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A failure to communicatePosted Wednesday, August 8, 2007, at 8:32 AM
"Many of the family members don't speak English."
That sad comment by a Utah official about families of the trapped miners tells a major story in itself.
And it speaks volumes about how rescue attempts can go awry when rescuers and rescuees can't communicate.
Each day Shelbyville police officers can be heard referring to "language barriers" when trying to talk with people from central and south America or Africa.
Communication, or lack of, can mean the difference between life and death. We may not have mines in Bedford County, but we do have the potential for numerous types of tragedy.
I'm strongly against taking or limiting anyone's ethnicity or traditions, but all legal immigrants should be required to either know English well enough to get by or to learn it as quickly as possible as a condition of entering the United States. That's not prejudice; it's simply ensuring the ability to survive. I'd have no problem with another country enforcing such conditions on me.
Unfortunately, many of Bedford County's immigrants are illegal -- out of reach of any authority, seemingly -- and unable to speak English, which makes them functionally illiterate in American society. I've been told that some don't speak their own languages very well. That's not so unusual; as we know, some Americans ain't exactly larned their English too good.
I'd be among the first to say that we should listen to what people are saying more than how they're saying it. But when we can't comprehend any of it, all of us are in trouble.
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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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