|Banks County Opinions...||
JULY 23, 2003
By: Jana Adams Mitcham
Near la escuela, en la izquierda, I said, while gesturing with big arm movements (as if that would make a difference) to show two Spanish speaking men seeking directions that they should drive straight ahead and keep going.
Meanwhile, my husband Zach spoke in a strangely stilted way, and loudly, with an unusual accent, as if he were from another country...somewhere. We laughed about it later, his new, odd speech.
But really, how frustrating to want to communicate but to be unable to, even on the most basic of matters, because of language barriers.
One morning last week, Zach and I stopped for coffee on our way to work. When I came out of the restaurant, I saw Zach talking to two men in a mini-van. He looked relieved when I walked over and he said, We need some help with Spanish.
Sadly, I wasnt much help. I can remember the basics from my high school and college classes, but the frustrating thing about another language is, if you dont use it, you pretty much lose it. Or at least on the surface, for quick reference, you lose it now, what tense would that be, and is that an irregular verb or not? You can dredge it back up with practice and review, but when it comes to having a spontaneous conversation in the parking lot, its just not always readily available. At least not for me.
Im still not really sure what the two men needed. They had a car title and I believe they had already been to the tag office we were able to ascertain that they had been to the building in front of el cemeterio but thats about as far as we got. The driver showed us the car title and was referring to the signature lines, but we never were able to figure out exactly what his question was.
He finally asked if there were no Mexicana in the area, and we tried to direct them to the Mexican restaurant, thinking that maybe someone more fluent in both languages could help out. We watched the van as they drove away and generally felt defeated by the language barrier.
We had decided in June when we spent nearly a week in Mexico that we would brush up on our Spanish before we go back so we will be able to have more of a conversation with those around us. Now Im wishing I could take some sort of refresher course for everyday use. I wish I could remember more.
I know that the general consensus is, if you are going to live in the United States, you need to learn to speak English. I generally agree with that, if for no other reason than what happened last week difficulties and frustrations on all sides simply trying to conduct day-to-day business. But I also know that we are spoiled because most everywhere you go in the world, typically somebody will speak at least a little English. We havent had to learn another language.
And I also know that the world is not always divided into clear, black and white categories the reasons for someone moving to the United States are not always the same as the reasons an American might have for being in a Spanish-speaking country (check out Time.coms The New Frontier/La Nueva Frontera). The way the U.S. is being affected by NAFTA and a more bicultural, or multicultural, population cannot be ignored, especially as it crops up here, close to home.
Its a complex issue and the language barrier cant simply be attributed to a lack of willingness to learn. For starters, there are cultural differences at work and, beyond that, even if English as a second language classes are offered, those who might benefit from them first have to know that they are available. Its a cyclical thing if you dont know the language, how do you find out about language classes?
When I attended one such class at the Nicholson library back in the spring (there are also classes held at the adult learning center in Jefferson), I was impressed with the students and their desire to learn. As I tried, with my very rudimentary grasp of their language, to follow along with the conversation in Spanish, I felt just the barest inkling of what it might be like to be living in a new country where your language was not well known. How difficult it would be. Simple transactions and what would ordinarily be easy business could take on overwhelming parameters.
If they are going to live here, they need to learn the language nobody asked them to move here, and its not my responsibility remains a common way of thinking. That may be so. It may not be your responsibility, but you will surely find yourself increasingly in a situation at your business or in your neighborhood or at your childs school where it would benefit you to understand those around you. It makes some people angry, these language and cultural barriers and differences, but the fact remains, the world is changing dramatically. Our region is changing dramatically.
I like to be able to communicate. Im frustrated otherwise. I remember the teacher for the ESL class at the Nicholson library had mentioned the possibility of a basic Spanish class for speakers of English. Might be a good idea. Otherwise you end up trying to give directions but only succeeding in a strange new way of talking and big arm gestures.
Jana Adams Mitcham is features editor of The Jackson Herald and a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
By: Rochelle Beckstine
Comments on same-sex marriages
|Home / Job
Market / Real Estate
/ Automotive / Classifieds
News from Jackson / News from Madison / News from Banks / Sports
Jackson Community / Banks Community / Madison Community
Archives / Advertising / Printing / History / Links / Search Site
Send a Letter / Subscribe / Place a Classified Ad / Online Rates