Immigrants Should Learn English

The U.S. should require people to learn and speak English before they can attain citizenship. Pro or con?

Pro: Language Skills Equal Success

Let me set the stage for this debate by revealing that I am not an American. I am a grad student, or oops, “legal alien,” from Pakistan, and I speak a medley of languages, often in the same sentence.

Like many immigrants to the U.S., I have a heightened sense of defensiveness when it comes to my identity. My cultural values are important enough for me not to change them as often as a chameleon changes color. When it comes to learning the language of the locals, however, I am all for it. One of the few immigration laws that makes any sense to me is the one requiring immigrants to learn and speak English before they can attain citizenship.

So why shouldn’t an immigrant continue to converse in Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, or Russian? Learning English will lead to assimilation, and assimilation is not all bad. I would not readily trade my shalwar kameez (baggy trousers and knee-length tunic) for a miniskirt, but I would definitely want to add another language to my repertoire as it would increase my chances of applying for my dream job—on-air reporter—which will inevitably require fluent English.

Immigrants are also particularly vulnerable in a new environment, so it’s even more important for them to know English before choosing the U.S. as their homeland so they can be well-versed in their rights and the laws protecting them.

By obliging immigrants to learn English before naturalization, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services will prevent the formation of a Tower of Babel. After all, according to the Census Bureau’s March 2007 report, there are 37.9 million immigrants in the U.S. speaking 311 languages. Standardization of a language is necessary at some level, so why not start at the elementary one by saying “Hi, my name is Carlos” in English?

Con: Why Make Unnecessary Demands?

Forcing all immigrants to learn English before they can become U.S. citizens is at worst xenophobic and at best unfair.

Most of those who support requiring new immigrants to know English worry that, if we don’t, newcomers will prefer to live in linguistic ghettos with others who speak their native tongue, refusing to participate in “mainstream” English-speaking society. Many also fear that immigrants will come to the U.S. and enjoy its benefits without learning English and becoming productive.

But the facts show a different story. According to the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, 61% of foreign-born naturalized citizens said they spoke English “very well” or they only spoke English. Only about 39% said they spoke English “less than very well.” As for becoming productive, besides the armies of hard-working immigrants doing the dirty jobs most Americans refuse to do, immigrants earn bachelor’s and professional degrees at higher rates than native-born citizens.

Also, many immigrants who desire to learn English are already struggling for a chance to do so. Cities across the country are experiencing severe shortages of English teachers, leaving lines of would-be English speakers waiting outside their doors. Add to that the fact that our earlier ancestors—most of whom were Northern Europeans or Africans—were not required to learn English. Why should the standard change? And if it should, shouldn’t we first make sure people who want to learn English have the opportunity to?

America was founded on the principle of fairness, of giving everyone a chance to make his or her own way in life—not on language skills. Immigrants who have fulfilled all the other requirements (good moral character, knowledge of U.S. civics and history, five years’ residency) should, like the ancestors of everyone in this country who is not a Native American, be allowed to become a U.S. citizen without fulfilling a stringent language requirement.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

zippyd

Gee, let me think...duh! Learn the native language before becoming a citizen. This is hardly worth a debate. Ask any Mexican in Mexico. I'm sure they would insist I learn Spanish, si?

Confused

It makes sense that people learn the native language. How else are you supposed to communicate? What happens if there is an accident and that person who needed help didn't get it because they didn't speak the language? There are a hundred different reasons why people need to learn the language of the country they are in, not just for assimilation but also for safety and production. And as for the immigrants who earn degrees, chances are they already speak English. How many non-English speaking immigrants hold bachelor's or masters degree from the U.S.?

carson grey

It's not xenophobic to require immigrants to speak the language, it's called survival. If we don't expect anyone to learn English, then please tell me what language we should all use to communicate? Spanish? No about all the Asian immigrants? Chinese? No...what about all the Mexicans? What about the non Chinese-speaking Asian immigrants?

It's chaos and almost a ridiculous debate at all.

Shankar

First of all, who is an immigrant? Are all foreign-born people in the U.S. immigrants? Some who have been educated
in excellent English-speaking schools in other countries and who are now U.S. citizens? Who exactly are you terming an immigrant?
I think it is far more important for the 260 million native born people in the U.S. to learn a foreign language than for the 40 million "immigrants" to "learn" English. This is the 21st century and the era of globalization. And anyway, I question the English language capability of millions of native-born Americans. Many cannot spell, do not know the fundamentals of grammar. And yes, I am including some college-educated Americans in this category.

As the joke goes: What do you call a person speaking three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call one speaking two? Bilingual.
What do you call a person speaking one language? American.

Enrique Agudelo

If 21st-century immigrants are not learning English as the 19th- and 20th-century ones did, blame modern technology for that. Thanks to cable TV, we can enjoy programs in our native languages from the very first day of arrival. We can too frequently read our newspapers and magazines from our own countries, thanks to the Internet. Last but not least, we can talk with our relatives abroad almost every day, thanks to the cheap phone cards.

So we are not less smart than our predecessors or less patriotic. It's just modern technology that is, paradoxically, getting in our way, making our intent to learn English more difficult and, in some cases, less necessary.

Juan Vaca

As an immigrant originally from Mexico who just became a U.S. citizen two months ago after an arduous 20-year waiting period, I think I'm more than qualified to speak on this subject.

For me, learning English was a matter of personal choice for the simple reason that I had the basic urge to communicate. I was a teenager when I came to the U.S., and like most teenagers, I wanted to meet other people my age.

As I became older and my English skills (both slang and academic) improved, a whole new world opened up unlike anything I ever imagined. Being able to pick up the newspaper or read a classic American novel was and still is mind boggling for me. I learned English first and foremost because I wanted to be part of the world that surrounded me, not because I wanted to land a job.

No one forced me to "learn English or else." It was my personal choice, and that's why I love the language. I don't think anyone likes to be forced to do something.

Here's something funny that happened to me when I showed up to take my citizenship exam. I prepared for three months for this exam. I rehashed my American history and went in there thinking I was going to be tested and challenged till I said "no mas." Well, that's not how it actually happened. The "knowledge" testing part of the exam only lasted about three minutes. For the reading part of the exam, I was asked to read the following sentence: "Today is a sunny day."

For the writing part of the exam, I was asked to write the following words: "Today is a sunny day." If you think I'm exaggerating, think of me sitting in front of the immigration officer after I was asked to perform my English skills--I was flat out insulted. If politicians are planning to force immigrants to learn this amazing language before becoming U.S. citizens, at least take the time to test them properly during the citizenship exam.

Paul

This debate will became totally academic in a few decades when, through huge (mostly illegal) annual immigration levels and higher birth rates, Spanish will probably become the dominant language of the USA, with sizable populations from Asian backgrounds also vying for “official language recognition”. Etc.

random

As an immigrant, I learned English because that's what people in the U.S. speak. If they spoke Spanish, I would've learned Spanish. If they spoke Hindi, I would've learned Hindi. If you're going to live in one country, you need to know its native language to find your way around. And if that country has multiple languages, you need to try and learn them all.

In the future, as the Spanish-speaking population of the U.S. increases, Spanish may become a second official language in a long and expensive process. But it's highly unlikely to become the dominant one as most Latin American immigrants who are bringing Spanish to the U.S. speak English quite well.

Matt S

"As for becoming productive, besides the armies of hard-working immigrants doing the dirty jobs most Americans refuse to do, immigrants earn bachelor’s and professional degrees at higher rates than native-born citizens."

Are these immigrants non-English-speaking or proficient? Because, if they're the latter (and I'm guessing they are), Jacob essentially undermined his own argument.

ego

I'm from (and live in) Guatemala. I believe it's fair to learn the language of the country before becoming a citizen. Besides, English is not very complicated. If a country is giving you a better life, no matter what the origin of your nation's trouble is, the least you can do is communicate in the region's language. Objectively speaking, your host does not owe you anything; it's the other way around.

Shankar

I don't think that people get it. The bigger threat to English in the U.S. is not the 40 million people in the U.S. for whom English is the second language--it is the 260 million people born in the U.S. for whom English is the first and maybe only language. The way some of these native-born people mangle the language is incredible. You go to part of the South or in some inner city areas and you can hardly believe that they are speaking in English. And by the way, there are many foreign-born Americans who have a better command of English than some native-born people.

How many native-born U.S. citizens can pass the GRE exam in English language with flying colors? Just a piece of trivia: The largest English-speaking population in the world live in a non-English-speaking country, India.

Aneesh Kumar

The question is almost trite: Of course immigrants should learn (working) English in order to become productive citizens of the United States. (As someone who grew up in India, I do not have English as my mother-tongue.)

But the real issue goes further: Throughout the world, English is taking over. It has reached "tipping point" in India and China, and is close in many south east Asian countries.

Our political leaders should take advantage of this situation, rather than taking a passive approach. If we invest in promoting English abroad, we will encounter resistance from some government bureaucracies, but will get a huge following from citizens all over the world. This could be one of the best investments we can make.

Over time, as other countries' people have to change to English, we will have a competitive advantage, at least for a generation or so.

Stephen

While it makes sense for immigrants to the U.S. to learn English, it is ridiculous to require it. The U.S. government should not force these people to adjust. Economics will be more effective at it. If people want to advance within a society, they must learn the language. Just offering the tests in English would force the issue without its being a law.

J.P.Chase

Jacob, I think you need to reread your "con" debate. You pretty much sank your own battleship.

solong

I am an American expat living in an EU country where in order to become a citizen I must pass a written and verbal test of the language here. I think it makes sense that the person wishing to spend his or her life in another place should be able to communicate in their language rather than expect them to speak mine (although very many do).

Tim

Re: Shankar

It's funny, you argue against yourself. Take Kumar's words to heart. There is little reason for Americans to learn any language other than English. English is the accepted language of the global economy. The United States needs to take a more active role in ensuring it stays that way. One way to do this is by enforcing English as a national language and discontinuing alternative language prints of official documents. In terms of immigration, how can you knowingly and willingly agree to a document you can't read? It follows that anyone seeking citizenship should have to read English to be considered competent enough to enter into a binding legal agreement written in English (i.e., their citizenship papers).

Anyway, at the heart of immigration is really the fact that Mexico's education system is in such a state of disarray that it is not teaching its citizens. All other countries with individuals seeking interest into the United States have outlets for learning English. Enrique astutely pointed out why this phenomenon exists. California, Arizona, and Texas (I assume nobody wants to go to New Mexico) have all set up environments that remove the need for English language skills. There are Spanish-only grocery stores, box chains have signs in English and Spanish, and if a Californian wants a supervisory job, he is required to speak Spanish in most cases.

carson grey

Great response, Aneesh. I agree. I also find your comment about Shankar--the question isn't about why you think Americans are dumb. We're not fearful that our language will be lost. We simply believe that inbound inhabitants should learn to adapt here and not the other way around. As an American who does speak multiple languages, I can assure you that for many of us it is not due to laziness but principle. We bash our own when they go abroad and expect everyone else to speak English, and so accordingly others should not come here expecting us to speak Spanish, Chinese, or Tagalog.

Bobby W Huggins

Will an English requirement also require a Constitutional amendment (freedom of speech)?

Alexandra`

Yes, they should learn English. Part of the immigration problem is culture clash--a less-principled, more barbaric, less literate culture has a different set of (lower) standards, when, viewed through our civilized lens, makes us too trusting. Learning the language is part of acculturation.

Khengsiong

Consider this hypothetical scenario: An immigrant who speaks flawless English naturalizes. Then he decides to bring his 70-year old mother to this country for family reunion purpose. Do you expect the elderly woman to also learn English? Stephen is right: Economics is more effective.

Lucy

I agree that in order to get U.S. citizenship, you need to speak the official language of the USA. Or just keep living as a permanent resident. The only disadvantage of being a green-card holder is that you cannot vote. But if you do not know the language, why do you care about the politics? Also, learning English will make you more successful in every way, in your daily life and your financial investments. By the way, I am an immigrant, and I have a master's degrees, but I have no interest in becoming a U.S. citizen.

Snoz

I is a native-born all American in the heartland, and I ain't figuring no how why all you messing with my language. You know what I mean, man? Why shouldn't all them foreigners speak good english like we is doing? In this new gobblization of language with fourth world people, why we should be able to speaking one tongue, cause we got all them TV and radio and Web-surfing thangs. After some mighty fine schooling in the world, our students are like speaking in tongue, multi-phonic, jiving, groving and smacking down. Holy mackeral.

Alan Ng

There is an old Malay language maxim: When entering a cow shed, you moo. When entering a goat shed, you bleat. Sounds funny in English, I know. It is only courteous for anyone to learn the visited (short and long term) country's common language. There is no need to speak like a lawyer with a cowboy slang; just learn the basic and that is all.

Charles

I am Spanish. Now if I wanted to become a citizen of Italy and didn't know how to respond to questions in Italian, should they provide me with an interpreter?

Dante

Freedom of culture and allowing the people to choose what language they want sounds all politically correct and good. But the bare facts are that in every country where the immigrants did not learn the local language, those immigrants stayed poor. It is in their best interest to force them to learn the local language.

Jan

What language did the Native Americans speak when the Europeans first came? It wasn't English. This whole anti-Mexican thing is illogical. The current wave of immigrants are doing exactly what the founding fathers did. I never heard of George Washington needing to "learn the language or go back home."

Ed

Good point, Bobby.

Although there isn't an official requirement to become a citizen, there is a civics test to get your citizenship. Not only does the civics test require you to understand English pretty well and also speak it, but it also requires candidates to learn a good amount of American History and systems. But like Juan Vaca mentioned above, people prepare for months and when they get to the examination, they are given really basic and simple questions.

alex

Being an immigrant myself and having moved to the U.S. in 1992 at age 6, I do think there should be a level of English proficiency that should be acquired for anyone under age 60 before becoming a citizen. Why age 60? Because 1) anyone over that is probably not going to participate substantially in the workforce and 2) immigrants who are that age probably followed their children, and it's important for grandparents to maintain some native culture and pass it on.

This country was built on families like mine and many others, and I believe it's our duty as immigrants to learn English for several reasons.
1) English is probably the easiest language to learn--with essentially consistent tenses and suffixes. (Try learning Russian - with a different suffix for every verb and nine tenses.)
2) The cycle of poverty among immigrants is greatly reduced by knowing English, because they have access to many more jobs and opportunities. (I'm talking nationwide, maybe not in southern California.)
3) From these opportunities, immigrants have a much greater shot at achieving middle class and higher, where xenophobia and discrimination aren't as present as they are at lower levels. (I know this from my family's experience of making their way here.)

Requiring immigrants to learn English before they become citizens is not unfair, because nobody is asking them to give up their native language or culture. Social and economic gears just tend to run a lot smoother if everyone at leasts understands the same language.

Eduardo G

Let the marketplace sort this out. My family has both cases (English and Spanish and Spanish only). Those who speak both languages make more money, period; those who only speak Spanish are usually newcomers, grandparents, or children; I think people, in general, are smart enough to choose for themselves if they want to speak the language or not, driven by their desire to earn more income or have a better quality of life (i.e., be able to speak with neighbors). My opinion: Let the law of supply and demand do its magic and keep the government out of it.

Henry L.

I think it's not unreasonable to expect some English-speaking abilities in order to get citizenship. It doesn't have to mean that they are 100% proficient.

Chillipepper

Language is a uniting medium, and I believe it is important that all people communicate in a uniting language of the country, i.e., English in the USA. In Singapore, English is an official language in business, schools, etc. They have Indians, Malay, Chinese, and people of other races. English is elected since most educational materials, especially math, science, and technology, utilize it, and there is no necessity to translate. English is elected so that no one race will say that it is unfair. With one main language, the cost, effectiveness, and speed of propagating information becomes cheaper, faster, more accurate, and easier. Here in the U.S., it should be in English, since the forefathers, the founders, have established it here. I am not against any other language, but if need be, it could be additional. The compulsory language in our system should be English.

abner

B 4 u start telling immigrants to learn English, y don't u tell ur nutting American teenagers to put a proper sentence together that can make sense (and also find America on a map). Americans need not look too far to tell people to learn English.

chas

It is already a requirement in the UK that you must be able to speak English. In addition, you must pass a test to show that you understand British culture and history.

Optimist

English is and will remain the world's most widely spoken language, not because it is spoken in U.S./UK/Australia/Canada, but because it is spoken in India.

drew

Just so you know abner, "B 4 u..." isn't putting together a proper sentence. The map reading concept that you are referencing came from Miss Teen USA and is in no way representative of the general population. In regard to the actual argument at hand, I believe there should be no government intervention. Naturally, immigrants will be pushed towards\ learning the language in order to excel in school and society at large. On a side note, I thought the English language is one of the harder languages to learn with its irregularities and that the citizenship test was quite a bit harder. Back in my senior year of high school, most people failed the test with about 20 questions on the history of the United States. There were questions most ordinary citizens would get wrong. But I suppose all of those facts can easily be learned with a bit of studying.

noozhour

The issue is with Hispanic immigrants (legal and illegal) who seemingly refuse to learn English, so we have these English-Spanish bilingual signs that confuse children and other ethnic groups.

It makes no sense. It is non-Hispanic immigrants who get high-degree-earning percentages--not Hispanics. I see no other languages (e.g., Indian, Japanese) that need dual-signage.

But local pharmacies won't translate warning messages like "Don't take drug with nitrates" and the government won't translate "Icy Road Ahead" and other messages. Will near-sighted Jacob Stokes (con view) translate all this for them?

There's debate and sensible debate. There is no issue with the majority of non-Hispanic immigrants. They all learn English regardless--they know that's where the opportunities are.

C L

Present and past American society has always being multicultural. In the newly formed American colonies, a diverse selection of languages were spoken daily in business, family life, and in the teaching of school children. Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Native American languages were common. The Articles of Confederation, for instance, were printed in English and German. In Colonial Pennsylvania, German speaking immigrants made up about one third of the population; they freely printed newspapers in German, conducted their businesses in German, educated their children in German, and drew up legal contracts in German, to the horror of Benjamin Franklin and other nativists, who referred to Germans as Palatine Boors. Germans made up a large portion of the non-English population at that time. They were accused by Anglos of laziness, illiteracy, a reluctance to assimilate, excessive fertility, and Catholicism.

In the Colonies, the different ethnic groups freely used their languages to communicate in daily affairs. Newspapers were printed in several languages and were distributed in all the territories. In the 1800s, there were newspapers printed in numerous languages, like the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, or the New Mexico Crepusculo. In 1880 alone, there were 620 newspapers printed in German. Press publications in Yiddish, Spanish, Czech, Polish, and Italian languages were common. In cities with large German-immigrant populations, the government regularly printed notices in German. During the mid 1800s, in Tell City, Indiana, city council meetings were conducted in English and German, and city ordinances were printed in both languages (see Indiana Historical Magazine 1918, 124.)

After the U.S. acquired what is now Louisiana, under the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, it acquired a territory with a French-speaking majority. The majority of government transactions were conducted in French. Louisiana’s second governor, from 1816-1820, Jacques Villeré, spoke no English when he was elected. Louisiana's constitution of 1845 established that the state legislature would conduct business in both French and English. Bilingual education was authorized under a law in 1847, and French-language public schools were established to teach those of French ancestry. It was only after the Civil War that French-speaking rights were terminated in various forms as a way to punish the French-speaking population who had supported the Confederacy.

Long before English speakers arrived in what is now the U.S., Spanish speakers were conducting their businesses in Spanish, when they first set foot in California around 1542. The first white settler did not arrive in California until about 1820, long after Mexicans had founded Los Angeles. In California, the 1849 state constitution recognized language rights of Spanish speakers, stating that "all laws, decrees, regulations, and provisions which from their nature require publication shall be published in English and Spanish." Spanish was regularly used in court proceedings.

It was only after whites invaded California illegally in great numbers searching for gold that the language rights of Spanish speakers were eventually taken away. During the Gold Rush, whites invaded the land en masse. They squatted and forcibly seized the land of native Hispanics. Mexicans are mostly an indigenous population, made up of different Native American groups. These immigrants overwhelmed the original inhabitants of the territory and began to impose the English language on the occupied land. By the late 1800s, Anglos had acquired four fifths of the land grants that had been previously owned by Mexicans. See A History of Multicultural America, by Ronald Takaki.

Spanish speakers arrived in New Mexico in 1598, and established a settlement in Santa Fe in 1609. Similarly, by 1690, Mexican Spanish speakers had settled in Texas. They reached Colorado in the mid 1700s. They were in Arizona around 1539 and founded St Augustine, Florida, in 1565. The first 1876 constitution of Colorado decreed that annual sessions be published in German and Spanish, along with English. A 1867 law stated that a bilingual school should be established in districts where there were at least 25 German children. In Denver, one of the public schools taught children entirely in German. The New Mexico territorial legislature kept records both in English and Spanish. In Arizona, the legislature published its documents in both English and Spanish during the 1800s.

In the 1800s, schools were set up in New York City that taught immigrant children in Italian and German. Likewise in Chicago, a German school was formed in 1866. In 1870, Denver had schools where children were taught entirely in German. Schools that taught children of immigrants in German were set up in Maryland, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska. Baltimore permitted public schools in the upper grades to teach art and music in German only. In Texas in the late 19th century, there were seven Czech-language schools supported by the state school funds. In the city of San Francisco, children of German, Italian, and French immigrants were taught in their native tongue in regular public schools. See Paul E. Peterson, The Politics of School Reform, 1870-1940 (University of Chicago Press, 1985) and Diego Castellanos, The Best of Two Worlds: Bilingual-Bicultural Education in the United States (New Jersey State Department of Education, CN 500, 1983). Spanish language instruction in public schools has been very common in states like Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona, where the native Spanish speakers have historically been present, long before English became the dominant language.

In 1900, 25% of immigrants did not speak English. In 1910, of the 92 million people in the United States, 23% did not speak English.

Documents were routinely published in different languages to assist these immigrants. In 1917, the U.S. government created the Foreign Language Division of the Bureau of Publicity of the Treasury Department, which routinely printed publications, pamphlets, newspapers, and news releases, in numerous languages. The U.S. Food Administration regularly published forms in different languages as well. In 1937, when the Roosevelt Administration published information dealing with the Social Security Act, it translated the document into 20 languages, such as Yiddish, Chinese, and Italian.

LatinaFina

Having English proficiency requirements with various immigration statuses would ensure that immigrants have a higher probability of attaining their full potential within the U.S.

Native or immigrant, it is very hard to deserve a high paying career without being fluent in English. It's a disservice to immigrants to let them become citizens even though they can't speak English well.

Hispanic immigrants in particular are complacent when it comes to learning English. (1) They don't actively seek to improve their English proficiency. (2) There is an abundance of bilingual individuals to translate for them for free. (3) Companies have accommodated Hispanic consumers with Spanish commercials, forms, and personnel to earn their money.

While I believe that everyone who comes to the U.S. should be allowed to work their way up the ranks as previous immigrants group did, I also believe immigrants should have a degree of English proficiency in order to advance their legal status.

It would be a powerful motivator to immigrants to know that with a degree of English proficiency they could advance their legal status within the U.S.

texzilla

A nation of immigrants must be held together with a common language, which in this case is English. Otherwise, the result is Yugoslavia. Enabling non-English speaking holds immigrants back.

Ken

I think everyone is forgetting the most basic thing of immigration. When immigrants come to the U.S., legally, they get what we call green cards. Attaining a green card does not require one to know any English. You can live in the U.S. on the Green Card as long as you want. You are not required/forced to become a citizen. For this reason, it doesn't make any sense to require the same person who's already living in the U.S. to learn English to attain citizenship.

Andrew

Red herrings, red herrings every where. I love how Business Week, The Economist, BBC, and other forms of mass media love to distract their viewers with red herrings. Stirring up crazy emotions that elicit nothing more knee-jerk reactions by people. It is nice to see that some people are reacting to this debate with some form of objectivity. But let's not forget to discuss why this topic is being entertained. What are the social implications, and what does this tell us about our society and the system we live in?

alex

Start us off, Andrew.

noozhour

Hey, Jacob Stokes (con view): There's a small shopping plaza in Maryland that has an Asian Market, 7-Eleven, and police substation. Total of some 12 English signs read "No Loitering"--yet dozens of Hispanics loiter there daily; some watch customers going into and out of stores. That area used to be nice, and it's trashy now, and shooting occurred lately. Jaw-dropping: There used to be a huge Spanish "No Estar Aqui" (no loitering) sign--6-inch to 10-inch letters--yet still loitering. This is the future? What's your solution?

Shiv

First, I am also not a native of the U.S., and also speak multiple languages. I agree with Havovi that learning the language can help assimilate the immigrant population into the communities. I also agree with Jacob that it should not be a law. However, it will be a mistake to make citizens-to-be learn English, which can be open abuse. Many people who do not wish to hire immigrants will use the law to discriminate against immigrant employees and insist that "fluency" in English is necessary, even if such skills are unnecessary. Similar abuse has happened with the Second Amendment, as this right has been used to purchase assault rifles. I do feel that it is important for immigrants to make attempts to blend into the American society. Everyone will always hold some affinity for their homelands even after living in a foreign land years. It is also essential for naturalized citizens and permanent residents to adopt values of their "new" country, and learning its language is a step in that direction.

Andrew

Thanks, Alex,

I will just lead in with this one observation. I think this (the English language issue) is just one issue that finds it origins in the system we call public relations and marketing specifically in the area of demographics.

The corporate world, with the support of government and other institutions such as schools and organized religions, found a way to maintain a strong hold on society (I am referring to the U.S.) by making sure we are made to feel separated from each other.

What is one major element of PR/Marketing? Dividing the society according to demographics: male/female, age, ethnicity, religion, class, economic status (income), etc. We have been taught that we need to know this information and knowing more will help us. Help who? Business. Does it really help the consumer? Hmmm. Maybe. Most likely not.

Now, the corporate world designed a brilliant system: divide the people and then market to them as small groups to make them feel special and unique. Why do you think certain advertisements about certain things come to your house by snail mail at the right time?

Okay, back to the thrust of my lead in. The government saw how wonderful this works and with joint efforts between "private industry" and government, they designed a more sophisticated process to divide the nation. We call it the election process. So in the end all we see or hear about are Mexican-American issues, African-American issues, inner city issues, suburban issues, and elderly issues, so that the result is that we no longer see any issue that can be applied as a nationwide issue. It is the divide and conquer routine being played out in a so-called representative democracy. They want us to feel as if my group is more important than the other. So poor white people feel that they have more in common with the very elite white people than they do with poor Hispanics or poor African-Americans.

This issue of English language is just a way for us, the people, to be easily divided and to assure the power of big business and the elites who run the government are not challenged in any substantial way.

In the end, for me, it is a non-issue turned into an issue. Hence the term I like to use, "a non-issue issue."

Michael T

I think everybody in the U.S. should be educated in Spanish. We could save billions in education and advance our kids' learning simply by not spending time teaching kids how to spell in English.

Of course, that's a bit tongue in cheek, but my point is that I don't think English should be mandated. The free market should determine what language is best spoken.

Another thing we frequently forget--we have Spanish speaking territories as part of the U.S., so even from a civics point of view, we should have Spanish language materials available for most civic purposes such as driver's license manuals.

Andrew

Oh yes, I thought I would add one other thing just to keep this debate moving along. English isn't the national language of the U.S., at least by law it isn't, only by custom. So before we force a group of people to learn a language by creating a law that does just that, we should have a law that recognizes English as a national language. But doesn't this open the door to other "major" languages being recognized as "national" languages, sure it does. I am in favor of that.

If we are supposed to be this melting pot, then why not blend everything into it and exclude bits and pieces because they appear to be inconvenient at the time?

By the way, I hate the melting-pot analogy, but I thought it will work for this debate.

Brad

English is the language of business. It is also the predominant language in both America and Canada. As a Canadian, I find it strange that someone would choose to move here without a basic understanding of conversational English (or French if they plan to primarily reside in Quebec).

A small effort to attain basic conversational English isn't asking too much. When I visited Mexico, I made a concerted effort to learn Spanish, and by the time my business was done there, I wasn't fluent, but I could get by. Many of my hosts and many of the businesses I visited were quite bemused at my fumbling Spanish, but were very happy that I made the effort.

I suppose it comes down to respect for the country you are visiting. I think that respect should deepen if you're planning on living there.

Squeezebox

When the British conquer a country, one of the first things they do is take away the native language and force them to learn English. My ancestors were forced to give up Gaelic. I have other ancestors from Germany who had to learn English. When Americans imported slaves, one of the first things they were forced to do was to learn English. Even Native Americans were forced to submit. Now we can all understand one another, even when we call each other nasty things. On the other hand, one of the ways Quebec people show their disrespect for the British is to deliberately speak French. English would be much easier, but they choose to be unique. Learning English not only facilitates communication but also shows respect for the people. Those who reject English disrespect the people living in the United States.

Robert Smith

How about we address what makes a person a U.S. citizen? Shouldn't a U.S. citizen only be a citizen if born of a U.S. citizen or legally naturalized? Considering our antiquated statement of saying any child born on U.S. soil is a citizen that opens the gates of indebtedness of U.S. citizens to a impoverished people to the south.

For some reason, most welfare nations such as Canada do not recognize this, so how did we end up so outdated? No national language and no cohesive modern immigration policy. And let's not start with foreign policy.

If someone wishes to make welfare a common theme of government; (cough) Obama Hillary, then we might want to clean up the loophole. Think illegal immigration is a problem now? Imagine what free health care will do. Hola, no hablo. Or is it habla? Who knows and who cares?

I'm in the U.S. Speak English, or get out of here. No deportation on buses. Let's try the Trail of Fire, because the Trail of Tears is done and gone. No pity here, Mexicano.

Zhenyang Lu

To be an immigrant or not to be, it is not important. In China, I think I should learn English, because the government here does not tell the truth to the citizens. We can only get the truth from foreign Web sites, radio, or TV programs, and the English language is an effective method.

ummmm woww

Shankar, that's a pretty lame joke. Waste of time and words.

carlo

Hey guys, you helped me a lot in my project in English, because it is all about English proficiency. Thanks a lot.

whitttt

No matter what country you are in, people are going to speak different dialects. Come on, now. If you don't like the country's rules, then leave. We need people who speak English; we are in America. It should be our choice to learn their language, not their choice to learn ours.

butterfinger:)

Of course immigrants should learn to speak English. How else are they supposed to communicate with the rest of us, get jobs, do anything? And while a lot of immigrants know English, there are a lot of others who don't. I think it should be a law that you have to take a test in order to become a U.S citizen. Then what I think isn't fair, is that schools make us take at least two languages. They make us learn something that isn't important to us. I don't think I would need to use Spanish or French anytime in my life. Only if I actually cared enough about immigrants to communicate with them with their language. That's not right. I have a Spanish class, that I think is unfair to have, yet I have to care enough about my grade. No me gusta hablo Espanol. And for anyone who thinks Spanish is going to dominate English in the U.S, you're out of your minds. How could Spanish dominate an English speaking country? We never asked for people in China to know English. We don't care that they don't know it, just as long as they stay in China. And maybe you say that because there are so many immigrants that could care less about knowing English that they just care about the liberty, and the wealth. If I wanted a job some day, that involved knowing Spanish, I think I should be able to then choose if I wanted to learn Spanish, as a part of my career.

Rahkshaza

I agree completely with Brad. It makes perfect sense that you should at least learn the native language if you are going to be in a country for an extended amount of time. This applies to everyone.

john doe

Absolutely, you need to learn English before you become a citizen. The worst thing ever is when you go to order food and you get the wrong stuff because the [person] at the cash register can't understand you. Learn English. And immigrants that don't speak English wonder why we look at them weird and walk away.

Dallas.

Personally, I think that illegal and legal immigrants, should definitely learn our language. I mean, if they're going to live here in America, they need to know the language. To be a U.S. citizen, they need to know the U.S. language: English.

It would be the same thing if I moved to another country. I want to visit Mexico, and I'm taking Spanish. So, when I do go to Mexico, I'll have enough respect for their culture to speak their language.

It's that simple.

Jinsoo

I agree with the argument that immigrants who don't speak English, might face difficult situations. However, still the fact that immigrants could live without speaking very fluent English shows that the ability to speak English isn't "mandatory." Also, immigrants could bring their culture along with their own language and bring more diverse effects to the country.

Aidan Kim

As Brad mentioned, English is the language of business. It's true that people can live in the U.S even though they don't speak English. However, when people face some official problems that have to do with governments, it's almost impossible to deal with those problems without speaking or writing English.

Ron Billingsley

I realize that this country is changing as far as diversity, race, religion, and our views of the media. But we can't let it get to the point where our entire society is based on something completely different from what our forefathers have established since 1776. They were English principles, and therefore the language in which we communicate should stay English regardless of accommodating those too stubborn or too naive--not willing to learn the language that still use our resources for their own benefits. This country has gotten way too soft, and some people get criticized way more than they deserve to be. This liberal agenda will only drag us down further, and we need one term with Obama to show us that so we get our heads out of our asses. Bottom line, if you are going to live here permanently, learn the freaking language or get out. Illegals are the ones causing taxes to go up for their social welfare, and in return aren't giving back.

shmoodie poo

You all are idiots. Why spend money to teach people English, when they are already natives to a language that the U.S. clearly has translators for?

sr. squa

Wow. All I can say is wow. I'm a freshman in high school, and I'm nowhere near as xenophobic as you all are. Obviously if people immigrate to our country, then they are in search of either a new experience or a better life. If we force them all to learn English, and abandon their native language, then they will lose their own culture. What is that saying to other countries? The United States is a melting pot for the rest of the countries. Forcing immigrants to learn English will only turn our country into a big salad. Besides, the majority of immigrants learn English anyway. It's not like they move here and decide "Oh, screw you guys, learn my language" No. They know in order to communicate, they need to learn English. Forcing them to learn it is just arrogant.

AJ

I'm an 8th grade student, and we've been talking a lot about immigration and the effects of foreigners moving to the United States. Immigrants should not be forced to be fluent or "learn" English. I personally feel that different languages are a part of the diversity that makes up the U.S. And I know a lot of immigrants who practically already knew English when they came over; and when foreigners come to the U.S. and bring their native-tongue they also bring their cultures, which is a a grand opportunity for us Americans to be exposed to.

Anna

I agree immigrants should know English before becoming a citizen and that should be a law. We make every effort to know some part of a language when we go to other countries, so its not unfair at all.

tyler hedrick

I think that they should because it will make their life easier and ours.

Christian Crawford

I think that immigrants should learn English; it's our official language. I am not saying that they should abandon their native language. I am saying that they should learn it as a second language.

ketsia P......

I am an immigrant, and I think it is a very good idea for all immigrants to know English before they will become an American citizen, because sometimes there are some immigrants who do not want to learn English. Let's think about these people who do not want to learn it, but they can learn it. Do you think it is a good idea for them? I do not think so.There are some of them who came in search of a better life, so without English they will not be able to have a better life. This is my opinion.

Bryan

We need to get a system to ensure that all documents are legal.

I don't disagree with anyone, but those over 70 should be given special status, due to their age no matter what they speak.

Anyone younger than 70, considered having little to no disablity, should and can be required to learn, not just English, but also to speak proper English before they can hold a job.

These people under 70 years should be able to speak English before going to become a naturalized American citizen. If they are unable to, then at least ensure that they get to attend some night classes to learn to speak some proper English so they could at least get directions, before giving them licenses to drive in this country.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do: They spoke Latin in Rome, so if in the United States of America, speak English.

I found a bumper sticker the other day: "You're in America. Now Speak English!" Obama is saying "no" to illegals on the health care issue: Not legal in this country = no health care for you.

They should get rid of all the translated documents and only print in English, Anglais [French for "English"], Ingles [Spanish for "English"?], "Yingwen" ["Yingwen" = Chinese for "Written English language"], "Angloskyi" [Russian for "English"], etc...

Sondra Smith

Duh. The answer is obvious, but when will it "sink in" with us that "our" government does not care what we think nor want. That's the reason we're in such a mess in this country today. The corrupt government. They only start listening "just a little" to our pleas and cries right around re-election time. They are simply amusing. One party tries to out-do the other in "doing in" the American people. What happened to the type of leadership this country once had? Good grief.

Judy Pruitt

I think that if the illegals wants to come to the U S. that they learn English, so this way they can get their legal status here. And get a good job.

Mike

I speak several languages, and am American. I definitely think that immigrants should learn English to become a citizen. It's practical. They will need to communicate with officials (police, fire department, medical, government), not to mention neighbors and people in general. Why are you so surprised at this requirement? Is it not also what other countries require? Of course, go to France, to Germany, to China, to Russia, and try to insist that you keep speaking only your native language after being given immigrant status and see how far you get! Anyone who does not wish to comply does not deserve immigration status.

Max

Hi. Just trying to shovel through all the crap in the Con argument. Of course English is necessary; that's just the way America is. Without the native language, immigrants will be in the dark. And the people of this country who aren't Native Americans did create their own language; not learning it squanders chances of success.

Lori

You know everybody is an immigrant since nobody was from here orginally. I do personally think that immigraqnts should know English mostly because 79% of what Americans do includes the language English. How will they communicate with others engaged in the same search? How will they be intellecually curious in the world? Answer those questions, if you can!

Roy

Why is everything written in both English and Spanish in the aisles of the hardware stores? Years ago, the hardware stores only had things written in English. How did the non-English speaking people find a hammer back then? How on Earth did they survive?

random

I personally think that everybody who lives in the U.S. should learn and be able to speak English. If there's an emergency and they can't speak English, how are they going to get out of an emergency? Answer that question if you're able.

Flo

Our immigration laws require people wanting to become citizens to be able to read/speak English. Why are they allowing people to become citizens if they can't meet that criteria? And why are they allowed to vote? Ballots should only be printed in English.

Feenchy

The US has no official language per se. So why should the law require something that is not even written in the Constitution? I think English should be mandatory only in US states where it is official such as Illinois or Kentucky. Besides, is it really stupid to say that Spanish is the de facto second national language of the US (once English is a national language but not an official one)?

damian

I believe in America, English comes naturally; no matter the country. I live in a close knit community were everyone speaks English, and if you have a few that speak Spanish, then more will learn it to speak it then why speak english if there is no need? Then soon the entire population would have to even the people that struggle to learn would, to do something like buy groceries or do taxes.
I also believe that if you have enough respect for a country to move there to find a job or to find a new outlook on life then you should at least learn its language to communicate with its people instead of expecting everyone to know your language. There are very many people that aren't included in that census such as farmers and more southerners and if that is the prime resource for "illegals" jobs then that employer shouldn't have to learn a language just to have you work for him because he can't afford to hire native workers and keep food on his table for his family. This debate is ludacris at best because people shouldn't be fighting for people to learn their country's language when they go to another country--they should learn that country's language so there is no problems that arise as in getting in an accident and asking for help that no one understands you because you didn't learn the language and take a drivers liscense test--you just drove a car because the test was only given in English so you didnt know the rules or laws or be able to read somthing as simple as a stop sign.

Oh and last time I checked the constitution wasn't given an available "en espanol" copy so how would you be able to respect it and its strength just because you felt you didn't need to learn the language it was writen it? You say the reason you come to America is to live the American dream. Well, the first step of the "American dream" is to learn the "American" language, not living life with cash only exchanges and driving where you have the least chance of getting caught for not following laws and living with a fellow hispanic that actually got citizenship. That's the excuse for the American dream.

stephanie

This is an old debate board and the cons are pulling research from 2006. It's 2011 now and the economy is bad! American's need those "dirty jobs" that the immigrants are taking.

Kristie

I agree, Stephanie! At the very least, they should speak English! We are having to learn Spanish and teach our children to accommodate the immigrants. It is all about money when you think about it.

Sports Kid

All in all, they need to learn English.

William

I'm a New Yorker. I appreciate all nationalities that come to this country and into my city. However, as a Puerto Rican, native New Yorker, I expect my hispanic counter parts to learn the language; they need to learn English. They cannot hide behind Spanish (or whatever language it is you speak) and use it as a tool to milk your way through society, to avoid responsibility. I become annoyed when you have individuals living in this country for more than ten years and they do not speak a lick of English. Personally, I see the hispanic culuture taking advantage of this. The next culture is Chinese. Living in New York I've come across damn near every culture, and I have seen that the majority of foreigners actually learn English because they see it's the right thing to do. The only ones who disagree are my hispanic heritage and Chinese. Every other nationality sees fit to learn the language. You know damn well, if you were in another country, they will expect you to learn the language and they would not bend over backward to assist you. People refusing to learn English are just lazy and expect everyone else to change for them.

Benito Lagan

I don't normally comment but I gotta state thank you for the post on this one :D.

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