Not Knowing English Could Become a Crime
If you don’t speak English these days it could become a crime that could jeopardize your path of life. Here is a real story that happens to us making us feel over powered by employee doing their job with no communication experience. Therefore I feel it’s necessary as a Vietnamese born and raised in United States since the last boat people in 1987 to get my message across. Today it is important to hire employees with strong humanities and communication background to help those language barriers in transition. It’s by luck to encounter great employees with the degree and experience to understand else it’s just another employee doing their job to show their boss it’s another day at work. This is a story about my wife who just arrived at Port of Seattle on December 8, 2011 from Tay Ninh, Vietnam whom recently got one year suspension from not knowing English in test centers.
Huong Le, my wife, 25 years old, and the youngest of 9 children had a tough life up till today. Her parents couldn’t afford schooling for the children but luckily by the time she at school age; her brothers and sister was old enough to work and help paid her through school. She takes great pride and thanks her brothers and sister every day for allowing her to attend school. It allows her to read basic Vietnamese to get around and read letters from families across the country. Though she likes to attend school further, but she knows her family can’t afford it and dropped out after 5th grade to relieve her family from pressure. At the age of 11 she stayed home to help her mother around the house.
In October 2010 Huong and I met during a trip back to Vietnam. I fell in love with my wife after several visits to her house seeing the traditional values she kept. I had the chance to attend K-12 and have some college background. Luckily, I was raised up as an American-Vietnamese accent still in seeks every day of my life of my culture and see all of it in Huong. Since she arrived at Port of Seattle she strive everyday to make our life better. A few weeks after she enrolled at Lee’s Beauty School in Olympia taking manicurist classes. Every night she would sit there at my corner glass desk to study and practice. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night still seeing my wife study. One night I asked her “Honey, why are you still up? Get some rest and study tomorrow!” and she would reply, “I need to study and get this license so I can help my family and our family.” She wanted to help her family and our family by getting into a career where she can learn quick and work right after so she can help her family. She needs the license to work but the proctor misinterpretation has took our chance away. As her husband it tears my heart apart that I’m unable to help my wife family with my current income. It is just about enough to raise a family of 4 with no left overs for spending. In fact we currently on Welfare food stamps to supplement our food cost. The cost of housing, utilities, and raising children are expensive. Therefore living in United States it requires both parents to work in order to keep the wellbeing of our family. My income is simply not enough for our family therefore we are all relying on my wife license so she can work. We’re working hard so we’re not public assistance challenge leaving it for others in need.
After six month of going to class daily and study, Huong finally finished her 600 hours and prepares for her written and practice exams. She finally got her schedules written exam schedule on June 18, 2012 and practice exam on 20th. On June 18, 2012 at 8:30 I took my wife to the Olympia test center at Liberty Tax on Blacklake Blvd in Olympia, WA. Shortly the testing proctor arrived and asked everyone to leave their cell phone in the car. I took my wife cell phone and drove off to Safeway to have my morning coffee leaving my wife there. Before I left I asked the proctor if I can come in and help translate the instruction for my wife knowing that her English is zero and her Vietnamese writing/reading is limited, but she (the proctor) said “I can handle it. You can leave”. It made me feel safe that the proctor seems like she met a lot of Vietnamese and can help just fine so I left with ease.
Around 9:23 am (cell phone records) my wife called and cried in tones I never heard before. She was dismissed from the test center. I quickly drove to Liberty Tax to see what’s wrong. While driving up the driveway I see Huong standing there crying her heart out. I quickly got out and walk up to Liberty Tax. As I open the door to step into Liberty Tax, the proctor would yell “Get out, go home, after the test you’ll get the results.” (Her eyes are like pack of wolves) I quite don’t understand why the proctor was acting differently. So we stood with Huong in my arm for a bit and watched from distance. After 1 hour of waiting I tried walking up to the door again, the proctor stands up from her chair and point at me and waves me to go away. I just couldn’t believe my eyes this kind of treatment.
While standing outside Huong explained to me in her words:
“I did about 10 questions and came across a question I cannot answer. I like to skip to the next question but don’t know how and I said “Excuse me” for the proctor to come over to help. She did not understand me so I said it louder so she could hear in hope anyone whom is Vietnamese could hear and help me. I was couldn’t look at her in the face so I picked a spot to stare at. “ (in Vietnamese – translated from the best of my knowledge).
That’s when I knew that miscommunication was the key issues in this dismissal. The proctor couldn’t understand what Huong was saying. Huong only had been here in the United States 6 months so she knows some words, but not enough for her to get her needs across. The key factor in this is also eye contact. I shook my head, got into the car, and we drove home quietly.
Later that night Huong couldn’t sleep and kept staying up studying for the practice exam. The following morning we called her teacher at Lee’s Beauty School and she said it was ok to take it another day. The relieve feeling wasn’t for long till Wednesday the 20th roll along. At 2 pm on Wednesday I drove Huong and her classmate up to Tacoma for their practice exam. As we stood outside to wait till 3:30 pm for the exam I received an email on my iPhone from Cosmetology Department of Licensing stating that Huong has been suspended for a year violating WAC 308-20-121(section 1 part a) testing rule not to speak next anyone next to her. I could feel my heart beat as my exhale without knowing how to say it to my wife. I stood there and took several deep breaths as my wife stares at me awkwardly. I broke the news to her and there she goes again with heavier tears then Monday. All I could hear now “What did I do? I ask help and now I get suspended? What can I do?”. It upsets me to hear this language barrier has created a huge violation. We wanted to go home but her classmate was still testing. The two hours wait outside was the longest wait ever in my life as my wife sat there crying endlessly.
My wife English is near zero and her Vietnamese reading/ writing skills are worse than mine. Even though I was raised here in United States I attend Vietnamese school and Chua Lien Hoa temple weekly to retain Vietnamese writing. My wife is the kind of person who you can ask to sign a document and she simply signs for the fact that they are trying to help her.
Though I may not be there at the test center to justify if the proctor or my wife is right. But with Huong background I cannot believe that she is cheating at all from all the nights studying and practicing. Communication is an important factor of life; therefore for the fairness of testing centers that offers tests in Vietnamese like manicurist, they should hire employees with strong communication backgrounds. If my wife was cheating she wouldn’t have asked the proctor to come over to help. I believe that her understanding of computers and rules/regulation was limited and asked for help during test created an adverse environment. The proctor did not allow me to explain the rules to my wife and she assumed that everyone stepping into that testing center could read/write was a mistake. On the other hands I cannot take the fault off my wife. I have not taught my wife the importance of eyes contact here in United States. It’s very important for us here in United States to have eyes contact while talking. Huong was scared to look at the proctor which created a huge misunderstanding. Adding to that it was in a language that the proctor doesn’t understand.
In this case English was the barrier that took my wife hope away. English is simple a hard language to learn. It took me all my life to get where I am and I’m still learning new words every day. The proctor was doing her job and following the law, but her communication and misinterpretation has courted my wife in her report for a year leaving us to apply for public assistance. We have the abilities to support ourselves, but employees with limited communication background experience have made it tough for many out there. Assumption is taken in wrong ways all the time. The Department of Licensing definitely will not understand since the proctor review is always the key to the defense. Its’ better the innocent take the fall than spending the minutes to try and understand the needs of others. All I can do now as Huong husband is try to relay her communication needs across To Whom It May Concern at any office that the communication between the proctor and Huong should be an exception to revoke the suspension. My wife lies here every night hating her for being poor and can’t pay herself past 5th grade.