Language

Every time I go to get a pedicure (yes, men do get pedicures), I’m reminded of one of my pet peeves. In my experience, employees of nail salons are about 99% Vietnamese. Most speak just enough English to determine whether I want them to work on my feet or my hands. Beyond that, it gets pretty iffy.

They love to chat with one another in Vietnamese while they’re working. As a customer, I’m insulted by this. They are saying to me, “You don’t really exist. Just let us get paid for doing your pedicure and don’t try to talk to us.” It’s like they’re telling secrets behind the backs of their customers.

This is an abridgment of common courtesy. Sometimes common courtesy gets trampled in the rush of exercising our rights. At other times, it is ignored because of laziness.

There is nothing in the Constitution of the United States that requires you or anyone else to speak English, but I don’t understand the resistance on the part of many immigrants to learn our language. Most people who immigrate to our country do so in pursuit of better opportunities than they had in their home countries.

I applaud their gumption and willingness to face a whole new country in order to give themselves those opportunities. Why do those same people limit their own access to those opportunities by refusing to speak our language.

If I want to be a banker in an American bank, I need to be able to communicate with the bank’s customers. By and large, they speak English, as do the people I’m hoping will hire me and who will be my bosses if I am hired.

If I want to be a cashier at Wal-Mart, I need to be able to communicate with the store’s customers. By and large, they speak English, as do the people I’m hoping will hire me and who will be my bosses if I am hired.

If I want to be the night clerk in a convenience store, I need to be able to communicate with the store’s customers. By and large, they speak English, as do the people I’m hoping will hire me and who will be my bosses if I am hired.

See a pattern here? Failing or refusing to become fluent in the predominant language of your country of residence hurts your chances of succeeding. It makes no difference whether you’re the CEO of a major corporation or the guy out mowing lawns in the summer heat—you need to communicate with the people you deal with.

We do a disservice to immigrants when we force our businesses and/or state and local governments to provide instructions in languages other than English. This helps these people avoid facing the need to learn English. It helps keep them in poverty-level jobs because they can’t communicate with the establishment.

When I’m omitted from a conversation because you don’t want or don’t know how to speak my language, it is a minor offense to me. It’s a major handicap to you, though, if you can’t communicate with the general population of our country.

Yes, I realize English is a difficult language to learn. We seem to have more exceptions than rules in our grammar, and our spelling frequently makes little sense, even to us natives. But it can be learned. There are on-line courses, CDs, and other venues available. Can’t afford them? Most public school districts offer adult education classes in English as a second language for free. All you have to do is enroll and show up for classes.

You have the right to get tattoos on your body, but if you have tattoos of Satan all over your body, your chances of being hired as pastor of a Christian church will be a bit diminished. You have the right to wear jeans with holes in them and torn t-shirts, but you probably won’t be hired as a maitre’d in an upscale restaurant if you insist on wearing them.

Similarly, you have the right to refuse to speak the language of our nation. But if you do, you will most likely confine yourself to the most menial jobs with the least opportunity.

How do you feel when people whose services you are paying for fail or refuse to communicate in our language? How do you feel about using your tax money to make it easier for people who come to our country to refrain from learning its language, thereby minimizing their chances of getting good jobs and improving their economic lot?

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WANA: We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

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For more information about David N. Walker, click the “About” tab above.

For more information about his books, click on “Books” above.

Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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12 Responses to Language

  1. David – Yes indeed, there’s nothing easy expressing your desires in a service oriented environment when the language barrier is present. It’s easy to leave when we’re getting a pedicure or other self-care pampering. I have a real problem when the language issue slips over into the medical arena or any professional arena where important and life altering situation can make the difference between life and death.

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    • Amen, Sheri, and you undoubtedly have had experience with this problem. Our neighbor to the north should serve as a shining example that a nation with two languages is a nation divided.

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  2. I love your honesty, David! You make valuable points. It’s never really bothered me that the stylists at my local nail salon speak namely Vietnamese, though they speak English to me if I start up conversations. In LA, the pricier salons seems to have English-speaking staff, which I’d invest in if it perturbed me.

    I do relate to your frustration, however. I lived in Miami for 2 years, part of which was spent in a neighborhood where only Spanish was spoken. More than anything, I wished I could speak Spanish back then. 🙂 I did end up learning a bit… I deeply respect people who come here and learn English as a second language – can’t be easy.

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  3. Hi David,

    I lived in Montreal, Canada for a year back when people spoke both French and English. Trying to deal with two languages on a daily basis created all kinds of business issues. Eventually, many corporations gave up and moved to Toronto.

    One language will unite a people. Two or more languages will divide them.

    Cheers, Ashley

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  4. I agree with you 100%, David. I quit going to the nail salon closest to my house because of that. I believe they are talking about the clients when they speak in Vietnamese. I do believe it is rude, so I switched to a salon where the employees speak English while on the floor. Many of them who work at this new place were actually born in this country.

    I remember when my parents were alive and we would go visit my dad’s family. My mother always got insulted when the conversation quickly turned to Polish and she couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. She always felt that they were talking about her.

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  5. Sharon Walker says:

    Very fine blog. I share your sentiments. Being an ESL/GED teacher, I especially appreciate your comments. If an immigrant wishes to succeed in his new country, he needs to learn the language and needs to learn about the culture.

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  6. During my travels to Europe, I discovered most people have a working knowledge of English. It’s taught as a second language in their schools. That said, I also try to learn basic phrases in the language of the country I’m visiting so I can communicate at a basic level — albeit broken and likely poorly pronounced.

    I’m torn on this topic, David. I have an aptitude (a gift from God, I know) for learning languages. They’re a challenge, yet I enjoy the process of learning them. Others aren’t so blessed.

    I often have the same experience as you describe when I visit a salon for a manicure/pedicure. If the person is able to communicate basics with me, I know they’re at least trying to assimilate.

    The many words required for a conversation we might have with a native English speaker would be challenging for me if I moved to another country. These service providers need only half their brain to rub callouses from my feet and trim my tootsie nails. There is little chance they’d gain enough fluency to sustain a full conversation, so the converse with others in their native language. Immediately, or even within a year of living here.

    The yard crews? I know they work long, long hours. I love to chat with them in a Spanish/English tit-for-tat. They teach me new words. I teach them new words.

    I am trying to regain my fluency in Spanish. (I didn’t use it regularly for decades, so lost much of my vocabulary). I used to travel to Puerto Rico with my Corporate America job. Even though I spoke passable Spanish in normal conversation, it was difficult for me to maintain pace with the native speakers AND especially challenging to learn the words I needed to train people in our recently acquired financial services offices.

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    • Like you, Gloria, I have lost most of my Spanish and French because of lack of use in the five decades since school. However, if I decided I wanted to move to a country where another language was the basic language of the country, I would do what I needed to learn that language.

      That yard man you enjoy speaking with is consigning himself to always being a yard man by not learning to speak fluent English. If he spoke English, he might be able to get a better (higher paying) job and do more for his family.

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