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Making a case for English as America's National Language

Updated on March 8, 2016
RJ Schwartz profile image

I'm on the right side of politics and enjoy a good debate on government, the economy, and the rights of the people.

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The spoken and written language of a nation plays an important role in government, education, commerce, healthcare, public safety, and transportation. In America, the predominant language has been English since our official birth as a nation, however through immigration, both legal and illegal, this dominance is being challenged. Many independent groups have attempted to petition their local, state, and federal government to make English the official language of the United States but have been met with backlash, especially from minority groups. It’s neither racist nor exclusionary for a sovereign nation to have an official language. Worldwide there are 178 countries which have an official language, with English being the national language in 51 of those and the most common. In fact, there are less than ten nations globally which do not have an official language; The United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Bosnia, and the United States.

The countries aside from the US and the UK are all populated with competing religions, cultures, and ethnic groups but with large shares of the population which make it unpractical for denoting one language as official. The United Kingdom and the United States on the other hand are dominated by English speaking citizens and over half of the states in America have already passed laws that signify English is the official language. One of the requirements for citizenship is the ability to speak, write, and read Basic English. Statistics show that 93% of residents of the United States claim to speak English, but any time the legislation has come up for discussion, the political sabre rattling unnerves everyone and the idea dies in committee somewhere. The reasons for making an official language are strong individually, but as a collective group seem ironclad. History shows us that the underlying reason this measure never passes is directly connected with the fear of Congress men and women in alienating voters. They put their own interests before the interests of the nation as a whole, which goes against the entire idea of representative government.

Statistics from the Census

A common language serves as a type of glue which binds all citizens together, reduces spending in multiple agencies and institutions, and helps to insure public safety. There are approximately 381 languages spoken in the United States of the 6,909 languages recognized worldwide. According to the last US Census, 21% of the US population spoke a language other than English at home. This does not mean that they cannot speak English just that they choose to speak in another language in the confines of their home. Those who spoke Spanish at home made up about 2/3’s of that total. Other languages with large showings were French, Chinese, German, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, and Russian. With so many illegal aliens and other non-citizens living in America, these numbers are much higher today, which by itself would not be a problem. Yet, although many reports claim that current immigrants are learning English faster than those many decades ago, they are not embracing it as their primary language.

States with Official English Laws

Assimilate or Not

By choosing not to adopt the language of the nation is in fact a choice not to assimilate into the nation. Historically immigrants came to America and cast off the mantle of their former country to become American citizens in all aspects. They still practiced some traditions from the “old country” but those ideals didn’t dominate their lives. A look at America today is quite different with immigrants both legal and illegal simply coming to America to live, work, and collect social benefits while retaining the national identity of their home nation. They follow their home nation’s traditions, fly the flags of those nations, eat, worship, and dress in the tradition of their home nations, and many are demanding that America adapt to meet those needs. Many citizens see it as the tail attempting to wag the dog and are not too pleased with it. Making English the official language would help encourage assimilation into the American culture for those who wish to become citizens and serve to give notice to those who don’t wish to adapt, that maybe America isn’t the right place for them. The overall goal of immigration is to make people citizens, not resident aliens.

Making a Case FOR Official Language

A common language in government is absolutely critical to eliminate errors in translation of the laws, the tax codes, and regulatory and licensing areas. The billions of dollars which would be saved across local, state, and federal governments could be diverted to higher priority programs which benefit American citizens. Printing costs of numerous documents and the costs to hire interpreters in the court and social services system alone are staggering and unnecessary with an official language. Right now forms such as I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, Applications for Medicaid, Tax Help from the IRS, and even voter registration forms are printed in multiple languages. Our government is seemingly doing everything they can to accommodate other spoken and written languages instead of guiding people to English. Remember that these forms are all used by citizens, who by law are supposed to be able to speak and write English. Seems like either someone is afraid of enforcing the law or simply ignoring it.

The costs to families, insurance companies, and productivity are in the billions due to accidents caused by people who cannot speak or read English proficiently. Workplace accidents, fatal traffic accidents, and bodily injuries occur from people who are operating vehicles without being able to read all road and hazard signs, people who operate machinery that cannot understand safety briefings in English, plus there are incidents of violence and anger when poor English speakers are employed in service positions. American’s often become embattled with fast food workers, who can’t be understood, or service representatives who keep asking things to be repeated, or taxi drivers who don’t fully grasp directions. The extra stress this causes on society as a whole is damaging to the nation.

Immigrants who are reluctant to learn English are also hurting themselves in many ways. The limit their employment opportunities often reducing them to menial jobs which require little skill. They limit their mobility, being unable to navigate simple transportation or grocery shopping trips. What happens is that large groups of non-English speakers end up living together in poor areas because they have little opportunity due mainly to the fact that have chosen not to assimilate and learn English. Even the children of immigrants are not being encouraged to learn English, with many schools across the country providing interpreters and teachers who will instruct them in their native language. These kids will return home to their language ghettos and repeat the cycle of limitations.

An American citizen could easily make a point as to why English is still a required course in school. If immigrants aren’t compelled to be proficient in English, then why are citizens? Oddly enough it’s just one more example of how the system benefits those who are not contributors to it. Our Constitution is written in English as are the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, the documents which have defined America since its inception, yet now 1/5 of the population can barely understand them. We can no longer stand by and let the tenants of America be handed over to those who won’t stand up to defend them.

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Those Opposed

This issue does have another side, a group of people who steadfastly stand against English being made the official language of the nation. These groups do not believe that an official language will be beneficial for the nation. They believe that they are being discriminated against by attempts to make them learn and use English. They use strong rhetoric from history to try and develop a case against any attempt to push through English only legislation by cherry picking examples of a few immigrants who had great success in America without learning English. Other opponents have resorted to inflammatory rhetoric is laden with the “unfair” term again and again, yet many states have kept to the course and established English only laws with respect to neutral activities. Many states are lax on enforcement of their own laws and continue to allow multi-language business to occur.

A symbolic Gesture ?

Even if we were to make English the official language, it would only be a symbolic gesture. The United State is required by law under the Voting Rights Act to provide ballots in other languages where there is a sizable population of citizens who do not speak English as their primary language. So we’ve passed laws to protect non-English speakers but have done little to protect our citizens. Critics say an official language policy would place a heavy burden on older groups of immigrants who are barely keeping their heads above water and do not have the time or resources to learn English. Under pressure from various ethnic interest groups and advocates, government agencies act on their own and without specific authorization to provide signage, translations, and interpreters in foreign languages, especially Spanish. Currently, the Social Security Administration makes information available online not only in English, but in sixteen other languages.

How did we get here?

The legal basis these special interest groups used to support their requests was to equate language with a person’s national origin, and thereby make the failure to provide multilingual services a violation of federal civil rights law. Modern bureaucrats failed to follow established protocols. Past attempts to equate national origin with language under the 1964 Civil Rights Act had been rejected in numerous court decisions at the federal and state level multiple times over thirty years.

On August 11, 2000, President William Jefferson Clinton signed Executive Order 13166 which claimed to “interpret” existing civil rights law instead of creating any new law, despite the fact that it actually did. The Executive Order applied the disputed “language equals national origin” formula to all recipients of federal funds including federal, state, and local government agencies, government contractors as well as to medical providers such as doctors and hospitals participating in the Medicaid or Medicare programs. His actions of “reinterpreting” existing law gave ideologically-minded government bureaucrats a powerful new weapon in their battle to advance their destructive multicultural agenda.

Summary

Making English the official language has many more positives than negatives and it supports the citizens of this country ahead of anyone else. To insure clarity, this law would not ban any other language, instead only be applied to any institution which was involved with or received federal funding. Agencies such as the military, Congress and the Executive branch, the courts, social services, would all be English only. All official business would be conducted in English only. Any legally binding act such as a contract, bill of sale, bill of lading, standardized test, census, or government revenue form would be printed in and filled out in English only to be binding.

If our government does not take drastic steps to insure we make English our national language, then we may end up being the only nation in the history of the world that allowed itself to be deliberately transformed itself into a linguistically divided society. Any policy that encourages multilingualism and discourages immigrants from assimilating into a common American culture weakens the nation. Our leaders are failing the citizens of this nation by abandoning the formula that enabled the United States to become the most successful, multi-ethnic country in the history of the world, and replacing it with a fragmented model of a society that encourages social discord, ignores national unity, creates mini-nations within our borders, and cuts through the very fabric of America.

Author's Note

Please share your opinion on this topic - I'd enjoy hearing from both sides. Please don't hijack the thread for your own agenda. Thanks for stopping by.

Blessed Be

Comments

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  • profile image

    Old Poolman 

    2 years ago

    MizBejabbers - That is awesome. You might consider renewing your ham license and get back on the air. The technology today is much different than even 10 years ago. I would love to be able to have a QSO with you one day.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    Doris James-MizBejabbers 

    2 years ago

    I think you've said all that needs to be said in a way that any intelligent American should understand. At first I didn't understand how a person could be a citizen and not speak English, but then it dawned on me that the children born here of immigrants, and who grow up in households and live in communities of "the old country" are citizens by birth.

    Old Poolman, I am a ham radio operator (inactive), too. At one time I was learning Spanish and loved to exercise my questionable skills on ham radio day to speak with South America, Mexico and even Spain. It was a lot of fun then, but alas, I have forgotten most of it.

  • RJ Schwartz profile imageAUTHOR

    Ralph Schwartz 

    2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

    Totally agree Will

  • WillStarr profile image

    WillStarr 

    2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    English is the international language of business, pilots, etc., and also the language of the world's most powerful and influential nation. It is our language, so if someone wants to succeed in America, learning English is vital.

    We are the 'United' States of America, not the Multicultural States of America, and our strength comes from that unity, which requires speaking English.

  • RJ Schwartz profile imageAUTHOR

    Ralph Schwartz 

    2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

    Jackclee - That's exactly the message I feel needs to get out to more people. We waste endless tax dollars on interpreters and printing when we don't need to. I'd rather take the hardline and tell people that if they want to be part of the American Experience, then they need a ticket - that ticket is assimilation on all fronts.

  • RJ Schwartz profile imageAUTHOR

    Ralph Schwartz 

    2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

    OP - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is another one of those "bigger picture" things that I see our leaders ignoring. It seems as if most elected officials don't have the guts to follow the law and do the right thing by the citizens who put them in office in the first place. The whole multiculturalism thing really hacks me off (recall I wrote an entire hub on how it was a smokescreen) and I don't want to see my country handed over to people who don't have a stake in its success.

  • jackclee lm profile image

    Jack Lee 

    2 years ago from Yorktown NY

    I am a proponent of "borders, language and culture" as the definition of a country. Personally, I believe learning a second language is beneficial for all and also good for our brain health. However, official business such as our courts and elections should be conducted in English. A personal experience was a revelation for me a few years ago. I had to appear at a local court for a traffic ticket and found the court had an official Spanish translator on it's staff. Every word of the judge was translated by this employee and most of the defendants were of a Spanish heritage. How did we get here?

  • profile image

    Old Poolman 

    2 years ago

    Ralph - Another interesting and thought provoking hub.

    I happen to be a Ham Radio Operator and talk with people regularly in many different countries. It is interesting to me that almost all of them speak English ranging from broken but understandable to almost perfect English.

    I have also spent time in Costa Rica where a very large percentage of the younger population speak English. They actually respect anyone who will even try to communicate with them in Spanish no matter how badly spoken. At a gathering where Spanish is being spoken they are courteous enough to translate for those in the group who only speak English. English is actually a required subject in their schools.

    But then when I see how many in our own country speak very poor English it makes we wonder what has happened to our schools?

    If we were to look for a universal language that would work anywhere in the world I would guess it would be English. I say that because of all the people I talk to in other countries who already can speak at least some English.

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