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Your Opinion: Foreign-language driving exams favored

Your Opinion: Foreign-language driving exams favored

February 29th, 2012 by Ken Luebbering, Jefferson City in News

Dear Editor:

"Let's not obstruct the path to participation and assimilation," you wrote in your editorial of Feb. 22. I hope Missouri lawmaker's heed that advice.

"Learning a language is a process," you also point out in expressing your opposition to the xenophobic proposal approved by the Missouri House to eliminate non-English versions of Missouri's driver's license exam. As a descendant of German immigrants and someone who has lived in other countries, I support your opposition to this mis-guided proposal.

My German ancestors came to Missouri in the 1840s, but it wasn't until my generation, born a century later in the years around WWII, that English became our family's native language.

My parents, born in 1905 and 1913, were third generation German Americans, but they learned English in a Mid-Missouri elementary school where classes were taught part of the day in English and part of the day in German. Most of Missouri's German immigrants saw no conflict between their continued use of the German language and being "American."

During my career as a faculty member at Lincoln University I had the honor of twice being a Fulbright scholar, first in 1989-90 teaching at a Polish university, and again in 2002-2004 at the University of Bergen, Norway. Prior to moving to Poland I studied the Polish language very seriously for eight months and then was able to continue that study in a Polish language class offered by my Polish university.

In spite those advantages and the need to speak Polish in my daily life, I am certain that even at the end of that year I would never have passed a written Polish driver's exam. The specialized vocabulary would have been beyond me. The same was true when I left Norway after two years there.

By excluding Missouri residents from taking the driver's exam in their native language, we not only discriminate against them but we also do harm to our state by further isolating immigrants and making it more difficult for them to play productive roles in our society.

Immigrants have always contributed to the richness of our state with their hard work and the influences of their native cultures on our language, food and public life. This legislation would make that more difficult for our current immigrants.