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Tim Burke: Press ‘1’ to hear this message in English

Why do I have to press “1” for English?

Why, it must be because we are an inclusive society and want to make communication easier for our Hispanic-speaking residents! No, that’s actually not it. Because if we were truly being inclusive there would be a lot more choices on the phone representing the major languages spoken throughout the world. So you can’t say we are being inclusive while excluding all other languages without being a hypocrite.

Actually, the primary reason is because of money.

Companies with products or services recognized that a major group of consumers did not speak, read, or write English and they wanted to reach that market segment. So companies became bilingual to capture more consumer dollars. That trend has grown to include not just phone communication but bilingual Point of Sale in stores, bilingual websites, bilingual paperwork, and bilingual staff members. Essentially, this has made it easier for Spanish-speaking residents to be consumers of goods and services without having to become proficient English speakers.

This movement toward a dual-language society has created controversy and in some circles, resentment. If we look north to our neighboring country of Canada, we find a dual-language country. But outside of the Province of Quebec, you will find that most citizens don’t like having two languages.

To the average Canadian citizen there is Canada, and then there is French-speaking Quebec. Here in the United States, legislation is periodically introduced to make English the official language of whatever state, county, or city that has grown tired of having to push 1 for English but it seldom passes. Politicians are afraid of addressing the topic and back away from any legislation very quickly.

Is it really something we should be trying to pass legislation on? There are some reasons to consider it. English is the unofficial language of business and politics. Watch any TV newscast that involves a foreign business person or politician and you will see them communicating in English. It is also the primary language of tourism.

A few summers ago, I was sitting at a small restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany getting ready to order dinner. A young man in his mid-20s was my waiter and he spoke excellent English. I knew that English was taught in school at a very early age in Europe but what is taught is known as the “Queen’s English.”

That is the English language as written and spoken by educated people in Britain and it is slightly different than what we speak here in the USA. My waiter was speaking American English. Curious, I asked him where he learned to speak American English so well. His answer: “American video games.” He went on to explain that the games were much better if you understood American English.

Another significant group of American residents that support English as our official language is legal resident aliens and naturalized citizens. Our country has been composed of immigrants since its inception. Immigrants wanting to escape tyranny and persecution have immigrated here to partake in a country with democracy as its founding principle. It has always been that way and it will continue to be that way.

Those immigrants kept their heritage and their traditions, but they also embraced their new country and a fresh start. They proudly learned to speak English because they recognized that they were in America and they respected this country’s language. Those same immigrants speak their native language in their homes, with their families, and their friends but they speak English when they step out into their daily American lives.

A good friend of mine moved from Europe to America several years ago.

He had learned English in school but could not write or read it very well. He worked hard at learning how to read and write in English and one day he called me to announce: “I have read my first American English novel.”He was very proud of his accomplishment. He had so much respect for his new country and it was very important to him to show that respect by learning to speak, read, and write in English.

Maybe it’s just that simple. We don’t want to press 1 for English because we respect it as the language of America, and we expect others to respect it too.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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