English only

Chicago, Illinois

Everyone in America wants to speak English—even immigrants. In order to function in this country, to get ahead in this country, you must speak English. However, not everyone will learn to speak English, no matter how much government officials demand it. Carpentersville, Illinois, even went so far as to pass a municipal ordinance that mandates English as the official language. Will this motivate all immigrants to learn English? Not really. If anything, this will create some animosity toward the government on the part of the immigrants, whether they’re here legally or not.

Most immigrants learn just enough English to get by on. Of those who do master English, not all of them will lose their foreign accents. That’s just the reality of learning English. Think of Henry Kissinger, who spoke fluent English, but never overcame his accent. However, he spoke fluent English. Nevertheless, someone like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger should be careful how he encourages people to learn English. Yes, he learned enough English to get by on when he came to this country, but he seems to direct himself only toward Spanish speakers when he tells hundreds of Hispanic journalists that Latinos must stop watching Spanish-language television in order to learn English.

There are immigrants from all over the world who speak many languages other than Spanish who should learn English. Living in Chicago, I have met some of those immigrants with whom I could not communicate in English or Spanish. As is typical of any immigrant group, the first generation learns only enough English to get by on, if that much. The second generation is bilingual, but by the third generation, most speak only English. Hispanics seem to be the exception to the rule. Many Americans equate being monolingual English speakers with assimilation into the American culture. Still, America is multicultural and can accommodate many cultures simultaneously. The English language is living proof that there is room for all cultures.