Multilingualism or Not? Essay
Multilingualism or Not?
Today in America, there is a raging debate going on: should we promote multilingualism or accept a “melting pot” ideology? The melting pot ideology dictates assimilating into a common culture and language. Views on this issue are very polarized, which make a compromise seem hard to accomplish. Two articles that pertain to this topic are “American Multilingualism: A National Tragedy,” by Franklin Raff published on WND.com, and “English Only Laws Divide and Demean,” by Warren J. Blumenfeld published in The Huffington Post. Both articles are direct contradictions of each other with Raff saying languages other than English are unduly practiced and embraced in America while Blumenfeld argues that America should promote the practice of multiple languages.
While I do not find myself agreeing completely with either one, there are points in both that appeal to me and give me a better understanding of multilingualism, and the influences of its wide reaching effects on society. In “American Multilingualism: A National Tragedy,” writer Franklin Raff introduces an ad broadcast on Super Bowl Sunday. It is a Toyota car ad, which is touted to be the first “bicultural, bilingual” advertisement. The spot compares the benefits of being bilingual to a hybrid car. Raff claims that the ad agency responsible for the ad has bluffed in equating bilingualism to anything good. He even goes as far as to say that the effects of promoting bilingualism can be fatal. To support his claim of fatality he uses the situation in where doctors are unable to comprehend their patients. He also brings up the fact that workers who are unable to comprehend safety regulations at worksites meet untimely deaths.
Raff speaks of the Chicago school system, which has an overwhelming population of Hispanics and is also the worst performing of all school systems. He then introduces a janitor, who cannot speak English and as such cannot get a better job despite his attention to detail, and a little Spanish speaking girl, who he encountered in the supermarket and cannot offer her help due to her not understanding English. Raff also provides statistics that portray Hispanics as unable to complete higher education courses due to their knowledge of Spanish and not English. He closes by saying it is a disservice to oneself to speak Spanish and as such it is a national tragedy.
Raff’s article has a feeling of immense passion on something he feels is a great plague to the nation. He argues to great lengths on the extent of “damage” that speaking other languages causes to society. The Spanish language is his argument’s main adversary. He uses rhetorical strategies such as pathos and angle of vision to significant effect to support his claim. In his attempt to gain emotional support from his readers he makes impassioned pleas and relates personal experiences. He introduces the idea of being unable to comprehend languages as being detrimental to the point of even causing deaths. He uses examples of miscommunication in a health care facility and safety regulations at work sites.
Death being the worst fate of mankind is a useful point for Raff as readers would be appalled that death is a possibility for some and that it could be avoided. He also speaks of the failing Chicago school system which is densely populated by Hispanics and he insinuates that their practice of language is what fails them. Others he says afflicted by speaking Spanish include a janitor he knows and a girl he encounters at the supermarket. Raff seeks to gain support by relating the troubles he perceives and leading people to believe that Hispanics would be afforded a better quality of life and possibility of success by relinquishing the Spanish language and adopting the English language. Franklin Raff’s use of angle of vision lies in subtle inferences that readers have to make on their own.
As it relates to the janitor he describes as a “fast, meticulous and good-natured worker,” Raff claims he can communicate with the janitor due to his knowledge of Italian, but Raff fails to write about the janitor’s feelings but rather what he believes the janitor should feel. Raff also speaks of high failure rates of Hispanics but he fails to account for any success of Hispanics in America, by doing this he can gain support from people who do not choose to consider more factors than the ones only stated by Raff. He makes it seem as though it is all doom and gloom because of knowing another language.
In “English Only Laws Divide and Demean,” Warren Blumenfeld starts by relating an experience he had with his multilingual cousin, living in Belgium. His cousin poses a riddle to him, with the outcome saying that persons that can only speak one language are referred to as “US-American” as opposed to monolingual. Blumenfeld accepts this as a truth and goes on to lament that despite being so closely bordered by countries that speak other languages, Americans are stuck in their monolingual ways. He states that Americans’ lack of care for other languages has been endorsed by major political figures such as former President Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Rick Santorum.
The ideas that there has been a campaign to make English the “official” language and that laws have been proposed to outlaw other languages are slammed by Blumenfeld, who states he has even started a petition against this movement. He also uses a personal experience of a friend of Mexican descent, who as a child was berated and punished for making an exclamation in Spanish at school. Blumenfeld states that this prejudice is a violation of democracy and no true patriot could support it. He proclaims that America should embrace its rich diversity and shed its “melting pot” ideology if it is to become a beacon to the world. Warren Blumenfeld in his attempt to gain the support of his readers employs the use of appeals to emotions and values. In his retelling of his encounter with his cousin he seeks to make Americans, including himself, feel as though they have not done enough to embrace linguistic diversity. By doing this he is able to make Americans feel that they should work assiduously to overcome this rather true stereotype.
He also speaks of the extent American society will go to eliminate other languages, including campaigns by political leaders and proposition of laws. By highlighting these details and framing them in such a way that depicts them as promoting ignorance, Blumenfeld is able to gain the readers’ support. To show just how serious and credible his claim is, Blumenfeld then identifies that he has started a petition, which encourages readers to a call to action. To then gain the readers’ sympathy Blumenfeld uses an experience from a friend who as a child was castigated for speaking Spanish. This experience causes readers to be appalled that in their society, people, especially children are being chastised because of their cultural differences. The highpoint of Blumenfeld’s argument is introduced near the end when he begins to speak about the founding principles of America.
He proclaims that the values of democracy and diversity are woven into the fabric of the nation and its people, and as such the people should work to protect and propagate these American values. True American patriots would then see the issue of multilingualism as an important part of the great nation’s future. In terms of a comparison between both articles, the only similarities lie in both writers’ use of rhetorical appeals and angle of vision. Both writers rely heavily on the emotional and value appeal of pathos to connect with their readers. The difference between both articles is the ideology of the authors. The authors directly contradict each other. Franklin Raff would have Americans believe that the practice of languages other than English can lead to death and failure.
On the other hand, Warren Blumenfeld implores Americans to embrace learning and practicing other languages as it allows people to communicate across borders easily. After reading and analyzing both Franklin Raff’s and Warren Blumenfeld’s articles in detail I was able to gain new knowledge on the subject of multilingualism. From personal experiences I previously had opinions on the topic but from my newly attained knowledge I was able to strengthen my opinions. The basics of my ideology are that I believe that all government and other official documents should be printed in one language, most suitably English, for ease of communication. Though we should also encourage people to learn and practice multiple languages as that ability enhances a person’s effectiveness to themselves and to society as a whole.
I was fortunate to be raised in a society that promoted learning multiple languages, though English was my native tongue. I learnt the fundamentals of both French and Spanish up until the 8th grade in Jamaica. Now I can read and write both languages at a level I perceive to be fair, which is something I am proud of. Though I lack in speaking fluency of these languages I plan to eventually become fluent. After 8th grade I moved to Florida. There I was surprised to know that my new peers had no foreign language course after the 5th grade and then they would only have a two-year crash course in high school. Having had that two-year crash course as well, I felt that it was more about getting a grade rather than learning to appreciate and comprehend the language. On the other hand, the peers I left in Jamaica went on to learn either one or both languages at a higher level. In America, I believe middle and high schools should operate a continuous curriculum for foreign languages as it will enhance students’ abilities.
Franklin Raff in his article claims that Hispanics have a higher failure rate at school, particularly in Chicago, because of their knowledge of another language. Having had Hispanic classmates I am in complete disagreement with Raff as it was apparent they were just as inclined for success and I believed that their ability to speak both English and Spanish gave them somewhat of an edge in being successful. As it pertains to the Chicago school system there is likely to be social factors other than language, including poverty in a densely populated area, that can lead to higher failure rates that Raff fails to account for. I also disagree with Warren Blumenfeld that English should not be made the official language of America and that government documents should be printed in multiple languages.
Blumenfeld states that it is unnecessary to make English the official language but I believe not making English the official language is just as unnecessary. America unlike many other countries that promote multilingualism, does not have an official language. Having an official language does not mean that a country ignores other languages. In Jamaica, English is the official language but foreign languages are given great emphasis in the education system. For American governments to reduce spending, printing long documents in English only would be a good idea, but smaller statements such as safety information on airplanes can be printed in multiple languages, including French and Spanish.
Though I have disagreements with the points the writers make, I do find some common ground with them. Franklin Raff’s claim that different languages make communication between people difficult is very understandable. There have been a few instances where I’ve heard people say they could not communicate with people at places such as the gas station as one person solely speaks English and the other solely Spanish. To achieve goals and make things happen require effective communication between people. I also agree with Blumenfeld that promoting
Williams multilingualism creates a better global society. I believe people should attempt to learn and appreciate other languages as it is a show of competence and facilitates good relations among different groups of people. America, in particular, has a few negative connotations around the world, and I believe if we as a people can embrace other cultures and languages America will gain a deserved mutual respect.
As the topic of multilingualism holds great significance to me, I found it imperative to explore the writings of both Franklin Raff and Warren Blumenfeld. Both articles related interesting and contrasting ideas on the topic. As seen with my agreements and disagreements it is best to only consider the ideas rather than accepting any one as the truth. In my opinion, the importance of communication cannot be overstated, as it is a component of progress. While one language makes such communication easy, diversity among the world’s citizens cannot be eliminated and as such governments should encourage acceptance of other societies’ diversities and languages. It starts with education, to facilitate students to learn and gain appreciation for other languages and create a more connected world.
Blumenfeld, Warren J. “”English Only” Laws Divide and Demean.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 October 2013. Raff, Franklin. “American ‘multilingualism’: A National Tragedy.” WND. WND.com, 02 May 2006. Web. 16 November 2013.