More English Only Measures In The US

I’m happy to report that eslbase’s TEFL Blog is back in business after a short hiatus; and also that it’s featuring a story on an issue I like to write about: these English only measures in the US.

Eslbase base highlights a recent move to make English the official language of Carpentersville, Illinois, a town not far from my hometown. This situation in Carpentersville stands out because 40 per cent of its population is Latino.

This certainly does not mean that 40 per cent of Carpentersville does not speak English, as ethnicity is not necessarily conjoined with language ability. Not surprisingly though, this English only measure was not popular with many residents.

I found it somewhat ironic that one English only proponent said that “Having several languages spoken “is what’s tearing this country apart and my community,”” as if passing this “largely symbolic” measure is a constructive way of bridging that gap and bringing people closer together.

If it wasn’t clear from my previous posts here and here, I’m not a fan of these English only measures, though my stand is more connected with my opposition to what I see as the driving forces behind the movement (fear and intolerance to name a few), rather than a careful study of what an official language would entail. It’s interesting to note that Slovakia, a country with several significant minority populations, does have Slovak as its official language but also provides funding for public schools which educate Slovak citizens of Hungarian nationality in their own language (though to say Slovakia is light years away from ensuring a similar situation for its Roma population would be an understatement – so I would not take the availability of education in a language aside from the original one to necessarily indicate tolerance). I suppose my point in sharing this is to note that it’s not necessarily open and shut what the consequences of official language legislation would be. Even with that in mind though, I don’t see much promise on the horizon in connection with these English only laws or measures or whatever they are and continue to disagree with them in spirit.

Fortunately (fortunately in my book anyway), though I can’t actually find this in print anywhere, I believe I read that services such as emergency assistance and police will continue to be available in Spanish as well, meaning that the fact that someone doesn’t speak English well will not automatically mean that they will be denied access to medical care or legal. Not yet anyway, though who knows if that will soon be presented another way of “encouraging English.”

I’ll close this long-winded post with a quote out of an editorial from the Chicago Tribune on the topic:
[The English only measure was opposed by Carpentersville mayor Bill Sarto, who never thought much about immigration before the last few years, but who said before all this his thoughts might have been on “the other side”. Today he receives hate mail about his stance.]

But in the past few months, his thinking about immigration has shifted. He’s thought in a new way about his grandparents, Italian immigrants. His grandmother never learned more English than she needed to raise her seven kids and send her English-speaking sons off to fight in World War II.

He’s been thinking about the Polish caretakers who came into his house to tend to his father-in-law.

“It gave me a look at the rest of the world and how they view America,” he said.

His Spanish doesn’t extend much beyond “gracias.”

“But lately,” he said, “I’ve been thinking that instead of pointing the finger at others and saying, ‘Learn our language,’ maybe I could learn some of theirs. It would be a good way to reach out to other people.”