[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: English as Official Language?

Monday, May 22, 2006

English as Official Language?

The debate as to whether English should be adopted as our official language has reared its ugly head once again. The U.S. Senate recently voted in favor of making English the national language. In Miami-Dade County, an English-only ordinance was passed in 1980, only to be repealed 13 years later.

Every time this comes up I ask myself, "what's the point"? Is it to remind foreigners and immigrants that English is the main language in this country, or is it a reminder of who's boss? Is it an attempt to have everyone assimilate, or is it used to ridicule and denigrate?

I personally believe that it is a measure taken by those who feel that their culture and their way of life are being threatened by those of a different race or ethnicity. It has no practical basis. Anyone with even one live brain cell realizes that in this country to get ahead you have to speak English. No one in their right mind would deny learning English if they had any reasonable opportunity to do so.

"But wait a second, what about in Miami where no one speaks English"?

Ok buddy, here's what I think:

The above also applies in Miami. Sure, there are many who live in Miami who never learn to speak English and live quite full lives. However, they would likely be more successful if they spoke English. Even in Miami, where most residents and visitors speak Spanish, there's no doubt that if you want a good job and get ahead, you must speak English. Accent, no accent, doesn't matter. Yes, there are those few who have hit it big with only a few English words in their dictionary, but they are the exception. I realize that there are many sections of Miami where English is barely spoken. That's because of the sheer number of newly-arrived immigrants we have in this city. Most of these folks struggle by with several jobs, and have no time to learn English. I saw this in my own family growing up. We have to be realistic and accept this if we want to be content living in Miami.

There's no need to make English the national language, in practice it already is. Making it law would only open a can of worms. What happens to governmental information and services which needs to be offered in other languages to reach our newly arrived? Do we just forget about them or rely on neighbors to translate critical information to those folks?

In some ways, Miami is ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to the social aspects of immigration. Miami-Dade repealed the English-only ordinance in 1993 after realizing that it was futile and unrealistic to think that thousands of recently-arrived immigrants would suddenly learn to speak English in a city where 70% of the people speak Spanish or Creole. What are these people going to do, give up their part-time jobs to learn English?

It's not going to happen.

What does invariably happen is that their sons and daughters learn to speak fluent English, and in most cases, it ends up becoming their dominant language. Yes, even in Miami this happens. I can't tell you how many sons and daughters of second (and even first) generation Miami Hispanics struggle to speak even passable Spanish. Local community colleges and high schools are jam-packed with students taking English classes at night.

English is a force which dominates all aspects of cultural life. It's in TV, music, art, movies, schools, etc. It's not going away, even in the most immigrant-heavy communities. Instead of passing a silly and unnecessary law, let's make sure that we foster a healthy and inviting community for all of us to thrive in, regardless of what language we speak.


Blogger Miami Transit Man said...

The White house has a Spanish website...Hypocrits!


2:32 PM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Albert Quiroga said...

As we debate this issue, there is something else, somewhat "under the radar," which should provoke some sobering thought: China's continuing determination to become the planet's number 1 power and achieve world dominance. Language is a big weapon they have begun wielding in this effort. There is a very good article in Wired magazine, the April 2006 issue, titled "China's Bold Plan to Invade America's Classrooms." It is on page 84, subtitled "The Mandarin Offensive," summarized as "Inside Beijing's global campaign to make Chinese the number one language in the world." The author is Michael Erard.

Quote from the article: "Spreading Chinese is now a national mission - 'the linguistic equivalent of sending a person to the moon.'

Perhaps the powers-that-be ought to be paying more attention to this.

7:54 AM, May 25, 2006  

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