Friday, March 6, 2015

Speak English!

I don't usually discuss political or social issues, but when I was on vacation, I had an opportunity to ponder something that I wanted to share.

I was told that "everyone speaks English in Puerto Rico!" 
Not true. 

Maybe in San Juan and the more metropolitan areas, but not where we were. We had two waitresses who didn't speak much English; one even told us to learn Spanish!

Everywhere we went, we tried to communicate en Espanol, but it was obvious that we didn't speak the language. I felt very out of place. It was awkward. I started to get paranoid. Any time I heard a Puerto Rican laugh, I thought they were laughing at the stupid gringos. For the first time in my life, I----a white "middle class" woman--- understood what it felt like to be a minority.

It made me think of how many times I've heard people here, on the Mainland (as they say in Puerto Rico) say, "You're in America! Speak English!"

In defense of the non-English speaking person, I can say that it is more comfortable to speak your native language when you're with someone from your country. Even if the Hubster and I spoke fluent Spanish, we would most likely speak to one another in English. It's comforting to speak your own language. And we were trying, really we were!

Yes, America is an English speaking country, and if you're going to work here and pay taxes and all that, then yes, you need to learn English.  

On the other hand, maybe we ought to just lighten up a bit when we hear Spanish being spoken on the subway, or in the supermarket or park. Because it IS Spanish we're talking about. I've never heard anyone say, "You're in America. Speak English!" when they hear Russian or French or Polish.

It's when they hear the "illegals" speaking to one another, assuming that the people in question are not in the country legally. Whether they are or they aren't, they are people, just like you and I. And they deserve the same respect that you and I desire. We are all trying to make a better world for ourselves and our family.

The next time you're tempted to say that, think about a time when you were uncomfortable because you didn't know how to do something. Maybe it was a language barrier in another country. Maybe it was tying your shoes or trying out a new recipe that failed. 

Or maybe it was learning the ropes in your new job. Would it have made you try harder if someone yelled in your face, "For heavens sake, learn to tie your shoes/cook a decent meal/how to do your job, would you!" 

I am, by the way, making a serious attempt at learning Spanish.

Blessings Along the Path,

Sharing this post with Blessing CountersThe Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness


  1. You have made some interesting points. When in America speak English. I once attended a multicultural conference. I learned that in some house holds Spanish and English was the language. Some of the younger people explained that there elderly parents refused to learn English, so they ended up always translating for them.

  2. Betty, I was not actually suggesting that everyone speak English when in America. Because it is an English speaking country, one should learn English if they're going to be here for any length of time. But my point was actually that we need to be a bit more..and I don't like this word for its overuse...tolerant...of those who don't speak English. They may be speaking another language because it's more comfortable, but we don't know their story...they may be taking classes to learn. It takes time to learn a new language! I sure can attest to that! I learned a lot more Spanish in one week than I ever knew! But I was far from being able to converse and even understand! Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to read and comment, Betty.

  3. Mary, I think you hit the point exactly when you said we need to stop making assumptions. If we could quit judging each other and give a little more compassion we would all be better off. Great post! Thanks for linking it at CMB!

    1. We've all heard what happens when you "ass-u-me" right? Maybe it doesn't happen outright, but when I do make those kinds of assumptions, I'm usually convicted in my spirit at some point, and that feels just as rotten! Thanks for visiting, Deb.

  4. Americans take so much for granted and speaking English is one of them. Believing that our language is the only language that should be spoken everywhere is very presumptuous. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront and for linking up at The Weekend Brew.

  5. You go, girl! I remember when my husband and I were newly married and we traveled to Switzerland and Italy. I felt like a fish out of water because I didn't understand the language and never really relaxed the entire trip because of it, Mary. I don't really have an opinion about the whole political/immigration thing, but I do think we need to be kind and not try to control another person's choices. When I am critical or demand that a foreigner learn my language, I feel like I'm not extending a common courtesy to them. After all, as believers, we're supposed to be known for our "love!" Thanks for the interesting subject, my friend!

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