I have learned that living in a country where few people speak English on a regular basis, you have to be dependent on the mercy of others.
When you mispronounce the name of the city you want to go to at the bus terminal, you have to trust that the kind lady behind the counter will issue you the proper ticket.
When it’s time to stand up in church, you have to trust that a native speaker will tell you that it’s time. Or what you’re trying to say is the Apostle’s Creed.
When you’re trying to buy something at the convenience store and the worker behind the counter remembers your name from your name tag and then proceeds to help you.
When you didn’t know from the forecast that it would be raining during your walk to church (even though you’ve lived here a month) and your Korean language teacher lets you under her umbrella.
Yes, in a world of a different tongue, you rely on the mercy of others.
Now let’s turn back to life in the United States.
For almost three years, I worked at a popular chain restaurant (that ends with “Barrel”) that boasts fine Southern cuisine and pancakes. As a courtesy to the many guests (and many faithful employees) that do not speak or read English fluently and want to enjoy a good meal, the company provides Spanish-language menus. One night, an older gentleman came in with his friends and as he waited for his table to be cleaned, he spotted the menus tucked in the back. He made a snide comment about the Spanish menus and then I sat his group. It’s been over a year since the incident, but I remember it lucidly.
I’m not trying to be political on this blog, but as a teacher to English language learners, I feel that it’s critical to show mercy to those who may not speak the native tongue of our nation (specifically the United States). Sure, it might be America, and you think you shouldn’t have to “Press 2 for Spanish,” or read bilingual shampoo labels, but the fact is that each year, many people arrive in our country looking for better opportunities. Regardless of your views on immigration and non-English speakers, this is a reality each and every day.
Also, If you’ve ever been abroad, you may know how uncomfortable it is to not speak the native tongue. It’s even harder to communicate what you may want to say. It can be terrifying and awkward. Believe me, I know. However, many Americans expect the world to speak English at the drop of a hat once they leave the borders of their homes and enter the U.S. However, if my blossoming Korean language skills (and disparities) have taught me anything, it’s that life requires dependence and mercy.
On that note, perhaps mercy can be found in a bilingual, non-English restaurant menu.