English-only in the US, translating tweets in Japan and satire in Egypt

The English Only movement in the United States is always active during times of high immigration (check out my previous interview with US English lobbyist Tim Schultz). Now, the movement has got a shot in the arm from the Tea Party. It may help convince lawmakers and voters in the 19 remaining states that don’t yet have a law on their books declaring English to be the official language.

The issue with most of these laws is that they are ineffective (here is a map of English Only legislation in the United States). Many are symbolic only: they don’t specify how and when English must be used. Some do get specific.  In Arizona and Oklahoma, for example, you can’t take a driving test in a foreign language. But even then it’s not clear how much English Only laws affect linguistic behaviour.

There’s a long-established pattern of English acquisition among immigrants and their children. The first generation often speaks little or no English. The second generation, born in the United States, is bilingual, but often more proficent at English than the home language. The third generation is usually monolingual English, unable to communicate with their immigrant grandparent. People like language writer Robert Lane Greene, interviewed in my story, believe that pattern is again playing itself out.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Tea Partiers from bumper-sticking their love of English and fear of (mainly) Spanish from Florida and Texas all the way to Wasilla, AK.

This video has more than 14 million hits on YouTube, and this duo have performed it numerous times at Tea Party events.

Also in the pod this week, a conversation with Aya Watanabe, who has spent much of the past month translating earthquake-related tweets from Japanese to English.

It’s part of a project started by Japanese blogger Gen Taguchi to collect tweets that may give succor and inspire Japanese people in the face of this tragedy. Volunteers have translated tweets into at least 17 different languages.

In English, many of the tweets have more than the 140-characters maximum permitted by Twitter. That’s partly because a single Japanese character conveys more information than a single letter in the Roman alphabet. It’s also because Watanabe has sometimes added contextual details (eg ” on Kyushu Island, a thousand miles south of Tohoku”).

Below are some of Aya Watanabe’s favorite tweets, starting with the two that inspired her to start translating them into English.

At a jammed crossing
I was driving home after the quakes. Streets were extremely jammed and at many crossings only one car could cross the street per green light. At a spaghetti crossing, all traffic was paralyzed for more than 5 min. All drivers, I encountered, waiting to cross streets were calm, giving way to others. All thru my 10 hr driving, I didn’t hear any honking except those showing gratitude to others. Of course this travel was scary but also heart warming. This experience made me like Japan all the more.

At Tokyo Disneyland
They distributed sweets that are part of their merchandise. High school girls with heavy makeup took away more candies than they would possibly eat and that raised my eyebrows. Later, I saw those girls giving the candies to kids at evacuation areas. Families with kids had limited mobility and couldn’t get to where the candies were distributed. Go girls!

My mother’s foot warmer
Mom goes, “Oh! My little foot warmer got away!” My sister goes, “No I did not! ;D” And Mom goes, “Oh, there you are 🙂 🙂 ” … Mom and sister were sharing a futon during a blackout and Mom was searching for my sis’s warm feet. Cute mom 🙂 🙂

A little knight
I was walking behind a mother with a little boy and a baby in a carriage. The mother said to her young boy, “What if another earthquake hits? Scary, isn’t it?” The kindergarten boy said, “No worries, Mom. I will do THIS!” Then the boy bent over the baby in the carriage to protect his young sibling. What a little knight in a shiny armor. My heart felt warm.

Disgraceful
A teenage boy walked into a drugstore, a package of toilet paper in hand. He said, “My parent hoarded and bought two packages yesterday. How disgraceful. I would like to return one.” –My friend who works for the drugstore was impressed to hear a word “disgraceful” from a high school boy. We have bright future ahead in this country.

Packing for a move
When I was packing for my move, my mother handed me a flashlight and survival food she had kept for the family, saying “Take these and don’t buy new ones. There are people who really need them now. Us? We are fine. We have family and neighbors. We can help each other if a disaster strikes our area. You will be living by yourself, a stranger in a strange land. You have all the reasons to be anxious about your new life. No need to be anxious about us, your family.” I felt so proud to be my mother’s daughter, to be part of this family.

Mom’s Pep Talk
Called my Mom to let her know I survived the quakes. She lives in Kagoshima, on Kyushu Island, a thousand miles south of Tohoku. Thought she was worried about me and wanted to calm her down. Instead of tears, what I got from her was a pep talk. “Know, with all your heart, the meaning of your being where you are, at this timing and age in your life. Do the best you can to serve others.” Mother, I am proud to be your son. I will live through all this.

In the podcast, I also mention an interview on the Big Show with Tik Root, a Middlebury College student. Root was arrested in Syria where he was studying Arabic. He was detained for 15 days, suspected of being a foreign agent provocateur in Syria’s pro-democracy protests.  Here’s the interview.

Finally in the pod, we hear from Egypt about an instantly popular news satire show whose host is being compared to Jon Stewart. Here’s a translation of the video clip:

TALAT ZAKARIYA: You must have heard what’s happening in Tahrir Square.

BASSEM YOUSSEF : No! What? What?

T: Drums and horns and dancing…girls…and boys…and drugs…and full sexual relations.

Y (on the phone to someone): Didn’t I tell you we need to go to Tahrir Square? Dude, they’re saying there’s music and women and sex, and we’re sitting here? … Sorry, sorry.

Y: Mr. Talaat, is there a video that proves what you’re saying?

[Belly-dancing video]

Y: Sorry, clearly we got the video mixed up. We’ll fix it. Mr. Talaat, sorry, go ahead, tell us what else is happening in Tahrir Square?

T: What happening right in Tahrir Square is a carnival.

[Carnival clip]

T: There’s a band..there’s a one act play..all of it against the president..there are snacks and drinks and sodas and tea.

Y: I’ve finally learned what’s happening in Midan Tahrir. Out of solidarity with the eminent Mr. Talat Zakariya, I’m going to show you the proof.

T: Drums and horns..

[Crowds singing the national anthem]

Y: So ill-bred. People singing in Midan Tahrir.

T: Full sexual relations…

[Protesters fighting police]

Y: You’re right. It was an orgy…Anything else to add, Mr. Talat?

T: And who knows how many Muslim Brothers, and God knows what else, there…

Y: What, with the music and the girls and the drugs and the sex? What kind of Muslim Brothers, dude?

Mr. Talaat, concentrate for a moment–are you sure of what you’re saying?

T: And I take full responsibility.

Y: So when we write the history of the revolution… There was music and dance, girls and boys, drugs and sex, and Muslim Brothers. They had a carnival, they ate snacks and this lead to the fall of the regime.

Y: Mr. Talaat, is there anything else you’d like to add– anything else bothering you?

T: “Depart”: What does that mean? What does it mean to simple people?

[Video of Wael Ghonim and friends]

“Depart” means get out of here! What don’t you understand?

Y: I hope we answered the question.

Listen to the podcast here.


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2 responses to “English-only in the US, translating tweets in Japan and satire in Egypt

  1. Adrianna

    I’m an Intercultural Communications student at Northern Virginia Community College. I’m also a student of Macro Sociology and we’ve recently discussed the idea of “English-only” and whether or not it helps or hurts the immigrants themselves.
    What my class has been discussing is the idea that the “Press two for Spanish” movement is a hinderance to the vertical movement of the immigrants. By making it so convenient to hold onto one’s native tongue and not fully assimilate into the culture by way of language-which we know to be a very important part of both culture and the unity of a community-we ostracize and isolate the immigrant. Furthermore, colleges don’t make the same kind of provisions for non-English speakers. Companies don’t have a “We speak Spanish, too” policy for their employees. The majority of places that provide their information or service in Spanish are places such as stores, banks, and places like that. Those aren’t places of personal betterment, so is the idea of offering the bilingual option keeping them down because you can’t truly advance in the country without speaking the language?
    I’m from a bilingual household. My father came to the US from Mexico and my mom is from here. When they dated, the used a translation book, but they each learned the other language pretty quickly. My dad believes that the only way for yo to succeed in the country is to be able to speak the language because there are very few places that offer this “bilingual” option. Likewise, he gets frustrated at his job because the people under him often require his help in translating to their workers because of the language barrier. My dad always says “I don’t have time to get my own work done. I don’t have time to be translating for others on top of that.”
    I find this particularly powerful because my dad at one time wasn’t able to speak the language. However, he attended night school, had his brothers (who were already here and spoke the language well enough to succeed at work) help him, and would utilize my mom’s help as well.
    I’ve noticed that it’s not merely with the Spanish-speaking community as well. I’ve taken several classes where some of my fellow students clearly do not have a handle on the language. Though I believe in being understanding, I also wonder how they can truly be evaluated when it seems to me that there is a very clear communicational barrier between them and our instructor. For example, in a Public Speaking class I once took, a man could barely speak English and when we were assigned to a group project together, I offered to help explain things to him via email because I believe that I talk too fast sometimes and he could also utilize his pocket translator when deciphering my emails. It worked better than it would have if we’d relied on spoken instruction, however, at the end, he still never quite grasped the concept of our project and no one could understand his portion of the speech.
    For me, the group work wasn’t a problem, but I never understood how he could be evaluated because no one knew what he said. I don’t believe that student should be kept from taking classes because of the language barrier, but I do believe that perhaps some intensive English Language classes or workshops should be offered (maybe even at discounted rates) in order to encourage it further and help those students get the most out of their experiences.

  2. thanks sir for sharing, i am really appreciated you

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