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  • Danielle Allen

Launching English 911

Do you already speak English?

Chances are, if you're reading this in English, you have a good grasp of the English language. That's something we English speakers take for granted. Almost 25% of all content on the Internet is presented in English. Most corporate business is conducted in English. For most countries, English is the most dominant language taught in schools.

For an English speaker it might be hard to understand how critical knowing this language is. Do you have a family member who doesn't speak English very well? Ever wonder what it would be like to find yourself in an emergency situation without knowing any English? Here’s a simple way to connect:

Waking up in China

This morning you woke up in Beijing, China. You don’t know how it happened, but everything around you is now in Chinese. Even so, you don't seem to notice anything different.

Driving your six-year-old daughter to daycare, you get into a car accident. Some guy has rear-ended you at the traffic light. From the outside it looks like a minor accident, but a few months ago you had back surgery, so this fender-bender has you deeply concerned that you may have done some excruciating damage to your back.

First contact

The First Responders arrive on scene. The police cone off the part of the street where your car is sitting in the middle of the lane. A paramedic is checking on the driver of the other car. One of the firefighters pokes his head into the your vehicle and asks if you are okay.

You nod your head, but you're still in shock from the impact and not quite sure. Wait just a minute! You assume that firefighter has asked if you are okay because that's what firefighters do…. but he's speaking Chinese! You realize that you don't speak Chinese. That fireman is checking your car and the minor rear bumper damage now. He looks at his partner and shrugs. It looks like a fender bender. He assumes that you’re probably fine.

Everything is not OK!

Now your back is on fire. You’re suddenly convinced that this rear-end fender-bender has been just enough to undo the surgery you just had, or worse, has caused even more damage to your spine. You're looking for your phone, but it has fallen to the floorboard in front of the passenger seat. You wanted to try using Google translate to communicate you worries to the First Responders, but you can see that the screen is cracked: even if you could reach it, it might not work.

Now you want to figure out a way to get you're back evaluated and get to the hospital. Everyone you need to help you is there, yeah, but you have no way of communicating with them other than yelling and waving your hands about wildly.

Thanks to this pantomiming, you finally catch the attention of a paramedic. Luckily, your six-year-old daughter, safely buckled up in her car seat, seems to speak enough Chinese to be able to tell the paramedics that you are in pain. The earlier response from the firefighter turns into the real concern of the paramedic, he’s getting the collar and backboard ready to stabilize you for transport to the hospital.

This might not happen to you, but....

Okay, this example is mere fantasy. You are not going to wake up tomorrow morning in Beijing and get into a car accident; however, think about it, somebody who doesn't speak English in the United States absolutely will.

This person, who in normal circumstances can get by with assuming understanding, is now in severe pain and can’t tell the First Responders exactly what is wrong. What’s more, this person can’t understand the questions and instructions coming from the first responder, they’ve never been in this situation before to be able to assume understanding.

This is nothing like ordering food at McDonalds’ or greeting the other parents at the daycare center. This victim may have to resort to using their children to communicate with First Responders. They might not have resources like Google translate readily available to use.

The crazy thing is, this happens every single day, and sometimes, the consequences of not being able to communicate effectively become life-threatening.

Si·La·Bul launches a solution

Our team at Si·La·Bul is launching a campaign to get life-saving English language for emergency situations into cities across the nation.

From Miami to San Francisco, we are reaching out to elected and city officials, encouraging them to adopt our English 911 series into their public education curriculum in order to help those kids who speak English better than their parents be ready for emergency situations like a car accident or a house fire or a medical emergency.

This five-part webinar series has been created to help cities nationwide to provide critical English language skills for their non-English-speaking residents. For more information, and to find out how you can encourage your city to take action, take a look at the English 911 material here on our website.

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