She gave me permission to post an excerpt from her email. Here’s what she had to say:
The article on assimilation tickled me, as I’m Portuguese born and raised, married an American at 22 and moved here. There weren’t many Portuguese speakers in NC (where we first lived) and no Portuguese TV stations — though I will grant you that I’d learned English in school, both high school and college. On the other hand, I started learning English at fourteen, and no one else in my family speaks it fluently. When I came here I spoke good-for-second-language English, nowhere at the level needed for what I wanted to do. For what I wanted to do see my web site. As you see, I managed it. Without a single class since I came to the states, too. :)- - - - - - - - - -
If I can do this, when English is my third language, then people who come to the States less prepared should be able to learn English well enough to vote and graduate from high school and use other official channels in English.
In case you wonder, I did do this without most of the editors who bought my work even knowing I was not a native speaker of English. In fact, I outright lied to some of them and blamed my accent on mid-range-hearing loss (which I also happen to have). I didn’t want to win with help. No training wheels. I wanted to “get there” by the same rules as everyone else, otherwise what’s the point? I’m not “there” yet, but I’m further along than I ever hoped to be.
I did it by starting to read in English after my first year of the language — while in Portugal — and by getting American correspondents, so that I could use the language idiomatically. If it had been now, I’d probably have spent a lot of time surfing the web, too. And once I came here, though it would have been easy to continue reading fiction and magazines in Portuguese, I undertook it to do all my reading in English. Much harder and slower, but more productive in the end.
In addition to coming here at 22, I was an exchange student to the States with AFS between 17 and 18, for my senior year in high school (When I met my husband — he was the boy down the street). I don’t think this in any way negates my point — on the contrary. It could be argued that when I came here at 22 I had university-level English (trust me, doesn’t mean as much as you might think, but… it could be argued, anyway) .
However, when I came to the States as a high school senior, I had three years of English, and although I think I had an impressive vocabulary, etc., I was nowhere near being fluent. My first day I went through all my classes without understanding a single word. I went home and cried and was sure I would fail the year. Needless to say, I didn’t.
There was no one in Stow, Ohio who spoke Portuguese; my host family was American; calling my parents would be way too expensive, and besides they couldn’t help me with English classes. Back in the dark ages — ‘80-’81 — there were, thank heavens, no “English as a second language” classes.
So, by the end of the year I was on the honors list. :) Still, with all that, after going back to Portugal and college for four years, my English had deteriorated and it had never been at the level of writing professionally, anyway. That I had to earn, step by step.
Most students in my day came over with a very rudimentary handle on English. None of them had help in terms of foreign language assimilation. MOST of them left speaking fluent everyday English. I imagine it’s still the same, except perhaps for Spanish speaking foreign students — horrifying thought. Are those poor people being channeled into ESL classes?
I count and pray in Portuguese. That’s about it. Oh, and I swear in Portuguese. Which means it’s mostly the words my kids know. :)
I can attest that even today if I spend a long time speaking/reading in Portuguese it affects my English. I can also attest that, as my sons tell their Hispanic classmates “You have to want to be American, and if you don’t, what are you doing here?”
Not just Europeans have ridiculous red tape on immigration. I have a writer colleague, Dave Freer, who writes for American publishers and who lives in South Africa. For obvious reasons, he is thinking of moving from SA. Though he works mostly for American publishers, he’s not even considering immigrating to the US because it’s almost impossible for him to get here — writing not being a “job” you can import people for.
And though I intended to come to the States one way or another, I’m very glad I chanced to fall in love with an American. I might still be struggling, otherwise (And, yes, I’ve been married for 22 years, so it clearly wasn’t for the citizenship).
I fully agree with the president that more people are a good thing. I simply think we should be importing scientists and technicians and, for that matter, skilled carpenters and craftsmen. Not illiterate laborers who have bought into racist ideologies and ideas of revenge for territories supposedly stolen from them.
I’m all for immigration — I’m also for cutting ridiculous barriers to legal immigration, but not illegal immigration. And I’m not for people intent on taking over our culture and our institutions being allowed in.