Karen Allwardt, Fargo, Published February 15 2014
Letter: Melting pot requires English to communicateSince the Coke commercial during the Super Bowl, we’ve been inundated with people telling us that if we want people to speak English, we’re being racist or xenophobic or prejudiced. Maybe some people are, but I’m not.
I have a different reason. We’re hearing from the talking heads about how our forefathers came from other places and didn’t speak English. We hear about how America is a land for everyone. That’s true. Unless we’re 100 percent English, we had an ancestor who didn’t speak English when they got here. But they learned it. They didn’t learn it because their language was bad. They learned it because it was the language of this country.
It’s no different today. At my last job, I was the trainer on my shift for more than a decade. Most of our people start as temps. Many do not speak English. They’re trying to learn it because they want to be Americans. It doesn’t mean they won’t speak the language that they grew up with. It means they learn to communicate with the people who are their new neighbors.
Keeping the language, foods, customs and traditions honors the past. To some extent, we all do it. It’s a good thing.
I’ve worked with people who speak four languages. The problem is that the people I trained were from all over the world. I can think of nine languages that were the native tongues of the people I trained. I can’t learn that many new languages. They have to learn English. Not because it’s mine, not because it’s better. They have to learn it because without a common language, we can’t communicate.
Isn’t that what the melting pot is all about? Getting together, learning about each other and taking the best from everyone? How can we learn if we can’t communicate? How can we form friendships and relationships with each other if we can’t communicate?
There’s nothing wrong with being a member of a smaller community, whether it be people who have come from the same place or speak the same language or have the same interests. It can create a sense of belonging and bond us with people who understand us. But the U.S. isn’t a bunch of small communities. It’s a larger group. It has members of all of the smaller communities who have to learn to live together as one people.
E pluribus unum. That’s the melting pot. All of us, no matter where we’re from, no matter who we are, are part of something bigger than we are. It’s bigger than any one of us or any group of us. It’s all of us getting together and being a nation and a people of our own. To do that, we need to communicate.
I don’t care how many languages people speak. I don’t care where or when they speak them. I care that we understand each other. For every person in this country to understand every other person requires a common language. In this country, that’s English.
Other languages are great, but if we are to truly be a melting pot that includes all people, we need to understand each other.