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A Bilingual America

Updated on February 12, 2015

The Anglo-Saxons were members of the Germanic peoples who inhabited and ruled territories that are today part of England and Wales around the 11th century (Anglo-Saxon). According to Britannica, the Anglo-Saxons had many notable achievements such as an advanced form of government, a booming economy due to trade, and ambitious wars they fought and won; none of these may be as notable as being claimed the culture to originate the English language (Cannon). Over time, the English language has progressed in leaps and bounds. Beginning simply in Europe, it is now the third most popular language in the world (Nicole). Countries such as America, Australia, New Zealand, have English literacy rates over ninety percent (Crystal). However, in America, only twenty percent of citizens speak a separate language (United States). This poses a question: Should America become a more diverse country and become one of the many bilingual nations? Making America a bilingual nation and adopting a new language would help the country adapt to the spreading of the global economy, advance knowledge in the nation’s youth, and eliminate the cultural discontinuity and linguistic relativity theory.

In Josh Gelernter’s article “Amnesty and English”, Gelernter makes the argument that European countries may get away with bilingual nations because they all have different diversities in different nations and geographic bonds encourage the thought of knowing multiple languages (Gelernter). He follows this statement up by concluding that America may not accept this type of culture due to its “bigotry” and that “a bilingual nation is a precarious nation (Gelernter).” America is currently a very diverse country, and moving to being even more so. Different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds have swept the nation and laws are being put in place to help accept those with different skin color. Affirmative Action has grown more popular in the recent years and the country even has a president that has a skin color no other president preceding him has had. Title IX has increased women’s rights in sports. It is undeniable that the country has changed over the last hundred years, arguably for the better. America has changed in leaps and bounds when it comes to acceptance of others’ beliefs and culture. Adopting a new language would not make America precarious, but rather increase competitiveness in the global economy (Bilingual Education Act). A bilingual nation would aid the country as the global economy becomes increasingly interdependent on each other. International communication is becoming a recurrence in society. Government jobs, business, and family life use valuable skills such as these on a daily basis.

In 1968 America made an attempt to tackle this cultural conundrum. The Bilingual Education Act was put in place as a social program to end poverty (Feinberg). Lyndon Johnson, the president at the time, assumed the act would help minority students receive the same educational opportunities English-speaking children were entitled to (Feinberg). However, the act never addressed whether or not the English-speaking youth should be offered a foreign language course early on in their studies. Evidence was prevalent throughout the act confirming the benefits of a bilingual language such as promoting academic achievement and increasing educational technology (Feinberg). The same thought process of teaching non-English speaking students English may be used the same way with English speaking students learning a second language. If students were given the opportunity to learn a new language such as Spanish or French, the same learning advantages would apply.

An argument that often arises when the debate of a bilingual nation arises is that immigrants do not have to learn English when they come to America. While this may be true, it is still a difficulty living in a nation that speaks just as much English as another language. For example, Canada’s two main languages are French and English. There are parts of Canada where speaking English will be a futile approach to attempt to talk to someone. If a Spanish citizen decided to come to work in America where English was more dominate than Spanish, that citizen would have a difficult time adapting to the new environment. Another argument that refutes bilingualism is that teaching our youth another language is costly and will simply raise more problems than solve. However, the cost to benefit ratio makes up for the difference. In California, workers who spoke two languages made an average of $.58 per hour more than those who only spoke one language (Morsch). While it may not seem like much, $.58 per hour leads to $780 per year more than the average worker, and active-duty personnel may receive an extra $1000 per year if they know a second language (Morsch). Assuming all other factors are the same, a student that receives a bilingual education makes more than $31,000 more than a student that did not receive the same education over a 40 year span.

Money is not the only factor involved with contributing to the side of a bilingual America. The field of psychology has studied language for many years and has come up with a few conclusions on cognitive thought: the cultural discontinuity theory and linguistic relativity. The cultural discontinuity theory is defined as disconnections and inconsistencies between school-based norms and values and those of some students, often from non-dominant cultures (Elizabeth). Students are having a hard time adapting to other cultures due to the language barrier. The teachings done in instruction reflect the perspectives of the given situation. Studies have been done on different ethnic backgrounds in America and have proven American Indian and Alaskan students have the highest dropout rates in high school (National). This is due to the fact that American educators have a difficult time adapting to different cultures, and this leads to quality students that speak a minority language are failing to strive in school systems. Our American education system has its flaws and adapting to different cultures is one of the most predominate.

Linguistic relativity is another reason why simply speaking English is harming our country. Linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, is defined as differences in the way languages encode cultural and cognitive categories affect the way people think, so that speakers of different languages will tend to think and behave differently depending on the language they use (Sapir). A bilingual nation would allow for more freedom of thought and open up more variety in thought, helping the youth grow intellectually.

There are many solutions to the problems of having a single language country that are often looked over. The simplest way to implement a bilingual nation in America is to start teaching American students at a young age. A study was done by The Riggs Institute that focused on when in a human’s lifetime the brain is most active. It was found that at the age of four the human brain is more than twice as active and able to retain information as a grown adult (Nadia). The same study found that the best time for a child to learn a musical instrument or a second language is starting at the early age of four. Humans’ brains are capable of much more than it is often given credit for, and language should not be a difficulty enriching the youth with the opportunity to speak a language other than English.

Gelernter also states in his article that some European countries such as Switzerland are able to speak up to four languages due to the geographic bonds that help the countries situation, and America does not have that (Gelernter). However, America is geographically surrounded by countries that do not speak only English. Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico have large populations that speak Spanish. We are geographically surrounded by native languages, and this would only benefit the transition to a bilingual language.

When the Anglo-Saxons first started using their created language, the country of America was not even known of. After years of advancement, the industrial revolution, the cultural and diverse changes, and the help of the English language, the country is where it is today. However, there is a change that is needed to be made: making America bilingual. Making America bilingual would help the country adapt to the spreading of the global economy, advance knowledge in the nation’s youth, and eliminate the cultural discontinuity theory, as well as the linguistic relativity theory. The simplest and quickest way to make the country bilingual would be to start at the nation’s youth in public schooling, giving every student the opportunity to thrive. While it may be a long time away, the citizens of America will one day say “I wonder why we did not always have a bilingual nation.”

Works Cited

"Anglo-Saxon". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 14 Jan. 2015

"Bilingual Education Act (1968)." Issues: Understanding Controversy and Society. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Cannon, John. "Anglo-Saxons." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. 14 Jan. 2015 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Second ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 109. ISBN 0-521-53033-4. Retrieved 2006-07-20.

Elizabeth A., and H. Richard Milner. "Cultural Discontinuities and Education." Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education. Ed. James A. Banks. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2012. 513-17. SAGE knowledge. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

Feinberg, Rosa Castro. "bilingual education and state education policy." Issues: Understanding Controversy and Society. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

Gelernter, Josh. "Amnesty and English." National Review Online: n. pag. Print.

Morsch, Laura. "Why It Pays to Be Bilingual." Career Builder. N.p., 26 Jan. 2009. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.

Nadia, Steve. "KID'S BRAIN POWER." The Riggs Institute. N.p., 15 Dec. 1993. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1994). The condition of education 1994. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Nicole. "The 10 Most Common Languages." Accredited Language Services. N.p., 25 Sept. 2014. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.

"Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis." Princeton. Princeton, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.

United States. United States Census Bureau. Language Use in the United States: 2011. Washington: GPO, 2011. Print.

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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      This was very interesting, and you may be correct that the United States needs to teach another language in our schools. I have cousins in Canada that as children were taught 4 different languages. My mother could speak 3 and only went to the 8th grade.

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