Emerging Trend: English Only In The US

uncle-sam-10241.jpgI’ll start off by linking to ESL Base’s TEFL Blog which provides a handy summary of a new bill before the US Congress concerning English the official language of the country. Though I haven’t specifically posted on this topic, it definitely has not escaped my radar as someone who teaches language, lives in a country where she is a foreigner, and appreciates diversity.

I personally believe that the diversity in the US is one of the things that makes it great, and in these times of diminishing popularity of the US abroad, I think it is important to take steps in the direction of openness and multi-culturalism. Accurately or not, many Americans consider these ideas an important part of US history, and it would be unfortunate to abandon them. A recent post on ESL Pundit – on a topic which some may say is unconnected, the accepting (or not) of Mexican pesos at US businesses near the border – also caught my eye; it concerns me that the impetus for making English the official US language stems from similar fears.

It also reminds me of the HR 4437 bill last year in the US. I was fortunate to be working a block away from the gigantic May 1 rally in Chicago, for which some 300,000 people turned out to protest this law which, among many other things, and specific to English teachers, would make it illegal to provide any kind of assistance to an undocumented person – teaching, medical services, even giving a lift to the store. Luckily the bill didn’t pass, but once more it saddens me to think about people’s motives for supporting this bill.

For those Americans who feel that making English the official language is important, I’d say: a) most immigrants and refugees realize how integral it is to their success to speak English already and b) go try out life in a country that has little to no linguistic or cultural diversity and see if that is still what you want for the US.

“But it costs money to make things available in more than one language.” Building sidewalks and bikepaths also costs money, as does employing staff to work at emergency 911 centers; because most people agree that these things improve our quality of life, we deem them acceptable. I’d make a similar argument for maintaining cultural and linguistic diversity. The cost of losing this diversity which I think will accompany an English only law is large and cannot be measured easily or only in dollars.

It is also interesting though to note the different angles: would the passage of an English Only bill mean more funding for ESL classes for immigrants in the US? Would it make it easier for people to learn something they already want to but can’t afford? Somehow, I suspect not, but if it did, the issue would bring up the age-old question of the ends justifying the means – is it right to support something which likely has its basis in anti-immigrant sentiment but which would, ironically, have some positive results for immigrants?