English Only? More Counties Say it in Spanish, Other Languages
Nearly 16 percent of Maryland residents speak a language other than English at home. One town in Carroll County made English its official language in 2006.
As Anne Arundel County considers a bill to make English its official language, more and more counties are moving towards communicating with residents in multiple languages.
Councilman Jerry Walker, who is proposing the legislation, told Patch that illegal immigration was a hot topic among his constituents. The bill he presented to the council this week was in part the realization of a campaign promise, he said.
“There was overwhelmingly positive response [to that], so I turned it into a campaign commitment,” Walker said.
In Carroll County, officials said they are unaware of any county publications printed in any language but English.
Carroll County officials moved recently to take down two federal emergency preparedness billboards that were written in Spanish.
“While I have not heard of any effort to make English the official language of Carroll County, I certainly would be supportive of such an effort,” Carroll County Commissioner Haven Shoemaker wrote in an email to Patch.
“Immigrants throughout our history have come to this country and embraced its language (and usually its culture) in order to become Americans and succeed as Americans," he said. "Nothing less should be expected of present day immigrants.”
Although some pockets of the state have pursued similar measures, the idea of English-only has not caught-on statewide. Nearly 16 percent of the state’s residents speak a language other than English at home, according to U.S. Census data.
Maryland has not adopted an English-only law.
In fact, it has adopted measures going the other way. In 2002, the General Assembly started requiring state agencies to translate documents "into any language spoken by any limited English proficient population that constitutes 3 percent of the overall state population within the geographic area served by a local office of a state program,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
Overall, Hispanics and Latinos represented the largest increase in population in Maryland in 2010, according to the U.S. Census, jumping more than 106 percent to 242,716 people statewide.
“The growth of Maryland's Latino community is an enormous benefit to the state," said Kim Propeack, director of community organizing and political action for CASA de Maryland, Inc., an organization that helps low-income Latinos and their families access community, in an earlier interview.
In 2002, Propeack said Maryland’s 15,353 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $2.4 billion and employed 18,751 people. In 2009, Latino purchasing power in the state was $11.1 billion, she said.
Many counties are also working to communicate more in different languages to residents.
In addition to enabling websites to be translated into many different languages, counties are also honing how they communicate with non-English-speaking populations during emergencies.
In Howard County, firefighters went door to door to homes without power following Hurricane Irenewith safety tips in English, Korean and Spanish that included information on how to use generators during extended power outages, county officials said.
This followed the death of an Ellicott City man, Won Koo Sung, 48, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after an empty generator had been attached to a home where he and his family had been staying after power had gone out at their home.
Prince George’s County has recently acquired fold-out brochures with images that allow non-English speaking residents in a time of emergency to point to and communicate through pictures, said Scott Peterson, press secretary for Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, III.
“It’s important to make sure different documents are available to folks for the life and death communication,” Peterson said.
Baltimore County has also done more to communicate with non-English speaking populations as well, officials said.
For example, its recycling division puts out flyers in English, Spanish, Russian and Korean, and the Department of Health has publications in English and Spanish.
The Department of Aging in Baltimore County this year also created press releases in Korean and hired a Korean speaking consultant to do outreach in that community, said spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.