In the beginning, this country was a melting pot. Many different people, from many different countries, of many different ethnic groups, speaking in many different tongues came to America. English arose as the predominant language of the United States. Over time, people realized the importance of staying in touch with their cultural backgrounds, including the language of their native countries. The main problem presented now lies in communication and interaction with each other. It is obvious that miscommunication causes problems. An “English Only” law will unite Americans and give them all a common ground on which to communicate. It will diminish racial conflicts, as well as encourage immigrants to become involved in the U.S. society and become successful. It will also improve the efficiency of government operations. Declaring English as the official language of the United States will resolve current issues and prevent problems in the future.
The biggest and most obvious problem with speaking many different languages in one united country is communication. Many immigrants do not learn English at all. In fact, 213 different languages are spoken in the United States, and approximately 10 million U.S. residents do not speak fluent English (“English Only” 3). Some immigrants gradually pick up the language, but do not learn enough to bridge the communication gaps between themselves and the government. Even everyday communication creates tension. For example, when I go to my college library and ask for help finding information, some of the library aides speak broken English that is difficult to decipher. The hired library aides have trouble understanding what I am trying to find and I have trouble understanding them when they try to help me out. It is a very frustrating situation for both the aides and me.
Along with communication difficulties, the language barrier among immigrants contributes to racial tension and segregation. One look at the city of Chicago is a prime example of this situation. Many different cultures are isolated within the city because they cannot communicate with each other. Not having an official language encourages these concentrations of ethnic groups to stick together and not integrate themselves into society. Miscommunication among the groups generates animosity and competition for resources. This in turn alienates the different races from each other (Schlesinger). Mandating one common language would unite these ethnic communities and allow them to communicate freely with each other and with the rest of society.
Winston Churchill once said, “A common language is one of the nation’s most priceless inheritances” (Reagan). Currently there are organizations that share Churchill’s vision: making English the official language of the United States. One of these organizations is U.S. English, Inc. Its members aim to make English the official language in order to give immigrants an opportunity to learn the English language (“U.S. English” 1). This could lead to greater success for the newcomers to the country. By learning English, immigrants will be acquiring an important tool they can use to get a better education and, as a result, a better job. It will encourage immigrants to participate in the democratic operations of the United States. They will be able to follow elections more easily if they know English, as well as understanding laws more clearly. They will have the opportunity to take on more responsibility in society and to be more successful.
The argument for an official language has been ongoing for many years. Senator S.I. Hayakawa introduced an English language amendment to Congress in 1981. His amendment would make English the official language and overrule any act or law requiring the use of any other language. According to Jon Alter, Hayakawa’s opinion is this: “We can speak any language we want at the dinner table, but English is the language of public discourses.” Senator Richard C. Shelby, a republican from Alabama, sponsors a bill requiring that government business and public documents are carried out and published only in English. The exceptions to his bill are in the areas of public health and safety services and judicial proceedings. If English were to be made official, it would only be required for use in Federal government operations and public commerce. English as the official language of these processes would make everything run much more smoothly in many ways.
Success has been noted in most cases where “English Only” laws have been passed in individual states (“English Only” 1). Twenty-five states have some form of legislation stating that English is their official language (“U.S. English” 1). Only one case has been reported where the “English Only ” law of a state was overruled. On March 25, 1996, the Supreme Court ruled against Arizona’s law that required government business to be conducted only in English (King 3).
Some may say that declaring an official language violates a person’s right to freedom of speech, or that it means forcing them to give up their heritage, but that is not the case. Declaring English the official language in which government and business operations are conducted does not limit a person’s freedom of speech. We are not saying you will be punished for speaking any language other than English, nor are we taking away the cultural backgrounds of immigrants. Celebrations and beliefs will still be preserved. We are only providing immigrants the means for a better chance of inclusion and success.
Supporters of the English Only movement remind the public that immigrants have, in past years, been able to learn English successfully. In order to become a naturalized citizen, immigrants have to know the English language (Alter 24). So why are they not learning? They must learn to communicate with the world around them, instead of squeezing by, knowing the absolute minimum.
There is much to consider when declaring an official language for an entire country. Where will the money come from to teach the immigrants English? How will anyone know who knows enough English and who needs more help? My proposal is that the government use the money currently invested in bilingual government publications to fund useful programs that will teach immigrants English. The requirement of English skills obtained in order to become a U.S. citizen should be raised to allow for enough basic English that the person applying can vote, drive, and conduct everyday business in English.
As immigration, both legal and illegal, brings a flood of foreign speech into the U.S., a campaign to make English our nation’s official language gathers more and more strength. The importance of preserving our own cultural backgrounds, including native languages, is not being overlooked. There is, however a major problem with communication and unity within the country. As Roger Hughes, an English Campaign volunteer from California says:
We are not trying to stop immigration, but we want those who enjoy staying here to share in the responsibility of learning English, to be a part of the mainstream. And use of a common language is the only way to get it. (Mc Bee 64)
We want to enrich the lives of all Americans and to help them be a successful part of the community. Therefore, in order to unite the entire country in communication and weaken racial barriers, in order to make business and governmental procedures operate more smoothly, and in order to help immigrants feel as though they too are an integral part of this society, we must declare English the official language of the United States of America.
Alter, Jonathan. “English Spoken Here, Please.” Newsweek 9
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Debate Over English Only, The. March 1996. http://www.nea.org/
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King, Robert D. “English as the Official Language:The Problem
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Mc Bee, Susanna. “A War Over Words.” U.S. News and World
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