migrate legally to the US of A. Hooray for the lovely skin of my Mexican daughter-in-law. She is beautiful both inside and out, as so many people from Mexico are. My future son-in-law is also from Mexico. They are, in general, a very open, loving, hospitable and hard working people with family values and hardworking. Both of them want to see their countrymen learn English ASAP The road to success cannot be taken when one is handicapped by failure to speak the language of money. Greenbacks are printed in...guess what...English. The fact is that immigrants do well when rapidly learning the language and customs of the country. This does not mean they have to give up their own identity! Sociologists are now making it clear that failure to learn the language here is fiercely detrimental to these people. We ARE NOT HELPING THEM by allowing them to use Spanish. We are not helping them by making their children feel there is nothing wrong with disrespecting the culture and residencts of their adopted country. We are not helping them by encouraging failure in this most basic change in lifestyle. Have you ever considered that perhaps providing Spanish language everything, though started by "do-gooders" and with the best of intentions, is now being promoted and maintained by the very people who want the Mexicans to fail? Most Mexican immigrants, legal or not, who do not use English routinely will NOT be successful. They will never realise the AMERICAN Dream. They are being held back. It may be PC right now but if you really give this some thought the damage is not being done to those of us speaking English. Do you ever wonder just WHY it is that immigrants from Japan, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, etc. do SO very well in our culture? It's called education. The most basic cornerstone of education must be language. They do not, ever, as a group, request, desire or need things to be provided in their language. The kids are expected to learn, and learn fast. They, in turn, assist older ones while teaching them English. Quit trying not to piss anybody off and get real. These people must learn our language for their own sakes if not for mine. dogsRbetter

Retro Housewife said...

Re: Anonymous said...

Well put.

I sometimes think I am going a little wacky in the head when I start to smell conspiracy, but I really wonder why nobody ever brings up the issue that maybe Mexicans would rather stay home...if they could make a decent living for themselves and their families, but that those profiting from their mass migration really don't want to give them that.

Whatcha think?


Anonymous said...

Dear Retro, yes, Yes, and YESYESYES! This has been said to me often and by many, they love their own country. Were it not for the corruption, bestial living conditions and non living wages they would forever rather remain at home. People are all the same, their roots, hearts and families are there, where they want to be if only it were possible. There is, undoubtedly, big money to be made from the continued enslavement of an illegal, thus underground, uncomplaining, population. Please, people-wake up-you are woman-roar-ask, demand-be all that you can be-do NOT allow comfort, complacency and your own lack of motivation to uncover the facts allow the fat cats, those who profit from the misuse/abuse of power to continue the foolish and misleading debate on a bilingual society that only serves as a smokescreen to cover their own reason for having this secondary class in America. Why can't the US protect it's borders? Because someone profits from an open border-come ON. Men count on women not being aware and involved! Don't let them use you like this! One said "that's what the law we passed said, anyway." Have you checked to see? Is there anyone who actually knows? What is going on? My neighborhood elementary school spends THREE months every year on Cinco de Mayo-but the kids can't read, add or name the states, let alone the capitals. This is YOUR country-do something about it! dogsRbetter

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. My father is Swiss, and I've been to Switzerland many times. You are correct, there are separate cantons that united to form the country, but that still doesn't mean that several languages aren't spoken within a canton. My father speaks German, French, and English, and can read in Italian. I speak English, Spanish, and some Italian and French.

The Swiss have strict immigration policies, it is also true. As the daughter of a Swiss citizen, I cannot stay there beyond a certain point, as Switzerland is non EU. They are a tiny country and some of the cantons can be xenophobic, but that doesn't seem to have much to do with language, but with their geopolitical status of the country as a whole and some past religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants in different cantons.

In the Netherlands, people easily switch between English and Dutch, depending on the situation. Germans and Italians are required in school to learn English, and a good deal of French I have met will speak English if you try to speak French. I don't sense any of them are ready to go to war anytime soon or feel divided in their allegiance

Instead, language seems to be a visible symbol that we can point to if we are uncomfortable with immigration.

As an example, here in the Uk, we are having waves of Polish and eastern European immigrants coming in to work. Why? They make better money here and provide skills that the natives here don't have--plumbers, electricians, the skilled trades. The Poles also pick fruit and veg, clean houses, do all those things Brits don't want to do. The first thing you hear now on the news is...gee, it is costing so much to teach the Poles English, and why can't they speak English in public? Why? People feel either economically threatened, or guilty because these folks are doing jobs that people can't or won't do. They show a gumption that many natives don't have. So it is easy then to attack them for not knowing English.

Multilingualism is a gift. Americans may realize that as their status as economic superpower is declining, the new language of choice might well be Chinese, or maybe even Spanish if there are new oil reserves discovered in South America.

So sure, learn English to assimilate in the States, but seems to me that real fluency in a foreign language as a requirement to graduate secondary school might not be a bad idea either. And who better to gain the fluency from than an immigrant who is native in the language? So, this is America, speak English and Spanish and Chinese and .....

Anna Marie

Kristina said...

As an American, I want people who immigrate to this country to speak English. Granted, many will not speak English fluently when they arrive, but it is to their advatage to learn English as quickly as possible. The easiest way to do this is immersion. Immersion means NOT translating when at all possible!

When I go to other countries, I don't expect them to speak English. I try to learn at least a small amount of the local language (including dialect) of the country that I am visiting/living in.

As far as teenagers learning the language, I went to 3 very different high schools. It was my impression that teenagers from other countries were immediately set upon by interested parties and brought along in the English language while at the same time, the American teenagers were learning as much, ummm, dirty language from the foreigner as possible. Granted, not all foreign born teenagers are going to want to teach American teenagers curse words. But, if people would realize that when there is curiosity about their native country, that is just what it is, there would be much less need for PCness. We would be able to talk to someone about their native country and they would be able to talk to us about America. We would all learn something. We would learn how to go about in their native country, and they would learn how it is in America. And, imagine this, they would learn English at the same time.

Having said all this, please know, I think it is a benefit to all people to know multiple languages. I don't think this means that we need to speak multiple languages in the US. I speak Spanish, English, some Italian, and a smattering of Greek and French. I'm currently teaching my children Latin and learning it at the same time. Then, we'll move on.

Anonymous said...

I was really loving your blog until I read THIS. =(