PLATFORM/Lost in translation
Across the nation, various cities and counties are making government information as accessible as possible to residents who speak foreign languages. For example, Miami Beach, Fla., offers television broadcasts of its commission meetings that feature Spanish subtitles. American City & County recently asked readers of its e-mail newsletter the following question: To what extent should cities and counties provide translations of information on such items as street signs, Web sites and printed materials for their non-English-speaking residents? Two responses, one supporting some degree of translations and the other opposing them, are reprinted below.
“There should be no translations of the English language on street signs, etc. English is the spoken language, and it should be the one used. How many languages would we place on the signs or on Web sites? Any person wishing to live in the U.S.A. should learn the English language. I would be expected to learn the language for any other country should I wish to live there. We, as a nation, have become too concerned about being politically correct, while the rest of the world does their own thing. Yet, we are condemned by the same countries who, at some point, desire or need our aid in the form of dollars, food, military aid.”
— Rod Mathis, assistant city engineer, Twin Falls, Idaho
“I believe that for safety and human health issues, dual language information and signage is a good idea. However, anyone wanting to do ‘business’ should learn English. My Polish and Portuguese grandparents came to America and didn’t know English but learned very quickly that they had to learn. At first, my Polish grandmother used to go shopping with a lady who knew English. She told me that everywhere she went, she would listen and try to ask the names of things. [She had] no formal bilingual education. I certainly understand immigrants wanting to retain their culture and language, but it shouldn’t become a wall between sectors of our population.”
— Richard Strzepek, director of wastewater management and pretreatment, Suffolk County, N.Y., Department of Public Works