Language is almost the first skill humans acquire, absent some physiological impediment.  Most children utter their first words around age 9 months.  Research now suggests that the best time to teach second languages is while the child is still in the womb and the first year of life.

As I look around at the growing number of people who barely speak English, and I am NOT referring to immigrants here, but American citizens, while demanding that immigrants learn English, I am appalled.  I am especially appalled when one of these people proudly announces they never learned a second language "beyond what I was compelled to take to graduate."  [I resist asking them when they are going to learn English, because I learned long ago that people complaining about others do not like having their own faults pointed out to them.]   I do think that if you cannot speak your own language properly, and you have limited experience with learning another language, beyond struggling through the required courses, you are arrogant to demand someone else do what you will not, have not, and by your own reports cannot.  I have a test:

Im hear too c there nu baby.                  If you don't cringe when you read that sentence, you are illiterate in English.  LEARN IT!

I understand there are people with learning disabilities.  I don't fault them for having trouble with remembering when to use "too," "to," and "two."  I fault them for griping about  immigrants not speaking English, not learning English.  

I know something about learning languages.  It's a hobby of mine. I know it's far easier to learn to understand the written and spoken forms then it is to actually speak it.  Even if you have learned the differences in pronunciation, often involving repositioning of the lips and tongue, you find yourself groping for the correct word to use in the context.  I studied Spanish from age 7 through 17, and into the University Level.  I can listen to Spanish language movies and TV shows without getting lost.  Oh, sure there are words now and then I don't know, or an idiomatic expression I don't quite understand, but I get the gist of it. When I try to speak Spanish with neighbors and fellow Houstonians, I'm amazed at how often words I know just can't seem to come out of my brain to my mouth!  Part of that is just memory.  Part of that is self-consciousness, fear of saying the wrong thing. Sometimes I just never learned the word.  After all, no matter how many years you study a language, you won't learn every single word for every context.  When I had my dead pines cut down last November, I realized I didn't know and had never learned the words for "Limb" "lumber" "stump" "grind"  "mulch" "saw"" etc.  So when I speak to a Spanish-speaking person, I have the courtesy to respect the effort put into learning what English he or she does know, and I give them the respect for being human and having to deal with that pesky memory thing and the fact they haven't ever heard some of the words they want to use.

I have also seen how delighted people from other nations are when I speak even a few words in their native language.  Their eyes light up and everything gets friendlier, usually.  There is the rare person who seems to think I am implying they cannot speak English and who answers me frostily in English.  Recently, I smiled sweetly and said to one such person "I spent so many years learning Spanish and I love the opportunity to practice it and not lose it."  Her face went from frosty to warm in a split second and we had a nice chat in Spanish.  It doesn't take much to learn a few words or phrases, and what do you know?  Most people think it's a sign of respect for their language and culture.  

If you don't even respect your own language and culture enough to learn it properly, what gives you the right to demand someone else learn YOUR language before you treat them with respect?  Now there are good reasons to have a common language -- disasters, emergencies, and the like.  Of course that presupposes you want to help each other understand the situation.  


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