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Linguistic Diversity

Imagine yourself in Misteria, a small town in the eastern part of Russia . You are an IT professional and a resident of Carroll County . Your company has sent you on an overseas assignment. You will be living in Misteria for one year. Since you have a minimal understanding of Argylese, the language spoken by Misterians, you have been struggling mightily to make yourself understood to the town's residents. Unfortunately, you do not have an interpreter, and none of the signs or literature are printed in English. Basically, you are on your own.

After a while, frustration and anger set in. From your perspective, these townspeople have made it clear to you that they do not want your business. Their belief seems to be, “when in Rome , do as the Romans do.” In Misteria, this means speaking a language you are totally unfamiliar with, Argylese. Your English is of little help. But as you see it, everybody should speak English; even Misterians. After all, it is the language of the world. It is the universal language of business. And it is the only language you really know. How can these people be so shortsighted?

Anyone who has ever been in a situation similar to this knows how frustrating it can be. Similarly, we may recollect how thankful we were when someone extends a helping hand and gives us directions, translates something for us, or maybe just tells us enough that we can find the nearest rest stop to relieve ourselves.

How many of us have studied a language other than our native language? How many Carroll Countians are fluent in more than one language? In my case, I took French in high school for three years. At best, I remember a few phrases. In college, I took Spanish for two years. Use it or lose it. I lost it after not speaking Spanish since my college days. What I do remember was how difficult it was to learn a foreign language. And French and Spanish are two of the easier ones to learn.

Linguistic diversity is a challenge these days, given the global village in which we live. With our workforce, marketplace, schools, and communities becoming more multicultural, every interaction can be a challenge. If we do not have the necessary skills, it can also be a nightmare.

Is the number one language spoken in Carroll County also the number one language spoken throughout the world? Those of us who answer yes might do some research. And while we are looking, check out how many Carroll County Schools offer instruction in this language.

Having a good command of English is an absolute necessity in the United States today. That holds true for everyone, from recent immigrants to people born and raised in this country. Hence, the need for ESL (English as a Second Language) programs in our schools today and English courses for employees.

In recent months, the issue of language has surfaced repeatedly in the county. The Taneytown Council is currently considering a proposal to pass an English-only resolution. Many people have made it clear that immigrants should embrace English. What may not be clear to some is that by and large, the vast majority of immigrants do embrace English and over time, they and their offspring learn to speak it. Not surprisingly, research shows that second and third-generation immigrants are more fluent than those who recently arrived.

According to a recent study conducted by Shattuck and Associates, Hispanic residents in Carroll County were asked when they feel most comfortable. Their answer points to the importance of language. They were most at ease when able to speak Spanish. Many felt least comfortable when accessing healthcare services, again because they felt they might be discriminated against for not being fluent in English.

Well-paying jobs in Carroll County and elsewhere are looking for employees who can speak languages such as Spanish, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Korean, and Russian. Even the Pentagon has taken notice. Larger numbers of combat forces are learning languages such as Arabic and Chinese

On my way to drive my daughter back to college, I asked her about the English-only resolution. She remarked that it was unrealistic; things are different now. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Maryland will continue to become much more multiracial, multiethnic, and multilingual in the future. Census projections just released point to this trend. So all Carroll Countians need to embrace English and other languages or get left behind socially, economically, and politically.

In a recent local conference on diversity, Westminster Police Chief Jeffrey Spalding addressed the importance of having troopers who could converse in languages other than English. As the Hispanic presence in Carroll County increases, and as more immigrants from all parts of the world look to settle here, this priority will become more and more important.

Not too long ago, at the Carroll County Department of Social Services, five people from Georgia arrived. However, they were not from Atlanta or Savannah . They were from the Republic of Georgia, formerly of the USSR. No one at DSS spoke their language, although they tried. By contacting a translator, they were able to assist these people.

Furthermore, anyone who works in places such as Carroll County Hospital, the Carroll County Library System, Carroll County Government, or in the Carroll County Public School System faces issues involving linguistic diversity all of the time. Their ability to deal with these issues quickly and efficiently is becoming more and more critical to our bottom line. For example, if medical personnel cannot fully understand patients or each other, how well are they doing their job? In some cases, a lack of communication can put patients at risk, resulting in substandard or life-threatening medical care.

There is an old Asian proverb known as the “frog at the bottom of the well.” It states that those of us who remain at the bottom of the well will swear up and down that the sky is only a small circle. Only those of us who climb up and out of the well will appreciate the true vastness of the universe.

Language is like the frog at the bottom of the well. Those of us who think everybody should speak our language when they come to our “neck of the woods” or even when we travel to theirs will develop a very limited view of the world. We will become more culturally unaware and we will find it more difficult to adapt to new environments.

Why? Because language is much more that a system of words or symbols. It provides a window into other worlds, and into the rich and wonderful cultural diversity of Carroll County and beyond. By climbing out of the well, learning how to communicate with people who speak other languages, and growing up in a multilingual environment, we will learn more than we ever thought possible.

By the way, if we shrank the world's population to 100 people, only nine would speak English. 22 would speak Chinese. Another tidbit. According to recent statistics, 24,000 U.S. elementary and secondary students study Chinese. Guess how many Chinese children study English? Would you believe 200 million?

Finally, do not spend too much time trying to find Misteria on the map.

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