Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Language Choice

Recently, I received an election mailing notification. It says:
At the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, we understand that language can sometimes be a barrier to communications and seeking election information. That's why we are mailing this postage prepaid card in order for you to obtain your election materials in your chosen language.  Please complete, detach and return the card provided to our office to request your ballot materials in Chinese. . .
The officials in my voting district must be commended for their effort to reach out to voters with language challenges.  However, for materials designed to be a language help, it would be better that those materials are well written and make sense.

First, the card stated that if I returned the card, I would have election materials in the language of my choice?  What options did I have?  German, French, Russian, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese?   No.  I would have been assigned to Chinese automatically.  Only Chinese.

There was no choice here. And that would not have been the language of my choice at all.

It is true that Chinese is my native tongue.  However, I would rather read voting materials in the prevailing language in this district, English, because most of, if not all, the ballots and measures were conceived and written in English originally and the officious and literal translations were often hard to read and digest. 

It would be better to say that if I need Chinese materials, I could request them by returning the card, instead of assuming Chinese is the language of my choice.

Chinese Election Flyer _ 4433

Chinese Election Flyer _ 4434

Chinese Election Flyer _ 4435

This reminded me of another unhappy experience in the U.S.  I bought an insurance policy through an acquaintance - a Chinese immigrant like me - but he turned out to be not very helpful and often failed to  reply to my messages.  I eventually requested a new agent.  Guess what?  I was assigned an agent who was another transplant from China - Hong Kong, who had slight difficulties in communicating in English.  Since she speaks little Mandarin and I speak no Cantonese, we have to communicate in the language she was not very comfortable with.

I really wish people don't judge others by their family names. 

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