The United States is a nation built by immigrants. Often called the Great Melting Pot, the U.S. is renowned for its ability to soak up people from countries all around the world and still remain distinctly American. In fact, many argue that the mix of cultures is what makes America America. Some people, however, fear that potentially too much of one culture could dominate America. English has always been the primary language used in the United States, but as the number of non-English speaking immigrants increases, many Americans feel the need to make English official not only in practice, but in law. While making English the official language of the United States would alleviate some issues, such as the cost of translation, the option for immigrants to stay non-English-monolingual, and the potential language barriers, Official English would also make life far more difficult for assimilating immigrants. Until English-only advantages can be proven to outweigh the disadvantages, America has no need for an official language.
One of the main arguments for English as the official language of the United States is that it is necessary for immigrants to learn English to function in society. Many supporters of English as the official language claim that undocumented immigrants have no reason to learn English since Executive Order 13166 was passed by President Clinton in 2000, which required all federally funded institutions to offer translation services. (Point/Counterpoint pg 76). This argument in itself is unsound. Clearly if English is required to function in society there is a reason to learn English. A study preformed in 1992 showed that on average immigrants who don’t speak English earn 17 percent less than those who do. (Point/Counterpoint pg 81). Another clear importance of English is clear communication, illustrated by the number of medical mistakes through misunderstandings. Acceptance into American culture is on the line as well, as people cannot unite socially until they understand each other.
Supporters of Official English always claim the currently arriving immigrants are not learning English as fast as the previous immigrants. (Point/Counterpoint pg 91). First it was the Germans and Scandinavians who were unusual slow, then it was that the Eastern Europeans, Jews, and Italians were slower, and now Latin Americans are supposedly the slowest yet. However, studies have shown that today’s immigrants are assimilating faster. Research shows that there is a three generation assimilation pattern with today’s Latin immigrants. The first generation immigrants are monolingual, learning some English but speaking their native language at home. The second generation is bilingual, growing up speaking their native language at home but speaking in only English when they moved out. The third generation is English Monolingual, growing up speaking English and continuing for the rest of their lives. (Immigrant America pg 183) In time the immigrants of today will be as Americanized as the Irish or Germans.
Despite what the advocates of English as the official language would like people to think, English is not at all on the decline. Due in part to the past great imperialism of Britain, and later also America, English is used all over the world. The language gaps between the once-colonies have slowly been filling over time to create an acting international language. As the world becomes more and more aware of the predominance of English, especially in educated communities, English usage spreads farther and farther. Accordingly, in English’s largest home, America, English spreads more quickly than ever. In a study preformed by Lieberson, the United States has the highest rate of mother-tongue shift toward (English) monolingualism than anywhere else on the planet. (Immigrant America pg 183). In fact, 95% of all Americans speak English.
For the remaining five percent, Official English laws would only hinder their assimilation. Immigrants cannot learn English overnight. If English was made to be the official language, immigrants would be required to attend many weeks of ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. However, ESL classes are expensive, and few immigrants have money to pay for them when they first arrive. Immigrants also clearly have needs besides learning English. They need to feed, house, and clothe themselves, for example. To fulfill these basic needs takes money, which cannot be made by sitting in expensive lessons. However, as soon as immigrants can afford ESL classes, most hurry to take them. In Los Angeles, 1986, 40,000 immigrant adults were being turned away from the ESL program; and this at the same time California was passing proposition 63 to make English the official state language. (Immigrant America pg 202). As one university professor put it, passing a law to declare English the official language of the United states “seems like passing a law to declare that air or oxygen is the official respiratory gas.” (Point/Counterpoint pg 94).
The Official English supporters also claim translation services are draining the United States treasury. Their favorite argument revolves around bilingual education. They claim that bilingual education is ineffective, mainly because it does not always place English assimilation as the priority. They also argue bilingual education is more expensive than traditional education. This is true, but not by much, as discovered by the California legislature. (Point/Counterpoint pg 92). In the early 1990’s, the entire budget for bilingual education was $750 million (American Issues Debated); a paltry sum, compared to the $12 billion per month spent on the Iraq war in 2008 (http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/335955.aspx). Additionally, bilingual education has been proven to be effective. Generally, immigrants’ test scores improve in all subjects when they are placed in bilingual schools. (Point/Counterpoint pg 89). Official English supporters also complain that the United States will have to spend billions of dollars translating federal documents into every imaginable language. In fact very few documents need to be translated at all, and that probably won’t change whatever the law says. The U.S. General Accounting Office audited the government’s production of translated documents between 1990 and 1994, and found that 99.94 percent of all printed documents were written exclusively in English. (Point/Counterpoint pg 93). The documents that the government does have translated are often done so because of the benefit for everyone. For example, the IRS translates tax information into Spanish so that Spanish monolinguals have no excuse for not “filing their 1040’s in a timely and accurate way.” (Point/Counterpoint pg 93). Also, it is to everyone’s benefit to translate driver’s ed. documents, for it is important that non-fluent English speakers understand everything taught before they pass. (American Issues Debated pg 106)
The legal validity of making English the official language is even questionable, though several states have already passed such laws. While it is required to have a basic understanding of English before naturalization, many legal citizens have minimal or no English knowledge at all. (http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/M-476_English.pdf). The Fourteenth Amendment; Section One states that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” It is a privilege of United States citizens to understand from the health care workers serving them to what candidate they support. The Supreme Court, however, has yet to rule on the issue. (Point/Counterpoint pg 94).
Though Official English supporters claim that America needs English-Only as law, English needs no bodyguard as the language with the fastest expanding usage of any worldwide. While they also claim that Official English will hasten English assimilation, statistics show otherwise by the waiting list for ESL, which would be cut back by this law. Official English also cannot help further segregating U.S. citizens from non-citizens, regardless of their country of residence. Let us have Turkey, Belgium, and Canada as examples: when there is no problem to be fixed, no benefit to be gained, and actual disadvantage given by a proposed law, there is no earthly reason to instate it.