The North Texas e-News included a story on Pastor Woody Wilson earlier this week. You can check it out here!
Also, Dr. Wilson wrote a column for the McKinney Courier-Gazette that ran last weekend. At this time, the article is not available on the newspaper's website, but you can read the content below.
Learning New Language in Our Melting Pot
By Woody Wilson
Language is an uncertain term these days. A generation ago, language referred to a course in school, either Language Arts with its endless repetition of rules of grammar and sentence structure or a foreign language, such as Spanish, French, or German. Today, schools still offer courses in other languages, Language Arts still encompasses reading and grammar, but many schools, of necessity, now offer bi-lingual and English as a Second Language programs.
The state of affairs within our own English language has many concerned. Does anyone speak or write correctly? Subject and verb agreement seems a relic of the past. Search email and text messages. Who capitalizes or punctuates these days? Why write out a sentence if abbreviations get the message across? OMG! R U kidding me?
This phrase from the last paragraph, “our own English language,” underscores the problem we face today. Whose English do we speak? We don’t speak the King’s English any longer. Some today don’t speak English at all. The debate rages. Should English be the official language of Texas or California or of America for that matter? Collin County here in North Texas is changing. The County web site (http://www.co.collin.tx.us/business/numbers.jsp) declares that native born Texans now compose only about 45% of the population. Consider these facts cited by county officials:
· One in five county residents will be foreign born in the near future, from slightly more than 17 percent in 2006
· About four out of 10 of those foreign born are naturalized U.S. citizens
· A language other than English is spoken in almost one in four homes here, representing almost 150,000 county residents
Communication problems abound, but these difficulties can be turned to wonderfully enriching opportunities. I have a friend from Slovenia (part of what used to be Yugoslavia). His English is not perfect, but that has not deterred a great friendship from developing.
I lived in France for five years. While there, English was always and will always be my heart language. Even though French is considered one of the most romantic languages, when I walked hand-in-hand with my wife down the Champs-Elysées or along the Seine River, I spoke English to her not the French that we were both learning. People will always have the right to speak their heart language, no matter where they are.
Some today seem to want to require that people abandon their heart language for their new adopted language. People grow irritated in convenience stores because no one is speaking English. We wonder why signs in stores and on billboards should be bi-lingual. We want everyone to speak our language.
My elementary school schedule included a course in Social Studies as well as Language Arts. There I learned about America being a “melting-pot.” Our port cities have long welcomed immigrants from distant lands, bringing their language and cultural differences with them. This has created a very diverse land, rich in regional variations of dialect, accent, and cultural expression. Americans have embraced these variations with grace and understanding—until recently. Today, it just seems like many are angry, thinking, if not articulating their thoughts, “Why can’t everyone just be like me?”
The bottom line is communication. We are frustrated when communication breaks down. I sympathize with those English-as-a-Second-Language people who are new to America as they try to construct sentences that make sense. I have been there. I have been laughed at and scorned as I butchered the French language. One woman was so upset with me she hollered at me in the street telling me to go back to America. I have also been helped and encouraged by those who embraced my desire to speak their language. These informal coaches helped me become fluent in their language.
My question is this: Where are the language coaches/mentors that our English-challenged neighbors need? My answer is simple: Become both a language learner and a language helper. Do you have a neighbor, friend, or work colleague whose heart language is other than English? Strike an agreement with them. Let them teach you some of their language and culture and, in turn, help them with yours. Only as we learn the language of a person’s heart, can we truly begin to communicate. Let us whose heart language is English cross the cultural divide toward our non-English speaking neighbors. Let us build bridges of communication to language-challenged people.
Woody D. Wilson is a native Texan, resident of McKinney, and pastor of the Waddill Street Baptist Church. His first book, The Shadow of Babel, recently released by CrossHouse Publishing, addresses issues of communication and the challenges of language. It is available at www.hannibalbooks.com.