Why Don’t They Just Learn English?

Photo by MissKoco via flickr.

Photo by MissKoco via flickr.

When I first started my job as an ESL teacher in the States, I was telling an acquaintance about the ethnic and racial breakdown of my students, most of whom were Hispanic, some of whom were Karen, and a handful of whom were Kurdish. His response upon hearing about my sweet elementary students was, “Why would we want to teach those people English?”

I could not find words (a rarity for me) and had to walk away from the conversation.

Many people, myself included, have limited grace for the immigrant. If they don’t know English, we tend to think of them as unintelligent and “wasting our time”, the Unforgivable Sin of the United States of America.

But the real problem here isn’t that immigrants are slow or that English is too difficult. While most people would hopefully not say what my acquaintance said out loud, it is evident in the way that we interact with language learners that many of us have some prejudices (much as we may work to hide them).

After a year of living and working as a language learner, I am more convinced than ever of the prejudices in me and more committed than ever to routing them out. I wrote a guest post about this for G92 today. Won’t you read it here? And while you’re there, check out the fabulous work this organization is doing to advocate for a biblical response to immigration (and that might not mean what you think it means).


For those of you waiting for the follow up from yesterday’s post on the Rights of Citizens, check back tomorrow for the Responsibilities of Citizens).

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  1. We have alot in common! I too am a teacher of languages, finished college with the intent to teach overseas, got as far as Peace Corps for a couple years but my debt at that time made the goal of my education be deferred for awhile.

    So I had kids :o) And that was good.

    But I also taught ESL here stateside, as well as Spanish, and the ESL was largely to kids who spoke Russian, so that kind of redeemed my 2 years in Russia.

    In reading your post, I agreed with everything you say, but I also wanted to take it a step further, in talking about how Americans will likely never have something akin to an immigrant experience similar to those who have landed on American soil. I wrote this:

    “Good article. Even Americans who do have the experience of living for a long time outside American borders still lack comprehension of what it is to be from a culture that is economically not as prosperous or powerful as the US.

    My first time leaving the US, a host brother said to me that “Sometimes people will see that you are an American and they will feel like their country (Ecuador) is not as strong as your country…” in my naivete, I never realized that obvious fact and how it played out on the street, at parties, in class etc.

    So even when Americans go live outside the US, they are still not really experiencing at all what a Latino family experiences here, which a lot of time is a considerable amount of “righteous” hatred, even from followers of Jesus.

    I think of the extremely rich middle eastern countries might be a place where americans might possibly get a taste of that “foreigner from a less prosperous homeland” experience… maybe?

    I added you to my regular reads (if it works…) ;o)

    from a colleague in Portland OR.

    1. Heather, welcome! I am so glad you found me and commented. I just checked out your blog, and you’re right! We have a lot in common. I have a friend who is teaching in Dubai right now, and I think she’s had a little bit of the “less prosperous” looked-down-upon situation, but people all over the world kind of idolize American culture from movies and television shows, and so they are still intrigued by her and her “American-ness”.

      Thanks for stopping by, I hope to see you around here more! And I added your blog to my list too.

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