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English: Not America’s Language?

Should English become the United States’ official language?

June 19, 2003

Should English become the United States' official language?

To state that English is the language of the modern world is not controversial anymore.

Over 70 countries give a special status to the English language, including India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore and Ghana.

Roughly one quarter of the world's population is already fluent or competent in English — and this number grows everyday.

The phenomenal spread of English in the last 200 years has not just been the result of the British Empire and American economic power, but also of a third factor: international technology.

This tool has triggered a globalization of culture — which, in turn, has given rise to the need for a common language.

As a result, English is the global language of business, communications, higher education, diplomacy, aviation, the Internet, science, popular music, entertainment and international travel.

It is a common bond not just for "Anglo" nations, but for the entire world. All signs point to its continued acceptance across the globe.

Given these realities, many people are surprised to hear that English is not the official language of the United States.

On the contrary, there are groups in the United States trying to split this country into linguistic subcultures, where little or no English is spoken. Consider the following examples:

Some 21.3 million Americans are currently classified as "limited English proficient," a 52% increase from 1990 — and more than double the 1980 total.

One in 25 U.S. households are "linguistically isolated," which means that no one in the household — older than age 14 — speaks English.

Massachusetts offers drivers license exams in 25 different languages, Kentucky in 23, New York in 22 — and California in 21. In all, 44 states, including the District of Columbia, offer the exam in other languages than English.

As of 2002, more than 83% of New York City students who enter bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in ninth grade did not have a firm enough grasp of English to test out of those programs four years later.

After nine years of study, more than 16% of all New York City students are not fluent enough for mainstream classes.

Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been interpreted by federal agencies to mean that medical facilities receiving federal money must provide translation services to every limited English proficient patient.

As well-intentioned as this requirement is, heavy administrative burdens are created for clinics — and doctors — when the demand of finding interpreters and securing funding for such services increases.

It is odd that during a time when English is expanding across the globe, the most powerful nation in the world is struggling to preserve the language’s preeminence. This is not good public policy for several reasons.

First, a system that is too accommodating to immigrants — for example, getting the resources to operate in their native languages — removes the incentive to learn English. Ultimately, it confines these workers to low-skilled, low-paying and even physically dangerous jobs.

A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that annual earnings by adults who were not proficient in English were approximately half those of the English-proficient population.

Second, the United States is a land where over 300 languages are spoken. People from many cultures, ethnicities and religions reside there.

With so much diversity, it is important that we have one thing that unifies us as a nation.

Historically, the English language has been the common bond that links immigrants to Americans and, ultimately, with each other.

Instead of spending millions of dollars publishing documents and providing translators in multiple languages, the U.S. government should put that money toward teaching English.

So one can only wonder: Why is the U.S. government flouting the will of the people, discouraging immigrants from learning its common language — and potentially fostering disunity?

For all those reasons, English should be made the official language of the U.S. government.

The passage of English as the official language should be accompanied by more classes and opportunities for immigrants to learn English.

That skill is the single greatest empowering tool that they must possess to succeed in the United States.

Perhaps most importantly, such legislation would put the United States on the right side of global trends — and strengthen the cultural glue that unites Americans in this age of diversity and globalization.

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