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Why doesn’t every American speak English?

Posted by Chance on August 28, 2006

I thought I would go for an attention-grabbing title.

Actually, as a limited-government conservative, I do not believe the government should attempt to force anyone to speak a certain language, at least in the private sphere. People should be free to speak whatever language they want. If someone wants to open a convenience store or clothing store with signs in Spanish, that is their perogative.

At the same time however, freedom to speak a certain language should come without feelings of entitlement. Sure, you can speak Spanish, but don’t expect the worker at the McDonald’s to accomodate you. There is no national language – yet, but at the same time, understand that the large majority of the nation speak English. That may seem offensive, but if I moved to China or Japan, a country with little English, I would not expect to be accomodated by everyone.

However, typically, this problem of different languages seems to resolve itself. When I lived in Austin, many businesses were bilingual, simply because first generation Americans (well, some not in the legal sense) worked at these businesses. Or, businesses would understand that they needed to hire someone bilingual. Same thing I have seen in Southern California. The larger the Hispanic population, the more accomodations were made. Sure, it is annoying sometimes when people speak two different languages, but it is in the immigrants vested interest to learn English (or at least their children), and some English-speaking people will have a vested interest to learn Spanish.

Now, in the public sphere, it gets more complicated. As a limited government guy, there would be fewer public services, or at least smaller versions of them, in the first place. But the reality is, public services, whether it be schools or the Social Security Administration, will have a need to interact with new Americans. And yes, I do not believe illegal immigrants are entitled to the services that legal citizens can obtain. Bilingual schools will need to be a reality. Most of the time however, if there is a large Hispanic population, there will be a pool to draw from for bilingual workers.

So should schools teach children with the ultimate goal of teaching them English? Yes, I believe so. After all, the purposes of schools are to prepare kids to succeed in the real world, and the ability to speak English is vital.

So, in summary, we should have freedom to speak the languages we want, but with that should come a sense of non-entitlement.


2 Responses to “Why doesn’t every American speak English?”

  1. The Prophet said

    Interesting. A funny thing happened the other day while I was ordering food at McDonalds. I gave the order in English, the lady shouted the order back to the employees (one of whom was white) in Spanish, and they got my order wrong.

    I assume the reason is that the white guy who put my food in the to go bag didn’t understand the Spanish translation for my order. I could’ve just given him my order, and he would’ve understood just fine.

  2. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Studies show that almost all immigrants learn English as fast as they can–children faster than adults, of course. We don’t need an official language because English will still be dominant.

    But I have a cultural, rather than policy, question. Why do most Americans fear learning other languages? In Europe it is common to know 2-3 languages other than one’s birth language. Same in much of Africa. Even in the U.K., learning a 2nd language is considered a mark of prestige.

    But Americans demand that everyone learn English and seem insulted that they should be asked to communicate in anything else. Americans traveling abroad speak LOUD and SLOWLY when meeting someone who does not speak English–and then consider the other to be stupid. And a few years ago when Bush was in France, he yelled at a reporter for asking a question in French? (The reporter assumed correctly that Bush had translators along.)

    I’m a proud American. But THIS aspect of my culture profoundly embarrasses me.

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