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 When Speaking English Doesn’t Make Sense 

January 4, 2008 
[Originally published by Creators Syndicate, September 17, 2004]
Sam FrancisspacerindentLast summer [2004], William Donald Schaefer, former governor and present comptroller of the state of Maryland, made the news when he groused about a worker at McDonald’s who couldn’t take his order because he couldn’t speak English. “I don’t want to adjust to another language,” Mr. Schaefer grumped in public comments. “This is the United States. I think they ought to adjust to us.”

indentThey, of course, means immigrants, and us means — well — us, Americans. Predictably, Mr. Schaefer took some gas for his frankness, but he probably should get used to that. Thanks to mass immigration, he should also start learning Spanish, if not several other languages.

indentWhat Mr. Schaefer was complaining about is the obvious result of allowing millions of immigrants from dozens of different countries and cultures into your own country in the course of a generation, and it’s a result that even slow learners like the Washington Post are starting to absorb. Last week the Post visited the problem of “multilingualism” in the workplace in its “Business” section, since employers are also starting to figure out that the predictable consequences of mass immigration aren’t always good for business.

indentThat is why a number of companies are effectively making their employees learn English — to deal with customers like Mr. Schaefer as well as to expedite simple administrative processes like safety and health. The National Restaurant Association has developed a program to teach immigrant employees English, and so has Allied Domecq, the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.

indentOptimists will say, See, that means the free market will solve the problem of multilingualism. Since employers realize it’s 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.

indentOther companies don’t encourage English among employees and in fact encourage American employees to learn foreign languages. “Some employers maintain that teaching workers English doesn’t make sense,” the Post reports, “in part because demographics are shifting.”

FGF E-Package offersindentTarget, 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.” “It’s a way to get them to feel comfortable at our store.”

indentPresumably 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 doesn’t help solve the problem. The market is the problem.

indentIt 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.

indentCarlos 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.” That’s one thing when it’s a maintenance crew. It might be another when it’s a hospital, as it is at Washington’s Sibley Memorial.

indent“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 isn’t an issue. Repetition is very big around here.” Patients can only hope the staff shows and tells correctly.

indentWhat employers, from food services to hospitals, are starting to discover is what customers like Mr. Schaefer found out years ago — that mass immigration causes far more problems than it solves as the common culture — not just language but also manners and morals — that defines and disciplines a society crumbles under immigration’s impact. For many, including those who can make money from the crumbling, it’s good business. For everyone else, it’s the chaos that the collapse of a common civilization always causes.

Sam Francis

Copyright © 2008 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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of the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation

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