English Can Save Your Life

Here we go again. Another example of how the inability to communicate effectively in English is straining the system.

Tulsa firefighters are going back to school to learn basic Spanish. Why? Aren't we told everyday that immigrants are assimilating and learning our language and our customs? We are told it's because of Tulsa's "changing community." Firefighters attempt to help people, many of them injured, who are unable to communicate what is wrong. They can't answer simple questions. What happened here? Where does it hurt? Can you move your leg? Is there anyone still inside? You know, the basics that can mean life or death when the stuff hits the fan.

The teachers and the facilities for the Spanish lessons are being offered free of charge, thanks to private citizens raising and donating money.

But this isn't a question of who will pay for a program. It's a question of why the people the firefighters are trying to help aren't helping themselves. I wouldn't try to re-wire my house without knowing about electricity. Why would someone live in America and put themselves at such a disadvantage by not knowing the LANGUAGE of our nation?

As this story illustrates dramatically, it's not always a convenience issue. It's a life threatening issue. The burden needs to be less on the firefighters and the rest of us in society, and more on the people who want to be a member of our club without learning the rules and regulations that membership entails.

If the firefighters are able to take a crash course of the basics of Spanish, the immigrants can do the same with English. No one is asking them to speak smoothly or fluently overnight. But when I was a teenager and traveled to Brazil with my parents, I learned enough basic Portugese to at least make the effort to not be such a linguistic burden on the people around me.

I was raised by Hispanic immigrants to speak English AND Spanish in the home. But my parents always taught me that I was to speak ENGLISH ONLY in public and to those who do not understand Spanish. It was the equivalent of not whispering in front of someone not "in" on the hushed conversation.

It's about respect, responsibility, and it could very well save your life.