Thursday, January 17, 2008

Learning a Second Language

How many average Americans who are not immigrants, know a second language? Even with language courses in high school, people seldom become fluent unless they take a trip abroad (or at least to Mexico). The article below is about a bill proposed in the Virginia legislature that will make it difficult if not impossible to get a job if a person doesn't speak English

A Houston construction company that has mostly immigrant workers has hired a Spanish teacher. The owners of the company want to be able to communicate better, as do the company supervisors.

Of course, this solution makes some people angry. Why would Americans accommodate to Spanish speaking employees?

1. Maybe because the management of the company has disposable income to pay for Spanish classes?

2. The managers believe that easier communication with their employees will make the company more efficient consequently creating more profit.

3. Or, the managers want to know what their workers are saying about them.

People in many countries of the world learn English so they can communicate with us when we visit them. Why can't we do the same for foreigners in the U.S.?

Recently when I spent a few weeks in Madrid doing research I found almost everyone I met spoke English. At the internet cafe I visited daily there was a young man who was South Asian. Although he was fluent in Spanish, we spoke only English. He wanted to practice. Why would he want to learn English? Last I heard, English is not the official language of Spain- and after a number of long conversations I never heard him say he wanted to immigrate to the U.S. He wanted to be able to speak to all kinds of people.

As for immigrants learning English, of course its necessary for survival. There may be complaints that immigrants can't speak English or are not learning fast enough, but the reality is, most if not all immigrants know a certain amount of English, and if they could, they would take classes. (see post "English as a Tool of Power," January 9, 2008). Anyone who expects new immigrants to speak English automatically should visit some of the rural primarias and secundarias in Mexico - especially the ones in rich neighborhoods. Getting an education is difficult in Mexico, but learning English is a luxury for the rich (or at least middle class).

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Bill Targets Workers Who Speak No English

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008; B01

RICHMOND, Jan. 16 -- A Republican state senator from Fairfax County has introduced a proposal that would allow a boss to fire employees who don't speak English in the workplace, which would make them ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II said the law is needed because a growing number of employers in Northern Virginia are frustrated that some immigrants never learn English, although they said they would when they were hired.

"The point here isn't to be mean; the point is to allow circumstances to give employers their own ability to hire and fire people who may not speak English," Cuccinelli said.

Some Democrats and immigration rights activists said they were outraged at Cuccinelli, saying the bill demeans the 1 in 10 Virginians who were born outside the United States. They said Cuccinelli's proposal was aimed at new legal residents who aren't native English speakers. Illegal immigrants are already ineligible for unemployment benefits.

"This is the most mean-spirited piece of legislation I have seen in my 30 years down here," Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said.

Cuccinelli's bill is one of dozens this year that seek to address immigration and the growing influence of Hispanic culture in Virginia, including efforts to make English the state's official language.

Cuccinelli, who was narrowly reelected in November, said the bill is aimed at people who work in jobs in which they must interact with the public, such as sales clerks and receptionists.

State and national immigrant rights activists said the bill, as written, could result in some people being fired for speaking to a colleague during a break or over the phone to relatives in a language other than English, causing some critics to wonder whether the measure violates federal law prohibiting discrimination based on national origin.

"Anyone who cares about employee rights and civil rights and any employer who cares about not getting sued should question this bill," said Raul Gonzales, legislative director of the National Council of La Raza, Latino civil rights group in Washington.

Cuccinelli, who says companies are increasingly hiring people without face-to-face interviews, said he is just trying to protect employers from paying higher taxes because of unemployment claims.

In Virginia, employers may fire anyone as long as they adhere to civil rights laws. But if someone receives unemployment benefits, their previous employer might have to pay higher taxes.

"It works like an insurance policy," said Coleman Walsh, chief administrative law judge for the Virginia Employment Commission. "If you don't have any accidents, your premiums don't go up. If you have accidents, you have to pay higher rates."

Cuccinelli said he drafted the bill after a business owner approached him last year and complained that his unemployment taxes rose after he fired someone who didn't learn English.

"They had an understanding the employee would improve their English capabilities, and that didn't happen," Cuccinelli said. "We are an at-will employment state, but there is a question about having to pay more unemployment insurance."

Terminated employees are ineligible for unemployment benefits if they fail a drug test, falsify a job application with respect to a criminal record, commit an act that causes the employer to lose his business license or miss too many days of work. A claim can also be denied if the employee violates a "reasonable company law" and has "a pattern of misconduct that shows a willful disregard for an employer's legitimate business interest," Walsh said.

Gonzales said Cuccinelli's bill is not needed because Equal Opportunity Commission guidelines give employers the right to terminate employees for their language skills if their jobs require extensive interaction with the public or a need to understand basic safety information...



for complete article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/16/AR2008011603720.html

1 comment:

Fash said...

I'm sorry, but why would you hire someone who could speak no English for a position that involves interacting with the public in the first place? "We like legal immigrants" indeed. This is ridiculous.