When Speaking English Doesnt Make Sense
summer , William Donald Schaefer, former governor and present comptroller of the
state of Maryland, made the news when he groused about a worker at
McDonalds who couldnt take his order because he
couldnt speak English. I dont want to adjust to another
They, of course, means immigrants, and us means well us, Americans. Predictably,
That is why a number of companies are effectively making their employees learn English to deal with customers like
Optimists will say, See, that means the free market will solve the problem of multilingualism. Since employers realize its good business for employees to speak a common language, they will encourage linguistic assimilation, and cultural assimilation will follow. The truth is less simple and less rosy. Sometimes that may be the case; sometimes not.
Other companies dont encourage English among employees and in fact encourage American employees to learn foreign languages. Some employers maintain that teaching workers English doesnt make sense, the Post reports, in part because demographics are shifting.
Target, for example, started offering Spanish classes to its managers in Virginia and Maryland two years ago and encourages them to take them. The chain now offers the course in all its outlets in 47 states. It really has to do with serving our guests, smirks a spokeswoman of the effort to get the employees to learn what the Post calls the language of Cervantes. Its a way to get them to feel comfortable at our store.
Presumably it is too much to ask that the chain might feel some attachment to the language of Shakespeare and Jefferson and wish to preserve or encourage it. What does matter to the chain, as to most other businesses, is how much they can sell. As one businessman quoted by the Post remarks, You can sell more widgets to someone in their language than you can in yours. The truth is that the market doesnt help solve the problem. The market is the problem.
It does not seem to have occurred to some managers that the problems they have already created by encouraging mass immigration in the first place and refusing to encourage assimilation in the second are only going to get worse as more and more immigrants from more and more cultures, countries, and linguistic traditions invite themselves here. The problem does occur to some who have to live with it.
Carlos Figueroa, maintenance crew member in Arlington, says that from time to time he finds himself at a loss when trying to communicate with employees who speak Arabic and Korean. His work-team partner, Aron Jones, said he has resorted to drawing pictures in the dirt to get his point across. Thats one thing when its a maintenance crew. It might be another when its a hospital, as it is at Washingtons Sibley Memorial.
We do a lot of show and tell, says one manager at the hospital, where workers are shown videos in Spanish and English about the handling of infectious materials and working with hazardous chemicals. And then we show and tell again so that basic communication isnt an issue. Repetition is very big around here. Patients can only hope the staff shows and tells correctly.
What employers, from food services to hospitals, are starting to discover is what customers like
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