13 February 2017

When in Rome

I have been contemplating ESL. Many of my business clients are foreign born; this is a big change for small  town, middle-American libraries over a generation ago. I don't know how recent this acronym is, but I do know that it is a growing consideration for those in the information business. 

My folks who visit the library make a great effort to learn English and use it. Only a couple don't and I think they are cheating their children and themselves. I believe that if you are coming to the U.S. to live, either for an extended period or forever, you should speak English. I have a couple of reasons for this, reasons that primarily involve your kids.

First, your children need to feel included. They can come to story time and share in the experience. They can share small talk and make friends at school. Use English at home, too. Don't set your children up with the impression that English is a make-do, a temporary or inferior condition. By using your "home" language to them in all of your personal dealings, you convey the subtle message that it is not necessary to conform to their adopted culture. You set up in them a feeling of "other-ness" that injures their ability to get the most out of this experience. And please understand that I am not asking that you abandon your native language - see my next point. 

Second, you will make them smarter. Frankly, being bilingual puts them ahead of their most of their U.S. peers, and gives them an edge. It's a great thing to do. Make sure they are/remain fluent in both languages because it will exercise their minds to a greater degree, and offer opportunities to them that the monolinguistic cannot share. I know that their extended families are elsewhere, too. Erasing their native language strains the quality of their interactions with some of the people whose love and history they should be able to depend upon.  

Did you ever have this experience in the cafeteria at school?: there are some girls another table, and they are looking in your general direction and they are whispering, talking behind their hands, and laughing. By a raise of hands (which, of course, I can't see) how many of you felt that maybe they were talking about/making fun of you? Be honest. They could have been discussing something altogether different, but since you were not included, you felt rejected. It is hard to develop a feeling of community when persistent efforts to remain exclusive are in effect. I could go on a great length about this. Like it or not, English-speakers are the basis of community here. 

Lest foreign nationals and immigrants feel I am lecturing (which technically I seem to be), let me note for the record that I am convinced that Americans abroad are far worse offenders. I will hold that subject for another day; believe me, I comprehend that the moninker "ugly American" is sometimes richly deserved. But I am speaking of the good of your children here in this country. 

In the process of making your children feel accepted, accept us too. We count ourselves fortunate to serve a virtual UN of cultures: India, Pakistan, Germany, France, a collection of South and Central American countries, Mexico, Hungary, Belgium, just to name a few. We aren't NYC, but I think we have a great diversity here. Remember that we have a lot to offer, too. We aren't just sucking all the best experiences out of other cultures, we have a lot to give. We may be the new kids, but there is a vitality here. 

If I seem to be picking on folks, bear in mind that I am speaking to such a small minority. (In fact, my whole blog speaks to such a small minority that to single out a cultural minority would qualify as microscopic!) The fact is, the vast majority of ESLs are just that - earnest students of English as a second language. I wonder if Americans who ex-pat are as diligent. I work with new arrivals daily who are busily acclimating and soaking up some of our quirkiness in the process. 

We of the melting pot are not new to cultural diversity. Just ask the Byrneses, the Lanfersiecks, the Dumases of my own experience. Jump on in! 

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