Monday, September 8, 2008

English and the Language Police

Recently, someone forwarded a YouTube video to me entitled "A Second American Revolution," and among the somewhat extreme rants about the demise of America and the threat to American culture was a clear emphasis on the need to make English the national language of the United States. I'll admit I've often been baffled by this issue, and while I don't know why I'd have any serious problem with the concept, something about the people who rail about it puts me off, and I tend to oppose it. Thus, I am an English teacher who is not in favor of making English the national language of the United States. However, that's true only in the sense that I'm not in favor of making any language the national language of the United States. For me, it is a rather redundant situation that is the equivalent of letting the world, as well as our own citizens, know that our country borders Mexico and Canada.

I've heard the frustration from people who are shocked that in America they need to "press 1 for English," and I can honestly understand the sense of bewilderment. Yet, I have to say that I don't imagine passing a law declaring English as the national language will eliminate that phone message. This being a free country, I would imagine any business can put whatever they want on their directory, and we will all still be pressing 1 for English. And, if the business gets a lot of Spanish-speaking callers, they're going to leave the option to press 2. It's not like a national language law will stop people from speaking other languages, nor should it. Really, how is the government going to stop all the Spanish speakers (code word for illegal immigrants) if they can't find them in the first place?

I've heard that the law would prevent licensing exams from being offered in foreign languages, but I'm not sure this is such a good idea. Obviously, there are legitimate reasons for this, but I would imagine a working knowledge of English is necessary to run most businesses. Additionally, the degree of fluency necessary to test well is not the same as being able to adequately run a shop or do manual labor. When I lived in Taiwan teaching English, I never passed the proficiency of a three-year-old in speaking Chinese, yet I was able to live a productive life for five years. All the research shows that by the second generation, 90% of American immigrants are fluent in English. While the parents may not ever acquire fluency - mainly because they're working too hard to support their family to take English classes - the children almost always are. Considering how bad Americans are at retaining their high school Spanish or French, perhaps we should cut some people some slack.

1 comment:

Kelvin Oliver said...

A law should be created to allow immigrants the chance of learning English that allows them to not be just be in the United States, but to be part of the culture, the business world, and the modern lifestyle. In short, English will allow immigrants to have the advantage of having freedom without being lost in the world. Though I can't do much that will force government officials to make a law or what have you, however, the U.S. should have one official language.

A good essay to read is "Why And When We Speak Spanish Among Ourselves in Public" by Myriam Marquez. Often times when someone speaks another language around us, we always think that are talking about us. Sometimes that may not be the case; however, this writer puts it in writing on why they speak their native language in public. We can't contradict everyone, but we sure can take time to understand and learn them.