If your job involves interaction with customers, speak English


(JJ Valdez)

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These sacred words, engraved on the Statue of Liberty, embody a principle America strives to achieve. I agree with this noble sentiment.

But I think that if you’re going to live in this country, no matter where you come from, at least learn to speak English before applying for jobs, especially if the job means talking to other people.

To those who are reading these words and assuming that I’m bashing other ethnicities for not learning our American culture and language, then fine, call me a hater if you want. You would wrong about that assumption as I don’t have a problem with other cultures and languages in general. My problem is that I am so sick and tired of going to, as well as working in, an establishment where the employees speak very little to no English.

I originally thought that everyone who came to this country should make it their top priority to learn English, thus making it easier for them to live here and adapt to their new environment. However, I’ve since had a change of heart.

Sometimes people come to this country in order to escape persecution or because they are looking for a new and better life. Maybe such people don’t have the time or money to learn a whole new language. I can understand and respect that. But when these people aim to be a part of the work force that regularly interacts with customers, I do think they should speak a decently functional level of English so that they can actually talk to other people. Because, you know, their job actually involves dealing with customers.

If an employer hires someone who doesn’t speak English very well or even at all, but has them work behind the scenes (like with inventory or some other position that doesn’t have constant customer interaction) then I am fine with this. But to hire the same person to work on the front counter or answer phone calls is really bad business sense.

I can see the benefits of having your employees speak multiple languages–indeed, such a skill is often invaluable, especially in a diverse community like the Bay Area. This helps the business appeal to a wider demographic. But since this is America, where the majority language is English, I think that any customer-facing employee should have to know how to speak English no matter how many other languages they may know.

I can’t keep track of the numerous amount of times I’ve had to ask if I could talk to another sales representative because the one I’ve been talking to can’t understand a word I’m saying. If I’m dealing with a customer “specialist” then why do I have to be the one to go through the annoying song and dance of talking very slowly and enunciating every single word. Isn’t it the company’s responsibility to give customers good customer service? And if that’s the case, doesn’t that start with being able to actually communicate?

I don’t understand why it’s somehow my fault or responsibility as a customer to make sure an employee understands me. It’s not my job, it’s theirs.

This also happens to me a lot at my own place of work. I’m employed at a burger joint and sometimes I work by clearing tables with some co-workers who don’t speak very good English. On multiple occasions, this has created two problems.

When customers see us working and notice that I’m the only one who speaks well enough to carry on a conversation, they immediately ask for my help. This is all fine and good initially but when this happens over and over again during a work shift, I get overwhelmed quickly get exhausted by the constant requests or questions. I have to work harder than the non-English speakers so it’s as if I’m being punished for being fluent!

The second problem occurs sometimes my co-workers ask me to do something. I can never understand them as their request is usually too hard to understand because their English is so poor. Sometimes they just flat out speak to me in a foreign language even though they know I don’t know it. As a result of this constant miscommunication, the task never gets completed and I sometimes get reported for not doing my job. So basically, I get in trouble with my managers because my co-workers don’t speak English. That’s not at all fair and it happens all the time.

Although it’s not technically the language of America (this country currently has no official language), everyone knows that English is the primary language used here. So if you’re a resident of this country, it’s in your best interest to speak English. It’s as simple as that. If I moved to another country, I would learn their language. I would not make it a problem for other people that I can’t communicate–that’s my problem.

When I was growing up, my parents understood this. Being both English and Spanish speakers, they decided that they should only speak one language at home so as to not confuse me. Guess which language they chose? That’s right, they chose English.

However, I do understand that learning a new language is difficult. And having a job in these current tough times is more crucial than ever. That’s why I think that if anyone is to blame for this whole mess, it’s the hiring companies. It’s their fault that paying customers like you and co-workers like me have to suffer through English-deficient employees.

If you’re a manager and you’re going through a pile of resumes, shouldn’t proper customer interaction be one of your top priorities? Maybe it’s just to save some money (as non-English speaking employees are often willing to work for much less because they know they are at a disadvantage) but so many businesses keep hiring these people over and over. They might save a few dollars, but if they hired employees who could actually communicate with customers and co-workers, these companies would ultimately be so much better off.

I once worked at a pizza parlor which was ran by a family who spoke Portuguese. Communication between me and the owner was often very awkward but at least he knew to have me answering phones and taking orders because my English skills were very helpful in such customer-facing tasks.

Customers have the right to go to local establishments where the employees can clearly communicate with them in a way where goods and services can be properly exchanged. It’s just good business sense.