One of my first encounters at a mall here in Miami, was with an employee from a major department store who berated me because I did not speak Spanish. I walked into the mall to purchase something in the home department. Since this was my first time, I was not sure where to find the home department. I walked up to the first counter I saw someone standing to get some assistance.
“Excuse me, where can I find the home department?” The lady responded “Eh?” I repeated myself, “where is the home department?” With a look of utter disgust, she retorted “No habla Espanol?” “No.” I exclaimed, “hablo Ingles!” I realized immediately we had a problem – she did not understand one word I was saying, and with the little Spanish I knew, I would not understand her. With that, feeling quite frustrated, I walked away and found the home department myself.
If you’ve spent a great deal of time in most parts of Miami, outside of South Beach, you would understand the reason Miami has been dubbed “South America.” I would have been less surprised at the question “No habla Espanol?” if I was in a small “mom and pop” store; but not a major department store. Shouldn’t there be a requirement that all employees speak English? After all, aren’t we in America?
That is in fact the position most English-speakers have taken. But is it necessarily the right one? I suspect your response to that question will be impacted by not only whether you speak English or Spanish, but also your upbringing, your background, and the way you view the America we live in today. Frankly, the most popular language in Miami appears to be Spanish, and the Spanish speakers are asking themselves (in Spanish), “why don’t they learn to speak Spanish?”
The end result is a significant breakdown in communication, no matter which view is the right one. I can tell you from personal experience, my lack of ability to speak and understand the Spanish language fluently has affected my ability to communicate with my clients. The majority of my clients are Spanish-speaking. I cannot pick up the telephone to give them an update about their case, or ask a simple question, without the assistance of my Secretary or Paralegal. Does this inhibit my ability to practice law, of course not, but it certainly impairs the process.
I could take the approach of “they need to learn English” or I could learn to speak Spanish. I have chosen the latter approach. Besides, being fluent in another language can only help me. So I am on a mission to not just learn the language, but to master it! With the help of a few apps and a few Spanish friends, I am well on my way!
Hasta Luego Mi Amigos!