Why Breaking the Language Barrier Is a Challenge

By Megan Trent

May 11, 2011 Updated May 11, 2011 at 7:10 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Concern about breaking down the local language barrier has been growing after officers encountered problems communicating with Burmese residents when responding to the hit-and-run-death of a 16-month-old child this week.

Local immigration attorney, Jerri Mead, says refugees from Burma face bigger challenges learning the English language than they once did.

Immigrants and refugees used to be given six months to get settled into their new U.S. homes, but are now required to find employment almost immediately. That leaves little time for acclimation classes. The classes, aimed at helping people learn English and adjust to new cultural expectations, used to be required for all immigrants prior to WWII.

"To expect someone to come in and in three or four months get around - ride the bus, tell you their basic needs - I'm not sure how realistic that really is. We do have services, and they are available, but how many hours do you have in your day?"

Even if the Police Department adds Burmese speaking officers to the force, communication would still be a challenge since so many different dialects are spoken within Fort Wayne's Burmese community of more than 5,000 residents.

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