Opinion: Minorities will find success with English skills

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    Remember that old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”? Seems to make sense, doesn’t it? But people in Rome who speak no Italian will have a hard time doing as the Romans do.

    So it is with non-English speakers in Utah, who, because of their limited ability to communicate with the majority of the state’s residents, seem doomed to low-paying jobs and inadequate levels of education. The solution to this problem is to create and improve transitional programs that will encourage and help both young students and adults to learn English.

    According to the Census 2000 results, Utah’s minority population is on the rise. Many of these are coming from different countries.

    What makes this report so troubling is the fact that Utah leaders are not doing enough to ensure that members of the non-English speaking minority have the skills necessary to effectively communicate with the rest of Utah’s residents.

    To be accepted socially and to progress financially, Utah minorities are expected to do as Utahns do — they are expected to speak English.

    But at Provo’s own Maeser Elementary School, where more than 30 percent of the students are minorities, many students do not speak English, according to a report from Every Parent a Volunteer. And more than 75 percent of these students, not surprisingly, are on the free-lunch program.

    With the growth of minority populations in Utah, leaders need to get rid of their “sink or swim” philosophies and instead develop transitional programs to help non-English speakers get the education and assistance they both need and deserve.

    The new “Official English” laws could hinder, rather than help, any efforts to solve the state’s problems.

    By mandating that no official state documents, transactions, proceedings, meetings and publications have to be printed in languages other than English, this now infamous law could discourage many non-English speakers from becoming civically-active citizens.

    We do believe that English proficiency is a vital and necessary skill, without which jobs and living options will remain severely limited. But denying materials in a language that residents can understand will inhibit, rather than facilitate, their acquisition of the language.

    Thus, the key to eliminating the problem lies in the formation of effective programs that will encourage acquisition of English.

    In advocating such programs, we do not support cultural imperialism, nor do we suggest that Utah’s minorities should forsake their cultures, traditions or native tongues.

    We welcome new groups and cultures into Utah. But realistically, residents must learn English to succeed socially, economically and politically.

    This may not be Rome, but the old adage still applies. When in Rome…

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