Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Official English is popular among the people

A new poll released this week indicates broad support for making English the Official Language of the US.

ARLINGTON, Va., March 21 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Americans overwhelmingly want
English to be declared the official language of the United States, according to
a recent poll by Zogby International and commissioned by ProEnglish, an
Arlington, Va.- based national organization that backs official
ProEnglish Executive Director K.C. McAlpin said, "Eighty-five
percent of likely voters incorrectly think English already is the official
language of the United States. But when informed that the United States does not
have an official language, virtually the same number -- 84 percent -- agree that
we should make English the official language of governmental
McAlpin added, "Eighty-four percent is the highest level of
support we have seen for official English in a national public opinion survey.
The last Zogby poll on official English conducted in June 2005 found 79 percent
support, which indicates public support may be rising."

ProEnglish website explains:

Having English as our official language simply means that for the government to act officially, it must communicate in English. It means the language of record is the English language, and that no one has a right to demand government services in any other language.
Official English would also reinforce America's historic message to new immigrants - that we expect them to learn English as the first step in their assimilation -- and that we are committed to ensuring that all Americans share in the economic, social and political benefits of having a common language.
They are using these pollnumbers to drum up support for the Official English bill now in congress (Hr 997). The bill has a large number of cosponsors including Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and Jim Saxton (R-NJ).

Let's ignore for a second the trustworthiness of the poll numbers, and think about why we would need to have a law making English the official language of the US. The stated goal of ProEnglish is to help immigrants assimilate better, because assimilation will lead to economic prosperity. That seems like laudible.

Yet from my limited understanding of second language learning (I took a course on it once a long time ago), I understand there are two main factors to successful second language learning: motivation and opportunity. Making English the official language seems to address the former. It says the US government is only going to talk to you in English, so if you want to get anything from the government you're going to have to learn English. This legislation assumes that immigrants are not motivated to learn English. But given the touted economic benefits of learning English that doesn't make sense at all.

And sadly, the legislation doesn't address opportunity. If immigrants live in subcultures that are separate from English speakers, opportunities to speak English are reduced. So, if the real goal of this legislation is to get immigrants speaking English faster, it seems misguided. What we really need is a way to encourage integration between English speakers and non-English speakers. To create more opportunities for non-English speakers to practice their English skill. But that type of social engineering probably requires an intrusive governmental program. It's much easier to simply take a tough love approach and expect the immigrants to assimilate to us.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Wow. This is the same group I wrote about here in Sept. 2004 -- very spooky group, IMHO.

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