Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The U.S. Department of Education has released a new study showing that 11 million American adults (16 and older) do not understand simple English. I’m not sure how they did the study, but no one who has picked up dry-cleaning, ordered a hamburger at a drive through or worked in a hospital would be surprised.

No one who has visited a high school lately would be surprised either. There are at least two classes of people in high school. Broadly speaking, there is a class of bright, learning, active people. Then there is the class of unengaged, dull and uncaring people. They may be into drugs, alcohol, sports, video games or sleeping, but they are not learning. Their parents are not encouraging them to learn in many instances. They are doomed.

And you are doomed, as an educated person, because they are not going to get your hamburger order right, or get the right level of starch in your shirts or be able to understand you tell them what is wrong with them so they can get well. The law forces us to have interpreters for people who do not speak the national language, but soon we will need special interpreters for the indigenous population that neglected to learn the language (or anything else useful).

Another thing going on is the declining rate of English literacy among native Spanish speakers. The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy showed literacy increasing for almost every segment of the population. However, scores for Hispanics generally and native Spanish speakers specifically dropped. The average score for native Spanish speakers is now at the the “below basic” mark.

You have to think that the increase in Hispanic immigration, especially illegal, contributes to this. Illegal immigrants are less likely to be enrolled in English programs. They seek jobs where they can speak Spanish or broken English, they live in neighborhoods where Spanish is spoken and do not melt into the English pot. For them, America is just a suburb of Mexico, but with more jobs.
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