Should the English Proficiency Requirement for Citizenship be Reduced?
November 12, 2009
Recently, U.S. English, Inc. asked Americans to express their opinion on the age at which applicants for U.S. citizenship should be required to take an English proficiency test.
In recent years, Congress has passed measures lowering the age at which applicants for naturalization can be exempted from the English proficiency portion of the exam. In September, nine members of Congress introduced H.R. 3604, which would exempt all individuals age 65 and older from having to demonstrate English proficiency. Moreover, this bill would allow those over a certain age to take the U.S. government portion of the examination in any language of their choice. Currently, all applicants are required to take this portion of the exam in English.
To date, more than 8,000 individuals have voted and made comments on the pending bill. Some of these comments appear below. To cast your vote, view results and leave your comments on this proposal, click here.
Americans Speak Out
Our country is based on the English language. To allow one to become a citizen without speaking English is to splinter and cause a divided nation.
If one wants to be part of my country, and all its wonderful freedoms, learning the language is a small price to pay.
R.V., New York
My grandparents were immigrants from other countries and they were happy to come to America and become American by learning the English language and fighting for what this country stood for. Today we carry on their ethnic traditions, but first and foremost they were Americans. Our government today is bending over backwards trying to accommodate all the people from other countries coming to live in America. This is wrong. If other people want to come to America, then adopt the rules and way of Americans. Because we are America, we have the freedom to practice our different religions, our ethnic traditions......but the new immigrants need to learn English and be proud to be an American First.
D.C., North Carolina
U.S. Citizenship is a privilege not a right. This is supposed to be the land of opportunity not the land of the weak and people unmotivated to become an American. We the people are citizens who care about American culture enough to want to come here to assimilate.
Our forefathers came to America, learned the language, became citizens and were good Americans. Those who want to be citizens must learn the English language and we, American citizens, should not have to pay for printing in other languages, interpreters, or any other helps for them. If you want to live in a country, you make the concessions - especially to being able to communicate with the people in whose country you have come to live.
I'm a second generation American; but my father came from Europe via Ellis Island - with a sponsor, with a job, with money in his pocket, etc. And he became a first class American citizen.
Requiring citizens to comprehend English is essential to the cohesiveness of the political fabric of our country.
It is incredible that we should even be faced with such a silly question. All immigrants should immediately begin to be proficient in English for their own good and the good of the country that they wish to join.
J.H., North Carolina
Individual diversity can enhance a country until it reaches the point where a country loses its "Unity", then it will no longer be a country or nation. A national language for all citizens is a great step toward unity and pride. When national unity is lost, what is left are small groups with no common cause and only self interest.
We have enough divisive forces at work in our country. We must keep this unifying thread.
I am an immigrant from Japan and I proudly passed the English test and became a citizen 52 years ago. No one should become a citizen of the U.S. who does not speak English.
I will never understand how members of Congress can go out of their way to give to the non-citizens all the rights and privileges that my Grandfather gladly took to become a legal American citizen. I do believe that our Government forgets these immigrants, decided they want to become American citizens and wanting that very badly they learn the English language, our American History and our Government and how it came to be. My wife was not a citizen when we got married, but within a little over three years she had taken the citizenship test and passed it with flying colors. She learned English, yet kept her home country’s language.
It is very, very difficult for older people to learn a new language but doing so forms new neural connections in the brain and often forestalls or even prevents mental deterioration.
We are all different and from different backgrounds therefore in order to be a unified country, we MUST all join with one language (ENGLISH) as our parents, grandparents, etc. had to do. Our second language can be of our choice. Being multilingual is a blessing. English must be the language that binds all of us.
English is the language that binds our nation together. If we choose to destroy that bond, then we become a nation of factions, which will lead to the destruction of our nation as we know it.
Like many others, I adopted this country as my new home. And like immigrant before me, I adapted. Is it too much to ask immigrants to learn the language of their adopted country ? I think not !! English is, and should remain, essential to all in America.
H.A., New York
I am a foreign born, came to the US at age 22, did not speak English to obtain a job as an RN. On my interview for my first job at a Hospital I was told that I had to speak English in the Hospital. Language was not easy for me. I respected my Directrice who gave me the opportunity to work and assimilate. 40 years later, I am still friends with some of the nurses with whom I could not communicate with when I first met them. I am thankful to my directrice of nursing who demanded the correct behavior for both the benefit of the hospital and mine. I have not lost my culture or my native language and I made myself a great life as a US citizen. Please help immigrants to speak English by expecting to do so in order to improve their lives.
I was tempted to issue a "Pass" to older applicants for citizenship, but thought better of it. The elders would probably learn it proudly. Absolute fluency isn't required.
Giving citizenship without requiring the ability to speak English is a giant step backward both for the country and for the individual.
K.W., New Hampshire
My whole family and I made sure to learn to speak the English language before we emigrated to the U.S. arriving in 1948. Both my brother and I also served in the Armed Forces during the Korean War. Our Family was always PROUD to became AMERICANS.
I say less than 60 due to most people are retiring soon after that. However as a 9-1-1 operator it is for their own safety that all immigrants learn English for their own safety when reporting a crime or other life threatening emergency. I see way too many times awaiting an interpreter, time is wasted if they only learn even basic English to get
by, it would help us and them!!
D.O., New Jersey
I would expect to learn the language of any country to which I was immigrating no matter how difficult and I'm waaaay old. Anything worth having, like freedom in a new country, is worth learning and immigrants have 5 years in which to learn English before becoming citizens. So it's not as if we expect them to know the language upon stepping foot on our shores.
It is important for national unity that all citizens learn a common language, English. This does not mean that citizens must give up other languages. In fact the more they know the better but English is essential.
I feel very strongly that all immigrants should be required to pass an English proficiency test to obtain U.S. citizenship. When people cannot read or speak the English language in the U.S. they immediately become ignorant of almost everything they come in contact with on a daily basis. Also, it means millions of dollars to our government to feel the need to print everything in every language to support these folks. If immigrants cannot read or write the English language, there is no way they can understand the laws and the process of simple daily living. They must learn the English language to be law abiding citizens of the U.S.
My mother was a legal immigrant and had to learn English well enough to be able to read a paragraph and write down its meaning before she could become a Citizen. That was in the 1930's. That's the way it should be. English is necessary to keep this nation working as a unit.
My mom, aunt and grandmother came over in the 1920's and all learned English as it should be. You move to a different country they are not going to change for you, you change for them.
My grandparents were immigrants and learned English. They were so proud to become American citizens and taught us that we should vote and take pride in our country. Please don't let our country become so multilingual that we can't communicate with each other!
This is an English speaking country. Some of my ancestors had to learn English when they came here. Most of the citizens of this country had some ancestors who had to learn English when they came here. All new immigrants coming here should be required to learn English if they want to become citizens. One cannot actively participate in normal every day activities in this country without a knowledge of English, much less be able to analyze candidates for election or proposed legislation to be voted on by the citizens. The vast majority of countries have one Official Language in which all their business is conducted. All the normal operations of our country and our government are carried out in English. We should make English our official language.
Learning basic English is certainly not much to ask as a requirement for citizenship in our wonderful country! Speaking a common language is vital for the welfare and future prosperity of our nation.
Stop the Balkanization of the UNITED States of America. Perhaps the greatest reason for our past success as a nation is a COMMON language. Stop encouraging ethnic segregation.
English is one of the few nails that hold American identity in place. Americans should be able to speak to one another.
My parents were required to learn English when they became U.S. citizens and it made them better parents and better citizens. I see no reason -none- to change the requirement.
It is sheer nonsense to have various groups in the country who cannot converse with one another. If immigrants want to be here, they should be willing to learn our language.
Our parents and grandparents needed to learn English and they gained from the knowledge.
B.E., North Dakota
My parents came from Italy. They taught themselves English through the years with no financial assistance or benefits!
J.A., New Jersey
I think anyone who enters this country should speak English and that
English should be the number ONE language.
I visited Italy and the children are taught English in school. It is spoken throughout the country. Some of us learned enough Italian to be able to ask directions, tell time, and communicate with a little English. We were in our 70s and would have learned more Italian if we had been there longer. If people don't want to assimilate, what are they doing here anyway?
All legal immigrants should pass a test that shows they have a functioning understanding of basic English. Driver's license tests must be given only in English (for common sense safety reasons). In general, assimilation must be controlled by the host country NOT the immigrant. If a Spanish speaker (for example) does not want to learn English and assimilate then let him/her go to a Spanish speaking country where cultural assimilation will be easier.
A long time ago, a wise Chinese emperor decreed that everyone had to learn the same written characters, so they could all communicate with one another and forge one nation. For this country the ability to communicate in one language - English - fills that role. One language for all citizens is essential.
Do not let us get on the slippery slope that will change the strength of our nation by the motto "E Pluribis Unum". Keep the language of the USA English.
M.C., North Carolina
In order for our country to be united, we need a common language. If people do not learn English how can they read signs, obey traffic laws, make better lives for themselves and their children? We don't want to be a country divided like Canada and its province of
Those of us aware of happenings abroad have seen the immense difficulties that Canada and Belgium went through trying to be dual language states. We do not need to do that. All of our older immigrant groups learned English and there is no reason that the newer ones can't do so as well. Not speaking English automatically makes one a second class person here and so requiring English fluency is good for both the new citizen and the country.
Once the requirements are lifted for some, pressure would increase to extend and eventually eliminate it for all immigrants. It would set a dangerous precedent that would be to the detriment of a unified (non-balkanized) America.
Because of the difficulty of learning a new language in old age, the very elderly who have arrived in the U.S. only recently and after the age of, say, 70, and who live with younger family members who do speak English, might be exempted or required to have only an elementary knowledge of English.
R.K., New York
This is America where we speak English and that is our language. If someone wants to be a citizen in our country they should learn our language since communication is critical.
The mechanism by which people feel a part of, and belonging to the American experience is through the common spoken language which is English. Otherwise, immigrants will feel like outsiders at risk of their own security and that of the citizens of the U.S.
I support making English the official language of USA. "E Pluribus Unum"
should include one language.
Having a retail business we have many customers that speak little or no English. This makes it very difficult to deal with. I can't ask my employees to learn another language.
R.F., Rhode Island
Don't destroy our nation and it's culture and unity. Immigrants must consider their first step to their love and strength for our nation is to learn English.
Don't allow our nation to destroy itself.
Citizenship is a privilege, not a right and with that privilege are certain necessary requirements. If they really want to become citizens for the right reasons they will learn English regardless of age.
Proud to be an American!!
I believe everyone must read and speak English. Any other country you would move to; you must be able speak their language. My father's mother came here from Germany before World War I and they became citizens, learning English. My mother's family were from original colonists and Native Americans in New York State.
It is imperative that all immigrants learn English. It has been our mode of communication for almost three hundred years. It is a privilege to be a citizen of America and the least immigrants can do is be able to communicate.
A.G., New Hampshire
This is a vital part of becoming a citizen. English is our language and in order function in our country in a profitable and successful way one must speak English. I will do whatever I can to see to it that the English proficiency test remains a part of the U.S. citizenship test.
A simple proficiency test should be required of immigrants. Elderly parents who do not speak English may be excused if they plan to live with their children.
English is the most important language in the world; it has always been the official language of our country. Speaking and writing the same language leads to mutual understanding, assimilation, and common values. Our heritage is English at its core; we should retain features of our heritage that have contributed to our character and success. Our language matters.
If I moved to a country that did not use English I would expect to have to learn the native language.
My father was 19 and grandmother was 47 when they came to NY from Hungary in 1957. Both learned English and both passed the citizenship exam in English.
E.F., New York
The English required is the bare minimum for getting and understanding directions. It is not expected that they become English teachers, only enough to be able to get around. This is as much a safety item as anything else.
A.B. & B.B., New York
China would not have survived as a nation without a common written language and certain language requirements for all its citizens. This is a much older country than the U.S.. Let us learn from history!
R.D., New York
I don't think that age should excuse a person from having proficiency in basic English required to pass a citizenship test. Though it may be more difficult to learn a new language as one ages, the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship require a minimum proficiency at any age.
I think it is an outrage to even consider allowing prospective citizens to take a test in a language other than English! We must continue to fight to make English the official language of the USA. If people want to speak and read another language, let them go live in the country in which that language is spoken by the majority of the people. As far as I am aware, the majority language in America is still English. Let those who wish to become citizens learn the majority and historically used language of their adopted country.
J.C., New York
I lived in Latin America for 12 years and certainly did not expect to get by without Spanish-so we learned it ASAP. There is no way citizens can participate fully without English; it's truly essential!
The constitution is written in English. All immigrants must know the Constitution. How can they do that if they cannot speak English? The laws are written in English too, and this is a land governed by law. If we are to remain one country we must speak one language, so that we can understand each other, and understand the law.
It is most unreasonable for anyone wanting to become a citizen to not be able to pass an English test! This country was started with English as the predominate language. Our fore-fathers, coming from other countries could hardly wait to learn English! Speaking many different languages only makes our country more divided! It is nice to be able to speak other languages but English should be required.
When are we going to realize that American culture is just as important and valid as anyone else's? This is our country and if they want to be a part of it, they should learn the language and want to live here. They should not just be here to make a buck. We must have more respect for our own country and culture. Nobody else will if we do not and I am tired of apologies being offered for the greatest nation on God's earth.
We need our common language if for no other reason than safety.
My grandparents came to this country for a better life and to speak the language, maybe not well but enough to be understand. They also did not ask for any handouts but worked at any job that was available. Their native language was spoken in the home .
If you went to live in Germany, they would expect you to speak German. And so on for most major nations, why should we be any different? If people come here to live, they come for the values we have and those value are based on speaking English.
If they want to be Americans, they should learn to speak with Americans. English is more of an international language than any other. I know, because I have traveled extensively.
The English language is a unifying force in our country. If I would like to become a citizen of Spain, I would expect that I would have to learn to speak Spanish. If someone wants to become a citizen of the United States of America, they should learn to speak English! Let's all become unified as Americans, not Spanish-Americans, Latin-Americans, African-Americans, etc, etc, etc. So am I a German-American? No, I am an American! And, appropriately so, I had to learn to speak English.
English has always been the language of this country, and in the past immigrants always looked forward to being a part of our culture. In my opinion those that don't want to speak our language today are people who are not wanting to become members of our society, but just those who which to take advantage of benefits that our citizens extend to them by way of the government. This must stop.
Our common language may be the most important element that holds our country together.
This is America, if you want to be an American, earn it! Learn the language and history of the country you want to be a part of! In the 1950's my mother who if from England and married a U.S. Airman had to study to pass her citizenship test, they didn't just hand it to her!
My mom took her citizenship test, she was a German citizen prior, and she was proud to be an American citizen and to speak English. Lots of Europeans speak several languages and most speak English what is the problem?
L.E., New York
No nation is strengthened by "diversity"; we are strengthened by what we have in common, not by what divides us. I am becoming increasingly enraged by the need for Americans to learn Spanish rather than demand that immigrants accommodate themselves to us, not the other way round.
V.P., New York
For their own safety and all others everyone should be able to speak and understand the language of the land they dwell within. This is especially important in the case of an emergency.
P.M., New Jersey
I believe in a cohesive U.S. and the one and only unifying force in our society is the English language. Let's get back to the basic principles of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution upon which our nation is built.
If you want to be an American citizen then become an American.
There are sacrifices for everyone in life. If the immigrants want the good life America offers they should at least be willing to learn the English language. They don't sacrifice anything else.
The only way our country can survive is require English as the official language in all legal matters! Our ancestors had to learn English & became good citizens! Why can't this continue?
It isn't too much to ask that all those seeking to be U.S. citizens be able to speak and pass simple English tests for citizenship.
We are already the most diverse nation in the world; we must have a common language to unite us. It must be English.
All of us who came from another country learned English and became productive citizens. English is still the glue that holds our country together.
If people choose to live here, the least they can do is learn the language of the country – English obey our laws, and honor our flag!!! I came here as a legal immigrant and never expected anyone to cater to me in my native language.
Immigrants who do not speak & write English are at a disadvantage & our nation cannot be united without having one common language.
Son of legal immigrants who were proud to speak English, be citizens, and to vote. Encouraged others to do likewise, or return to their country of origin .
J.C., South Carolina
That we should feel the need to discuss the pros and cons of such a measure is beyond comprehension. If we have representatives in Congress who actually don't understand the need to have an official language and appreciate the value of American citizenship, these people should pack their bags and go home. We don't need them. They do not represent the wishes of a vast majority of U. S. citizens. We don't need people to immigrate to our country if they have no respect for our language, culture, the value of U.S. citizenship, and if their primary loyalty remains with the country they left.
F.H., North Carolina
If they want to become part of this country, whatever their age, they should at the very least learn our language or turn around and go back where they can speak whatever language they wish.
If immigrants come to America knowing that they must learn English in order to become an American citizen, it doesn't matter what age they are. The choice of coming and the choice of trying to learn English is theirs. There will always be those who would make good citizens who have trouble learning a language other than their native tongue, but that is no reason to change our immigration or naturalization laws or to make exceptions. We need to make English our official language in the United States in order to keep us the "United" States of America. Allowing citizenship in any language will not accomplish that.
English proficiency is the only way for any immigrant to become assimilated into the American way of life. All immigrants can and may continue to speak their own languages in their homes...as is natural so that they keep their individual cultures alive within their families. Every single group of past immigrants has made English their main language and that is why so many have become successful citizens. They are still very proud of their original heritage.
There are countless immigrants, who have sent their children to school without knowing any English, and they have been successful. But, this is only accomplished with parents who work at it and are willing to sacrifice much comfort in order for their children to become productive citizens. Immigrants should be educated about the facts of becoming citizens of our country...there are no entitlements for any one group. Simply put, if they are not willing to follow our laws, they should think of returning to their own countries. English should be the language of our country, take it or leave it.
The bill which is being considered should be rejected by our representatives. Its purpose is to create a divisive atmosphere in our country...we have enough of that going on already. For a change, Congress should think of what is good for the country and not pander to their individual constituents. “Learn the English Language” should be the mantra taught to all immigrants. Our taxes should not, and must not be wasted on coddling any immigrants. We have pressing and absolutely necessary matters for what our taxes should be used at this point in time in our country. If this Bill is passed, it will be a shameful giving in to pressure from lobbying groups, and a betrayal of the trust of citizens in our Congress representatives.
M.C. & V.C., Massachusetts
Since it's inception over 200 years ago, the United States of America has been called the melting pot. People came to this great land from all over the world and brought their culture and heritage. They were expected to learn English so they could be productive citizens who could communicate with their fellow countrymen. We must have a common language to be able to live together in peace. English is the language of the USA.
MY opinion is that anyone wanting to be a U.S. citizen should be required to learn to speak English. If I went to another country, I wouldn't be allowed to live there or feel comfortable if I didn't know the language. Why would somone want to live here and not learn the language? Only if they didn't believe in the country and didn't care.
My Daddy (WWII vet) and his family fled Italy to escape Benito Mussolini and his thugs in 1930. He was proud of his Italian heritage, but insisted English be spoken in his house and myself and my siblings were
American born AMERICANS of that proud Italian heritage - not Italian-Americans.
English is the most common language for commuicating with other people throughout the world. Why would we want to water down our citizenship and encourage them not to learn English. A country united by a common language will always be much stronger.
I was born in Los Angeles in 1949 and still live here. There are countless places in our city where English isn't even a second language - it is not spoken at all! Language ties us all together. If this continues - we will no longer have an America to call our country, as it is quickly becoming fractured by all the different special interest groups, who only care about their interests and not what is in the best interest of the United States of America!
Basic English is not difficult to learn and MUST be understood by all those wishing to obtain citizenship. 7 out of 8 of my ancestors (the 8th was from England) learned English in order to EARN A LIVING. India's official language is English so that the citizens may communicate with one another. The international financial language is English. I can offer other examples but these should suffice to convince the anti-English adherents why the US must continue its LONG HELD policy of English as a requirement for citizenship. It is really a benefit for the new citizen.
Every one in the United States should be speaking English. English has to be our number one language or we will be a babbling nation and no one will know what anyone is saying. If we go to other countries to live and don't learn their language, we would not be allowed to live there and that is the way it should be here. We should not have to put three or more languages on our packaging.