A short trip to Mexico was what it took for me to see how frustrating it is not to speak the mother language in a foreign country. All I could remember from my repertoire of Spanish phrases was “Dónde está el baño?” Or, where is the bathroom? I was utterly crushed by my false belief that I would remember the select phrases that I had noted on a cheat sheet for my trip. I found that the ways I could prosper during the week-long trip were staying close to my group (which contained two Spanish speakers) or stumbling across some Mexicans with the ability to speak basic English. At least enough to make a transaction, such as buying coffee, which was mindbogglingly reassuring.
Now imagine leaving your mother country for another to have greater access to good jobs, stricter laws, and a higher standard of living. That’s what so many Mexicans go through when they immigrate to America. Learning the language is a daunting task. I would know; I did it. I grew up in France and found myself carted here to America at the age of ten, knowing minimal English. But let’s get back to Spanish, the second most used language in America, after English of course. And from experience scouring Craigslist ads in search of a job throughout my first two years of college, I know that being “bilingual is a plus!” Now, what would happen if every one of us English speakers learned a little Spanish? Just a little: hi, goodbye, how are you, and what’s your name?
The effort it would take to learn a few key phrases is worth the diminishing of confusion endured in cross-language exchanges. At my day job, I’ll answer the phone with a purely Spanish speaker on the other end, and end up speaking English louder and more aggressively, as if having the will that they understand me is enough. During my previously mentioned stay in Mexico, I found myself embarrassed at the lack of linguistic ability I had to talk to Spanish speakers. I stayed close to my boyfriend and let his step-mom do the Spanish talking.
I wonder how difficult it is for new immigrants to endure the unceasing chatting in English that goes on around them, and not understand. I’ve witnessed many instances when there are other Spanish speakers in the vicinity to translate and ask assistance of, but in some cases, the human resource isn’t readily available. That’s where we fluent English-speakers should step in.
We share a community, all of us, Spanish speakers and English speakers. On a bigger scale, Spanish is the primary language spoken in over 35 million homes across the United States. California law even declares that “[a]ll laws, decrees, regulations, and provisions emanating from any of the three supreme powers of this State, which from their nature require publication, shall be published in English and Spanish (Art. XI Sec. 21).” Now to focus in: We could all make a little extra effort to understand each other better. For English speakers, that might mean learning a little Spanish.