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In Case You Missed It: U.S. English Chairman Featured in Washington Times Column

U.S. English Chairman Mauro E. Mujica was featured in a column titled Is it time to make English Americas official language?

August 21, 2012

The following comes directly from the Washington Times Communities website, where it was published in a column by Joseph Cotto titled "Asking Mauro Mujica: Is it time to make English America's official language?"

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FLORIDA, August 21, 2012 — English is the primary language of most people in the United States.

Over the last few decades, however, that has begun to change. With the ascent of multiculturalism, many now believe that English has no need to play a dominant role in America’s future.

Without a common language uniting us from sea to shining sea, what would our country be like? How would people from different cities — let alone states — find common ground? How would commerce and government function? It would seem like abandoning English is a one-way ticket to All-American Balkanization.

Mauro E. Mujica is the chairman of U.S. English, a leading advocacy group for adopting the language as our nation’s official one. In a detailed discussion with me, he explains why this is a good idea not just in terms of practicality, but economics, celebrating cultural diversity, and much more.       

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Joseph F. Cotto: Adopting English as our official language is a concept with which most of us are familiar. Why, in your opinion, should the United States do so at this time?

Mauro E. Mujica: Our nation's motto is E Pluribus Unum-out of many, one. The founder of U.S. English, former California Senator S.I. Hayakawa, once said, "A common language can unify; separate languages can fracture and fragment a society." He is exactly right - America is a melting pot, and in order to maintain a unified society, we must embrace English as a common language. It would be a shame to see the country divide along linguistic lines, and to see immigrants continue to be held back by language barriers. Having an official language sends the message that learning the common language leads to success in this country.

Cotto: How might the federal government go about instituting English as our official language? What advice would you give Congress on the matter?

Mujica: There are currently two bills before Congress that would designate English the official language of the United States government. In the House of Representatives, the English Language Unity Act (H.R. 997) was introduced by Rep. Steve King of Iowa. It currently has 122 cosponsors and was recently the focus of a hearing in the House Subcommittee on the Constitution. In the Senate, companion bill S. 503, introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, awaits Committee action.

My suggestion to members of Congress would be to sit down and read these pieces of legislation. Many who say they are opposed to an official language are basing their opposition on rumors and misconceptions that are simply not true. Most who say they are fundamentally opposed to an official language are surprised to find, after reading the legislation, that it will not impact the freedom an American has to speak whatever language he or she chooses in his or her daily life. There are also many exceptions in the bills which allow for the government use of foreign languages in instances of national security, public health and safety and trade and tourism, among others.

Cotto: Some believe that America should not have an official language of any kind. They say that such a thing will promote social discord. Do you have an opinion on this view?

Mujica: My opinion is that quite the opposite will happen. In fact, I would argue that social discord is promoted by the lack of an official language! The idea of adopting an official language is not a new one. In fact, 92 percent of the world's countries have at least one official language-and English is an official language in 51 nations. What many people don't realize is that making English the official language of government sends a message that English leads to success - it encourages people to learn English. And learning English prevents the exclusions that occur when a non-English speaker faces situations such as shopping at a grocery store or asking for medical advice, in which they often aren't able to receive foreign language translations.

Cotto: In your opinion, what is the ultimate alternative to instituting English as America's official language? How might this scenario bode for our country?

Mujica: As I alluded to before, without an official language, our country will split among linguistic lines. Rather than being bound by a common language, we will be separated by language. We are already seeing instances of linguistic isolation: recently in San Luis, Arizona, a Spanish-speaking city council candidate filed a lawsuit when she was told she would be disqualified due to a lack of English fluency.

Unfortunately, living in a linguistically isolated community does no one any favors-rather, it serves to isolate residents. Studies have shown that for those just beginning to learn English, being in an environment where more English is spoken helps them learn more quickly. Official English will allow foreign language speakers to maintain their unique language and heritage, while also encouraging them to reap the benefits that come from being able to participate in an English-speaking society.

Cotto: Multiculturalism is spreading across the Western world like wildfire. This has led not only to cultural barriers, but tremendous religious and ethnic conflicts. Would adopting English as America's official language help to alleviate this crisis?

Mujica: In Europe, the opposite is happening: In countries like France, we are starting to see a crackdown on multiculturalism. Often, I hear opponents of Official English claim that it is anti-immigrant, that it is English-only, or that its goal is to protect the status of the English language. None of these statements are true. No reasonable person argues that the English language is threatened. No reasonable person disagrees that bilingualism places one at an advantage. No reasonable person opposes the idea that one of America's greatest strengths is our diversity. Declaring an official language allows us the opportunity to celebrate our differences and share the culture and background that makes each of us unique. A common language allows us a way to communicate and share the diversity that makes America great.

Cotto: In terms of dollars and cents, at what cost does not having English as our official language come?

Mujica: While it is difficult to pinpoint an exact dollar amount to measure how much multilingualism costs the United States government, in Canada, where there are two official languages, official bilingualism is estimated to cost the government $20 billion a year. Since its inception in 1969, operating the government in two languages has cost Canada nearly $1.2 trillion. In the United States, there are more than 325 languages spoken. If the government were to provide multilingual documents and translation services in even a handful of those, the cost would be exponentially higher.

Cotto: Many claim that by not having an official language, any given country's social fabric is bound to tear apart. Do you agree this with this stance?

Mujica: Absolutely. Official English will serve as a balance - it will allow Americans to continue to speak in whatever language they choose in their daily lives, while also ensuring that we are all bound by a common, shared language. In order to remain a cohesive nation, we must remain united in our diversity, and a common language allows us to do that.

Cotto: Despite the federal government's numerous attempts to stimulate the economy, America remains mired within the Great Recession. Do you believe that our lack of a national official language is somewhat to blame for this?

Mujica: Studies have shown that Americans who lack fluency in English trail the rest of the nation in education and economically. For example, an immigrant who speaks English well earns 33 percent more than an immigrant who speaks English poorly. An immigrant who speaks English very well earns 67 percent more. More than three-quarters of students who test "below basic" in English fluency on 8th grade tests will drop out of high school, and as a result, will face added difficulty finding a job. It has been estimated that $65 billion a year is lost due to poor language skills.

By designating English the official language of the United States government, the government sends a message that the U.S. is not English-optional. When government agencies stop providing translations to non-English speakers, they become more motivated to learn the language needed to gain access to these services. English opens doors in America, and not encouraging non-English speakers to learn is only placing them at a disadvantage, economically and otherwise.

Cotto: Is adopting English as our official language an idea that can gain traction from both ends of the political spectrum, in your opinion?

Mujica: The English language is a bond that reaches far beyond political party. U.S. English recently commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a poll to gauge the support for Official English laws among the American people. This poll found that 96 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Independents agreed that English should be the official language of the United States. H.R. 997, the English language bill currently in the House of Representatives, has 122 cosponsors, several of whom are Democrats. Official English is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue - it is an American issue. One common language unites everyone in the United States.

Cotto: Many readers are probably wondering how you came to be such a prominent voice in America's national language debate. Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Mujica: Believe it or not, I came to be involved in the national language debate by accident! I immigrated to the United States from Chile in 1965 to study architecture at Columbia University. Soon after, I began an international practice, and through this I realized I could operate in nearly any country in the world by using the English language. I always knew English was the language of the United States and that I needed to be fluent to succeed here, but I grew to realize that English is truly a global language.

When I was approached in 1992 with the opportunity to become a member of the board of U.S. English, I realized the importance of having an immigrant, someone who has assimilated into this country, within the organization. One year later, I became Chairman of the Board. Since then, I have helped grow membership from 164,000 to 1.8 million. We are now working to change the tide and open peoples' eyes to the benefit of English as the official language of the United States. As an immigrant myself, I cannot understand why anyone would oppose having an official language!

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NOTE: To see the original column on the Washington Times Communities website, please click here.


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