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U.S. English Extra: Official English Impact on Non-English Speakers

U.S. English Extra: Official English Impact on Non-English Speakers

February 21, 2012

The Huffington Post and HuffPost LatinoVoices have recently published several stories about the movement to make English the official language of the United States and the debate surrounding it. As the issue continues to gain momentum through Presidential debates, news coverage and in State Legislatures nationwide, it is important to clarify the goal of the movement and the effect it would have on non-English speakers.

Most immigrants come to America with the goal of achieving a better life and the hope of living the American Dream. Most are aware that in America, English is the language of success. And most immigrants come to the United States with the goal of assimilating, yet continuing to retain the language and traditions of their home country. As an immigrant myself, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of assimilating to the American culture. I have also experienced the doors that open and the opportunities that arise upon doing so.

Unfortunately, opponents of the Official English movement endlessly try to convince non-English speakers that it is hypocritical to primarily speak another language but support Official English. In reality, polls show that nearly 90 percent of Latinos believe that adult Latino immigrants need to learn English in order to succeed in the United States. Nearly two-in-three foreign born adults say that the United States should expect all immigrants to learn English. And first and second generation Americans favor making English the official language of the United States—at a higher rate than the general American population!

English is the language spoken by more than 90 percent of the United States population. This is not to say that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not speak other languages—simply that they are also capable of speaking our common language: English. Often, the Official English movement is presented as “English only,” a movement against the use of foreign languages. This could not be more false. I myself am fluent in four languages! The Official English movement aims to encourage all immigrants to learn to speak English to raise them up to the socioeconomic level of English speakers. Studies have shown that on average, immigrants who speak English earn two-and-one-half times more than immigrants who do not.

Supporters of the Official English movement are aware that the majority of immigrants already want to learn the common language in America—we are also aware that many face shortages and waiting lists when they attempt to do so. Unfortunately, often the delay in waiting for language classes, coupled with the crutch of government translations, creates the illusion of an “English optional” society. Official English legislation would force the government to promote assimilation instead, sending the message that in order to fully participate in the democratic process and all that America has to offer, one has to learn English.

Finally, I want to address the inaccurate claim that Official English will send a message that immigrants are unwelcome in America, thus harming trade and relations between the United States and other countries. This is far from the case. Ninety-two percent of countries in the world have an official language. Thirty-one nations call English their official language. Yet these countries have faced no such problems attracting international business. In fact, as English spreads as an international language of commerce, officially designating it as our national language can only help our country’s standing among the international business community. 

There are many misconceptions about the Official English movement, and I do not expect that this one piece alone will have combated every argument. Rather, I hope I have presented another side of the debate for readers to consider. One thing I can say for certain is that English is the language of success in this country, and Official English takes a step in the right direction by affording everyone the chance to achieve that success.

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