Saturday, May 20, 2006

Xenophobia in the U.S. Senate


Declaring English to be the national language is about as necessary and meaningful as declaring Going To The Beach to be the National Summertime Activity.

The myth that immigrants to the U.S. lack the incentive and the will to learn English is pervasive but silly. The problem that there aren’t enough classes for immigrants to learn English is very real, and widely ignored.

Update: On a lighter note, this has set up easy punch lines for late night comedians:

“The president says making English our national language is not ‘discriminatious.’”
—Conan O’Brien

Update: From ‘NCTE Inbox’:

English Only Is Unnecessary and Counterproductive

On May 18, 2006, the U.S. Senate voted to make English “the national language” of the United States. NCTE and CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication) have opposed “English as the official language” policies in resolutions and guidelines dating back to 1980.

On Friday, May 19, 2006, NCTE joined TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) and the National Council of La Raza in a letter to all U.S. Senators stating our disapproval of the legislation. We noted the obvious—that English is without a doubt already the language of wider communication in America—and asserted the following:

If there is one single issue that stands in the way of immigrants learning English, it is a lack of resources to provide sufficient classes for those seeking to take them. We are sorely disappointed that the Senate debate on language focused on a proposal to limit communication with immigrants rather than on increasing access to programs that can actually assist immigrants as they attempt to learn English while working, raising families, and contributing in multiple ways to the vibrancy of this country.

For more information on this issue, see the following:

Standards #9 and #10 of the NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts at

The CCCC position statement, “The National Language Policy,” at

The NCTE Policy Collection on English Language Learners at

The Conference on English Education (CEE) Guideline on “Supporting Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners in English Education” at

Update:This is the good one-liner I was looking for when I tried the Going to the Beach line: from Geoff Nunberg:

To Europeans, saying that the English language needs preserving sounds a little like putting crabgrass on the endangered species list.

Update: From ‘NCTE Inbox’:

House Panel Examines the Future of English (The Washington Post, July 27, 2006)
Members of the House Committee on Education Reform have heard testimony pro and con regarding a measure to make English the national language.

U.S. Study: Learners of English Left Behind (Arizona Daily Star, July 27, 2006)
A new study released by the Government Accountability Office concludes that two-thirds of states do not provide English language learners and English teachers with the proper tools to help ELL students succeed.

Language Diversity vs. a National Language
The best practice for improving literacy is not creating a national language, but supporting the diverse linguistic background of all citizens.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/20 at 01:30 PM
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