Immigrants Want to Learn English

Bill Binnie is a multimillionaire New Hampshire businessman running for U.S. Senate. Born in Scotland, he came to this country at the age of 5 and eventually became a naturalized citizen.  In an AP article Senate hopeful in N.H. fuels immigration debate written by Norma Love, Mr. Binnie is characterized as a social moderate, which does not sit well with New Hampshire voters.  Binnie is against the Arizona immigration law, even though New Hampshire residents overwhelming favor it.  He believes that only the federal government has the right to enforce immigration laws. In an attempt to prove he’s tough on immigrants in a state that is 95% white, he’s launched a campaign to make English the official language of the U.S. so that immigrants have to learn it.  “…it’s the language of America.  As a US senator, I’ll insist that all immigrants learn English”, he said in a recent campaign advertisement in a classroom full of white school-aged children.

Here’s my problem with this position.  English is the language predominantly spoken in the country and is by default the national language.  There’s no need to make it official.  And English is not the only language of importance. Children need to study other languages and in fact are encouraged if not required to do so in some high schools.  For those who go on to college – and many kids in New Hampshire will, the study of a foreign language will be a graduation requirement. If you doubt this, have a look at the graduation requirements at the University of New Hampshire, and Dartmouth.  The point is that learning a language other than English is universally considered to be a valuable skill for an educated person to have for obvious reasons too numerous to mention.

Second, immigrants want to learn English.  Thousands of adults are on waiting lists for openings in English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.  In Massachusetts, upwards of 20,000 adults will wait up to two years to take a class.  I agree with Binnie that the government should provide more resources to help immigrants learn English.  However, I disagree with his suggestion that to speak a language other than English in this country is somehow being disloyal to the flag. We are a nation of immigrants, one founded on the principal of tolerance and respect.  Are we to be suspicious of college graduates who speak multiple languages.  Should we put polyglots on a no fly list?

Third, what does it matter to New Hampshire residents anyway?  Is there a huge problem with Latinos speaking Spanish in New Hampshire? It couldn’t be too big of a problem because there are only an estimated 33,000 in a state with a population of 1.3 million.  For those who have a problem with Spanish, why not learn it?

Last, isn’t New Hampshire the “live free or die state?”  This is the state with no income taxes.  I would think the good people of New Hampshire would rather live without the government requiring something that is not even necessary.  English is the dominant language in the country, so there’s no need to make it official with some sort of silly proclamation.  Furthermore, there’s no need to insist that immigrants learn English, because they want to learn it.  If I were Binnie, I would insist that the government provide the states adequate funding for adult education programs.  In Massachusetts that’d be about 200 million dollars a year.

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