16 Official American English is a Choice

Lavenda Oluoch

The use of English as the official language of the US  does not necessarily improve linguistic diversity as it claims. Using English as the national language  also claims to assimilate immigrants to the United States. Contrary to the reasoning of English-only supporters, if immigrants come to the US, they shouldn’t have to feel pressured to  learn to speak, read and write English. The real way to enhance the assimilation of immigrants in the US is for US citizens to speak, read and write official business languages that are not English. Using other languages other than English should not be viewed as an inconvenience to americans.

There should be no need for English-only legislation. The political think tank known as US English is centered on “shaping legal policies advocating for the unifying role of an official language in the United States”  whilst other languages can be included to reinforce a sense of national unity in the US. This is according to  Steven Alvarez, a writing researcher of English at St. John’s University.  If this is truly the goal of the United States to achieve  linguistic diversity. It doesn’t have to be just Official English. The other 325 spoken languages in the United States as well as English can be used for communication instead of relying on Official US English only. Using all the 325 languages would definitely improve linguistic diversity in the United States. Official Government Business at all levels should be conducted in a variety of languages other than US English. Despite the fact that the think tank called US English strongly believes that using only Official English or “ making Official English the law of the land, will encourage immigrants to learn English in order to use government services and participate in the democratic process,” according to Alvarez. Immigrants learn English better when government services are also offered in their respective native languages. Making US English the law of the land doesn’t necessarily speed up the process for immigrants trying to learn English. Immigrants shouldn’t be forcefully encouraged to read, write or speak English just because they are in America or in order to catch up with everyone else, they are  already making their own efforts to learn the language on their own and just because English is not  an immigrants’  first language, doesn’t mean that they can’t exercise their democratic rights or fail to integrate with the mainstream. It is not a barrier.

The idea of a monolingual United States is a Mythology that should not be used as grounds for dismissal of bilingual education, literacy learning, and immigrant education. Steven Alvarez argues that “Rather than approach the diversity of our voices in the United States as gaps to overcome toward learning English, we should look to all our nation’s languages as gifts.” Using English as a symbol of unifying difference should not be happening, as it is merely an excuse for the formation of nationalist conceptions about immigration integration and assimilation. The argument for Official English creates a divide between immigrants and Americans and it focuses specifically on how becoming American for immigrants means being encouraged to lose a central component of their identity to participate in the democratic process. However, an immigrant shouldn’t have to lose their identity in order to be american. An immigrant has already lost a lot more by leaving his country. He also proposes that ,“This way of thinking about plurilingual burdens hurts how the United States thinks of its many linguistic gifts, however. The worst part of this plurilingual benign neglect is unfair blame individuals and groups receive for their supposed english language lacks, deficits and gaps” It is therefore suggested that we learn how our writing repertoires move beyond and between languages”. The English- only myth that assigns deficits and gaps to anyone with home languages that are not English needs to be dismissed. These English-only  policies are a deterrent to who becomes a citizen. Immigrants already know that they depend on English for many reasons which range from economic  to legal, to them English is powerful. Immigrants often feel as though they have failed their own children who are born or raised  in the United States. These children lose their home languages and language identity as a result of immigration. This loss should not happen as it is the essence of bilingual education. English- only advocates shouldn’t just view immigrants as a burden to American public systems and  public signs should be printed in other languages other than English.

Old notions such as preserving  and conserving the emergent American identity need to be discarded. Having a plurilingual country has no impact on the American identity.

Proposition 227 mandate should be abolished. It had the consequence of  putting Limited English Proficient students at a disadvantage as the students were put in English-Only immersion programs for a year. Instead, funding should have been provided for bilingual education so that thousands of bilingual students shouldn’t have been declared as limited in their English proficiency.

English as a symbol of national unity only perpetuates patriotism and hides discrimination. Language should therefore not be used as a guise for targeting immigrants. Immigrants should not be labeled as Limited English Proficient as it has the repercussions of  stigma relating to being deficient and as a result immigrants lose out on opportunities. Alvarez further states that, “The real limit for all students is mainstreaming policy that cuts away at the plurilingual gifts of our nation”.  Americans can benefit  from immigration by learning to speak  many languages available in the United States.

The real challenge for the think tanks is not learning English but for immigrants to remain bilingual. Immigrants should remain bilingual. Official English should not assume that there is no benefit in Non- English languages when English alone is not sufficient enough for the world as a whole. The narrow -minded view that English is the only model for literacy learning should be put to rest. This view does not lead to meaningful education. Writers who have the ability to speak and write multiple languages have rich vocabularies and they can also translate and interpret languages at a higher intellectual level. This can be tapped into and used to diminish these english-only notions. At best these other languages should be viewed as gifts and tapped into as much as possible.

Proposition 227 and efforts to standardize students and their languages should be abolished as they do not follow the democratic tradition of US Schooling. There is also no evidence at the state level to back up increasing proficiency among bilingual students. Policy makers should change the habit of  making up language gaps that are non- existent. Policy makers shouldn’t make a habit of labeling bilingual students as limited because they have strengths in their native language and they can bring that with them to the classroom.


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Good Ideas About Writing Copyright © 2021 by Lavenda Oluoch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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