Refusing to learn the language: is this fair to her children?
The family of my son's friend are from Mexico and have lived here approximately seven years. The father speaks a little English, the kids speak it well, but the mother speaks none; in fact she refuses to learn it. In conversation, she has the kids translate for her. Is this fair to her children to be put on the spot whenever she has to speak with school personnel or even cashiers at a store? And what will this lady do once her children are grown and have lives of their own? (I know if I wanted to immigrate to Mexico I'd have to learn and be able to speak Spanish before becoming a citizen.)
No, this woman is acting irresponsibly and sending the wrong message to her children. Her children should be learning English as well as she. I know you can catch a lot of flack for an opinion like that, buy you have to deal with it. The dominant language of this country is still English. One of the problems is that our laws do not (that I am aware) strongly enough encourage immigrants to assimilate to our culture...a culture dominated by the English language.
Learning English does not prevent immigrants from holding on to their culture. It enables them to function in this society.
Robert, you're right. I don't understand her stubbornness. I have a friend from Korea that speaks good English and learned from listening to others. If I move to another country, I'd be doing myself a favor to learn the official language, you know?
Yes, Beth. The problem is that immigrants are no longer expected to assimilate to our society. Many would say it's "racist." It's not racist to appreciate and try to preserve your country's way of life.
I agree with you Beth, however some people just do not learn languages well. I have a friend in Sweden. I have tried on and off to learn Swedish. It is simply a difficult language for me. I live in San Diego area so definitely a bilingual area. I can speak Spanish centered around amenities and auto repair.
Yet, regarding the question I use to wonder when a child at times less than the teens interpreted a car repair discussion. It was in my view the child making decisions how to interpret what I said and what was shared. A lot was lost in translation many times simply because they did not understand a car to begin with.
The bottom line was I could share what was needed and what that cost was. The rest was trust in that and me or the child interpreting the why, the negotiating what could be done for how much could be spent, and any misgivings with their evaluations from driving the vehicle. I kinda' was pretty sure the child knew if they could afford it or not and that influenced the decision and the next avenue that would be undertaken. Show and tell worked best many times.
I don't think it's unfair to the children as much as it is to herself. Maybe she can't learn the language, but if she can, she sure needs to be trying. As you pointed out, there will come a time when her children aren't there to help her. Without a translator at her side she's not going to able to let a doctor know what's wrong with her, get simple directions if she's lost, etc. It would become most unfair to the kids if, when they're old enough to move away from home and start their own lives, they felt they had to stay for no other reason than to be translators for their mother.
I don't know that I want to comment on your specific question, because I have not experienced this situation personally. I do know individuals who are very stubborn about learning English. IMHO, it may have something to do with either loyalty to one's native tongue, or an issue with stepping out of a comfort zone. Whatever the case may be, I agree with Shelia that it may be more unfair to herself than to her children. The children have the opportunity of being in school and learning proper English. This makes them fortunate to be bi-lingual individuals which is always a plus.
I would suggest a possible solution and that would be that her own children speak to their mother in a way to help her understand how important learning to speak and understand English is, for so many reasons. They could offer to literally give their mother simple lessons at home, arranging a certain day per week to make this a family effort. In this way, it could be fun for Mom as well as comfortable.
Like I said, just a suggestion, but I have confidence it may work. The kids may want to ask their mother the question you bring up about what she expects to do when her children have grown and are no longer at home. Is there anyone who has more influence over a mother than her children? Hardly.
fpherj48, the children have encouraged her but they say their mother says Spanish is a superior language. So, I don't know what they could try to compel her.
Hmmmm How do we say, "stubborn," in Spanish??
Sometimes, it is not easy to learn the English language unless you learn it from school when you were little. I guess this lady find it hard to learn the English language now that she is older, that is why she leaves it to the children to learn it and use them as her interpreter. It is harder for adults to learn new things than the young ones. Nothing is impossible this days especially with computers. Learning is within our reach. Maybe she does not want to learn other languages and thinks that she does not need it until one day she gets stuck somewhere and when she ask for help no one would be able to understand her. And that would be the time she would think about learning English. I am lucky I learnt the English language when I was at school. So English became my second language and Arabic would be my third language. I had to learn spoken Arabic when I went to work in Kuwait years ago because not many people speak English in Kuwait. It was very useful for me at the time when I learnt it. I was able to communicate with the Arab people. Arabic is not an easy language to learn but I managed to learn it in three months.
My son has a friend who's from Mexico. The family set up was similar to what you describe. The father spoke a little English, the children spoke very good English, and the mother appeared to speak little to none having to have the kids translate anything I needed to ask her. After about a year she finally opened up to me. Turned out she spoke English as good as the kids, she just chose not to use it on a regular basis. She told me all the women (several other women in the home) in her family spoke English. She never really fully explained why, and honestly it was none of my business since her language doesn't have any really impact on me. Really though, do you think anyone can be in a country for 7 years and not learn the language? The average person picks up a large amount within a few months. Do you not think she would pick up on the same words being said that her children are translating?
Maybe she's too conservative or proud. Nobody says that learning to speak another language is a piece of cake, but I don't think using your kids as a translation device 24/7 is fair towards them. Nobody says she needs to speak English perfectly, but she could at least make an effort to learn enough for basic communication.
This is fundamental issue for all immigrants. The official language of America is English. People who came here legally for hundreds of years to escape persecution or search for opportunity were quick to learn that speaking the language of the country was critical to their ultimate success. In order to become a part of their new country, language is the first step. It is their individual responsibility to be able to communicate, whether it be ordering groceries or dialing 911.
I would note that learning a new language does not necessarily mean abandoning their own.
Additionally, it is far easier to learn a language while immersed (living) in it than from reading a text book if one has a desire to do so.
Finally, legal citizenship carries with it several responsibilities beyond passing the test.
As an aside, it strikes me as grossly arrogant to refuse to even try to learn your adopted country's native language.
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