I sympathize with Harry Allred's comments in a recent letter to the editor. It can be annoying and frustrating to try to communicate with someone who doesn't speak English. What surprises me, however, is that he does not seem to realize that while it is frustrating for him, it is even more frustrating for the non-English speakers.
They don't just occasionally run into someone who doesn't speak their language; they are constantly surrounded by people they can't communicate with.
Isn't it interesting that Mr. Allred's frustration did not somehow magically teach him the Spanish language? In fact, it had the opposite effect — he stopped going to places where he hears Spanish.
Popular opinion seems to be that the higher the frustration level we create for non-English speakers (by banning translations of government forms, etc.) the faster they will learn English. But apparently, as any language teacher will tell you, frustration and alienation do not create an effective learning environment.
There is no doubt that everyone in the United States must learn to speak English. That fact is obvious to the newcomers themselves. But, as was true for our immigrant ancestors, language learning takes time.
We can be patient or annoyed. We can be helpful or resentful. But despite what the multimillion-dollar lobbying groups would have you believe, the same forces that motivated our foreign-speaking ancestors to learn English motivate immigrants today.