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Is This Exclusionary

Living in a country where YOU are the foreigner can do a number on your views. Has it changed your views on the controversial topic of …

…foreign language signs?

I’m serious.

I came across this article a few weeks ago and saved it for a rainy day: the author reports feeling put off by Korean language signs in Queens, New York. Namely, he feels like people who cannot read those signs – such as he – are not welcome.

Debates about official languages can get heated, but this is framed differently. Obviously the fact is that English is the most common language in the US…but do we really want to live in a society where English language signs are required, or where foreign language signs are forbidden if they are not accompanied by translation?

I also think it’s interesting that people feel threatened by foreign language signs – I wouldn’t feel excluded, I’d be curious and probably more interested to go in! Or at least I would consider that a possibility. But – maybe as a result of not studying foreign languages – many in the US seem to look at the use of foreign languages as subversive, or as a way of keeping secrets. And in a practical sense, if no one is studying foreign languages…they are! But that’s not a fact about foreign languages, that’s a fact about US education and the choices individuals make about what to study or not.

On a similar note, it came to my attention that any ad posted only in a language other than English on Craigslist is considered discriminatory (Craigslist New York, at least).

If you’ve ever tried to use Craigslist in the US, you’ll also be aware that one of their scam-prevention tips is “be careful about anything out of the country.” There are a lot of scams, and they may well originate because people realize how easy it is feed Americans misinformation about how things go overseas. But the result is people posting things like “if you’re not in the us, don’t contact me.”

Are foreign language signs or ads really exclusionary – or is thinking this an extension of some kind of insular tradition?