Sunday, February 01, 2009

US English Misguided Point #2

According to US English:

Official English is pro-immigrant

A Department of Education study showed that those who do not know English earn only half as much as those who do. Moreover, knowledge of English is essential to the assimilation process.

Well, yes, I have to agree that it is helpful to learn English in order to get a good job and good jobs often pay a bit more than lousy jobs. In fact, no one understands just how important learning English is than the immigrants themselves. But I am a bit confused by how making English the official language of the United States is actually going to help anyone learn English. It will still take years for immigrants to learn English, probably about the same amount of time it took immigrants to learn English over 100 years ago. Not much has changed in our brain's capacity to learn language since then.

The reason this second point is misguided is because it assumes immigrants don't want to learn English and that by only providing government and social services in English, immigrants will be forced to learn English faster. It doesn't exactly work that way. Although most immigrants have a strong desire to learn English, it isn't always easy to find the time to do so. It also requires money for books and classes or finding a free class that isn't already full or compatible with your work schedule. Learning English also requires lots of practice. Sometimes this is the hardest because what English speaker will be kind enough to sit down with you and allow you to try out your new vocabulary. And maybe you don't even know an English speaker well enough to ask them. And lastly, some people simply might not have a talent for languages and find it extremely difficult to learn a new one. I know plenty of English speakers who fall into this category.

So instead of worrying about passing legislation that takes away important services for immigrants in languages they can understand, perhaps they should focus their energy on increasing the numbers of free classes available to English language learners and creating programs that provide language tutoring. Most immigrants want to learn English. It's time to be constructive not destructive.

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