Monday, April 12, 2010

Should Metro Go Bilingual?


A number of people wrote in during the cherry blossom festivities saying they'd heard Spanish-language announcements in Metro stations.

We've seen lots of WMATA brochures and other printed materials in other languages, but we've never heard an announcement in the Metrorail in anything but English or that language Charlie Brown's teacher speaks.

We asked WMATA if the Spanish announcements were some kind of pilot program. They told us they weren't, and that Spanish announcements in Metrorail stations are made only for big events like the Cherry Blossom Festival or Fourth of July.

They added that Spanish announcements are common on Metrobus.

We asked if having dual announcements all the time had ever come up.

"Every once in a while," WMATA said.

When we asked for more details, WMATA said "It's lose lose. We get complaints when we don’t have them, and more complaints when we do."

So far, signage has not been part of this discussion but is treated the same. Metro said.

Signs done for major works projects and/or projects that take place in high population areas are usually done in English and Spanish Metro added.

What do you think? Should any part of Metro go bilingual or multilingual? Lots of mass transit systems in major cities offer at least some information in other languages. The Bay Area Rapid Transit, for example, has basic information in Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Korean and Japanese on its Web page.

In 2007, Metro began giving Spanish classes to its front line employees as part of a pilot project.

Hopefully, the words tarde and yo quiero Taco Bell (here too) stuck.

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23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with what BART does because it is an international city with thousands of visitors from all over the world, plus a native Chinese speaking community especially in Oakland and San Francisco. Metro should do the same. Spanish however is just a bow to political correctness. Our DC public schooled Metro employees haven't even mastered English yet.

Anonymous said...

As much as I'd prefer everyone speak English, it is not the official language of the US, so I can't use the excuse "They need to learn our language." And we really do have a ridiculously large Hispanic population in this area, so Metro probably should have things in Spanish as well.

Anonymous said...

If the above post is to be taken seriously, then you need to include Mexican, German, French and Asian languages. I see more Asians on the trains than Hispanics on my rides. Domo arigato everyone.

Anonymous said...

If the above post is to be taken seriously, then you need to acknowledge that Mexico's language is Spanish, and Asia's language is not Japanese. Gracias a todos.

jellomania said...

unfortunately, "asian" isn't a language... which should they choose from the hundreds of languages and dialects? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Asia)
I suppose it opens up a whole can of worms, making announcements and signage in other languages. Let's not forget that "most" of those that speak foreign languages, at least in the US also speak english.

Anonymous said...

No way. What a waste of time to even debate this.

Cy said...

I don't think that Metro has the time, money, or attention to add a second language to all official statements, train operator scripts, broadcasts, signs, pylons, advertisements, web site postings, farecard machines..

Scott Gentzen said...

Gallery Place-Chinatown is already bilingual. Sort of. :)

Matt said...

My first choice would be the establishment of English as the official national language, but since that's out of WMATA's hands...For me, two questions drive this.

1) A better sense of the true necessity of it, going by the actual percentages of non-English-speaking Metro users along lingual lines. My assumption would be that Spanish would be on top. If there are substantial minorities in any language (Spanish or otherwise) who don't speak English and really need multilingual signage to navigate the system, then that's an argument for doing it.

2) I have no conception whatsoever of the costs that multilingual signage/announcements might incur. My hunch is that it would be relatively inexpensive; cost could be an argument for NOT doing it, given the existing financial constraints on the system.

Anonymous said...

I hope Team America thwarts any attempts at Metro using anything but English.

Anonymous said...

Washington is a major world capital, so why aren't we already making Metro as welcoming as possible to visitors who don't speak our language?!? Oh, that's right, we're monolingual Americans and we think the rest of the world should speak perfect American English.

Anonymous said...

Polyglotism is universally seen as a sign of a high education level. Why are we so scared of Spanish becoming mainstream in the US?

seminole04 said...

I am thankful Paris, Berlin and Munich have English in their metros...so I suppose its helpful if WMATA was also multilingual

Anonymous said...

Lets be clear on this, Metro should be multi-lingual. Not bilingual (Spanish)

There's a difference. One recognizes we are an international destination and welcoming, the other merely kow-tows to identity politics.

The problem with bilingual is where does it stop? Can we expect in an emergency situation that the train operator will give instructions in both English and Spanish?

Insisting on English as a common language in the U.S. is NOT RACIST, despite what your college professors and MSNBC tell you.

Anonymous said...

Seems like before Metro includes Spanish announcements, it should at least require its employees to speak business English.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather they be competent and courteous in one language than arrogant and obnoxious in several

Focus on the necessities before spending on a luxury

Anonymous said...

Everyone's beef with America is that they go to other countries and insist everything change to accommodate their lack of knowledge regarding language, local custom, etc. This is the same, except in reverse.

If Hispanics want to ride a subway and hear Spanish language announcements, they can go to Mexico City. Until 51% of Metro riders do not speak English, nothing should change.

Anonymous said...

If they post things in Spanish, WMATA better give equal treatment to every immigrant's language represented in the DC area. That would be in the hundreds, at least. I say that because it's a hell of a lot harder to learn English when you are from Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, or wherever. They have different alphabets for goodness sakes. And yet, these people are doing their best to learn English and don't get Metro announcements in their languages. Yet, Spanish gets preferencial treatment. Why is that? My goodness, it's a heckuva lot easier to learn English if you are a Spanish speaker than a native of one of the other countries I mentioned. Do it for everyone or no one.

AppleDawg said...

I have enough issues dealing with them in English

I ask for directions and get a "Yo dawg, just go der and see what be happening, say?"

Huh? Can you just tell me what is wrong with my card?

Autumn said...

Anonymous @ 11:41am said it best"

Lets be clear on this, Metro should be multi-lingual. Not bilingual (Spanish)

----

I have traveled extensively and most major metropolitan areas are MULTI-lingual. They offer announcements in the native language and the other major spoken languages including English, Spanish, French, German - and often Chinese and Japanese too.

Metro should not just have announcements in Spanish - if we can't choose just English, we shouldn't choose JUST Spanish.

Dan Franzen said...

No. Get better at communicating in one language before messing up any others.

I think there are some fixes that could be made right now, today, that would make a difference.

Like, stop calling us "customers" - we're passengers. "Customers" makes me feel like you just see me as a walking dollar sign, Metro.

Also, most - maybe all - of your announcements are overly verbose even when understandable. For example, "Customers traveling on the Red Line" should just be "Red Line passengers" or "Red Line travelers." "Attention, customers and station managers" could just be "Attention" - and so on. Work on those first.

Kara said...

I thought it odd that metro would pick Spanish as the second language to use during the cherry blossom festival, and only the cherry blossom festival. True, there are people who speak Spanish here all the time, but what country's tourists have a particular peak during an event in American-Japanese relations?

Anonymous said...

I say change it to Chinese, so when they take over it will be easier for them to get around.

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