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Can’t find a job? Learn Spanish

POSTED August 24, 2012 10:20 p.m.

Sarah is frustrated.
She says she's been pounding the pavement for the better part of the last year - mostly in Modesto, Stockton, and Manteca - looking for a job.
She has front office skills and is essentially looking for work as a receptionist.
But in about what she estimates are half of the inquiries she makes, she is told almost out of the gate that she doesn't qualify. The reason? She doesn't speak Spanish.
Sarah - who did not give me her last name nor leave a contact number - called a month ago to vent her frustrations. She left them in a voicemail.
I didn't give it much thought until this week when a fellow employee said his wife who also has excellent front office skills is running into the same brick wall. He noted that virtually every prospective employer asked the same question: Do you speak Spanish? She doesn't.
I talked to several people I know who are looking for work. All have come across the same requirement in varying frequency. But the jobs with the biggest roadblock based on fluency in Spanish are those that can be classified as receptionists.
Yes, it is discrimination but it certainly isn't illegal discrimination under current state and federal laws.
Legislators and bureaucrats that craft employment laws view language as a skill. Someone who is Scandinavian can learn to speak Spanish just like someone from Venezuela can learn to speak English.
And the job openings in question require fluency in both English and Spanish.
The United States is one of the few nations whose public school system doesn't virtually require immersion in learning a second language from the initial grade level on up. Other nations do it to stay competitive in a world market. The second language that they target tends to be English - widely viewed as the language of commerce. But there are nations that require Chinese and other languages depending upon their primary or prospective trading partners.
One could argue that making Spanish a mandatory second language with English being used as the main language for public education would make sense for California. Not as much due to the large segment of the population that speaks primarily in Spanish, but because Central and South America represents a massive under-tapped market for the United States. Logically, Mexico to Argentina stands as a market that makes the most sense for the USA to immerse itself with given the commonality we have as the Americas.
However there is a huge caveat. Most nations that have a second language requirement in their schools do so for global reasons. Domestic economies rely on one or two languages. And it is rare for a country to do what the United States does in terms of virtual universal accommodation of all tongues. A prime example is the California drivers' test that can be taken in 32 languages and administered audibly in DMV driving tests in 12 languages.
There is also the issue of other languages used by immigrants - legal and otherwise. Spanish may be the dominant language after English but there are growing numbers of other languages that people in this country use exclusively.
Now, here's the fun part. The United States does not have an official language - or does it? Besides most of government such as the work of Congress being done exclusively in English there is the blazing gun in the mandates to become a naturalized citizen.
With the exception of people generally over 20 years who have been in this country for 15 years or more depending upon their age, all candidates to become citizens must know English.
So, in a way, English is the de facto language of United States' citizens.
The reason this was done was to prevent us from becoming a modern-day Tower of Babel.
And while requiring receptionists and some other positions to have the requirement of Spanish as part of the job description isn't illegal, there is a real danger.
The day may come when applicants for police officer jobs anywhere in California - including Modoc County - will have to know English, Chinese, Punjabi, Hmong, and Japanese to name a few tongues.
Would that create an economically viable model for a nation to operate?
We would be spending more energy on learning various tongues to conduct every day business than in finding ways to make business - and government - more efficient.
If a business believes an employee needs a skill set that includes speaking Spanish, then that should be OK with all of us even if we don't speak the language.
But to have a population that is so fractured in terms of being able to conduct domestic trade or even communicate in an emergency situation is inefficient and dangerous.
We may literally be talking our way to Third World status.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.

 

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