Monday, 12 June 2017

One language or many?

I was planning on writing something else this morning but this has come up in the state newspaper and I would be interested to know what other people think.
Apparently an email was circulated in one of the major hospitals asking people to speak English in the staff room. The email has been criticised with people saying it is "disappointing" in our "multicultural" society.
Most regular readers of this blog will know that my job involves providing communication resources between people from diverse language backgrounds.  Most of those people are medical staff. There is no way that some of them have any hope of speaking the language of the people they have gone in to work with and some other form of communication is not merely desirable but essential. It is much, much easier when they have even just a few words of the other language, have heard it spoken, are able to read the alphabet, and so on. 
People I work with are conscious of the fact that failure to communicate accurately can prove fatal - was 5mg or 50mg? Let's not go there. 
This country's official language is English. It is the language used to communicate in parliament, in the courts, and public places. It is, with very rare exceptions, the language of instruction in schools. 
It is also good that we have people who speak other languages. Diverse languages provide us with diverse ways of thinking and understanding the world. 
My own feeling however is that if you are in the staff room and people are present who do not speak Greek or Vietnamese or Urdu or whatever you happen to speak then you should use English. Yes, you may be talking about the birthday party for your child or the birth of your nephew but it might lead to a work related comment and fact that everyone needs to know.  If you are speaking another language you might simply forget to translate for everyone, indeed it may not occur to you. 
The request to speak English in the staff room when other other people are present is not being anti-multicultural or biased against speakers of other languages. To me it is sheer commonsense. It is an issue of safety. 
It is also polite. 


Frances said...


helen devries said...

Clearly a good idea in the context.
A neighbour here in Costa Rica owns a plot in a gated community where the majority of the owners are North American. The AGM was held recently...and by a vote it was decided to use English as the language of the meeting.
Accordingly my neighbour understood nothing of what passed - as no one was willing or able to translate for her - and she was aggrieved as, after all, Spanish is the language of Costa Rica.

Anonymous said...

It is essential for everybody who works in any hospital in any country to speak the language of the country they are in ... or are accompanied by a translator if they are visiting from a foreign country. Part of the job description should be a high level of language skills in the local language, so that it is second nature to use that language at all times in the workplace.