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.

Olympic Coverage Update

As I’ve written previously, I think NBC has done an excellent job of covering the Beijing Olympic games. The reporting has been first rate. I have a sense of what it would be like to be an Olympic visitor in Beijing. Granted there is more to China than the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and learning to eat with chopsticks – just a few of the featured reports – but for those of you like me who have never been to China, NBC has been like a friendly tour guide, careful not to stray too far off the beaten path. There was one compelling beaten path feature in which a college student (from Iowa I think) strolled through a typical Beijing neighborhood outside the manicured zone of the Olympic village to experience an authentic slice of life. Kudos to NBC for airing it.

After watching each slickly produced athlete spotlight, I became an instant fan, and hoped they would do well. These hook stories definitely snagged my attention. Most of the spotlights have been on American athletes, however. While I have not seen every minute of NBC’s coverage of the games, I would have liked to have seen more stories on athletes from other countries. I understand that NBC is an American based corporation and is covering the games for an American audience, but we should not lose site of the fact that the Olympics Games are a global event.

In particular, the sideline reporting could have featured more athletes from countries other than the United States. Chris Collingsworth, who I think has been a refreshing addition to the NBC Olympic broadcast team, interviewed the men’s Beach Volleyball duo of Dalhausser and Rogers, but he could have interviewed the Latvian team who handed the American team their first loss. Instead, one of his first questions was “how did you guys lose to the Latvians”? Rogers answered simply that he didn’t play well and let his partner down. The rest of the interview was fine, but that first question was disrespectful to the Latvians who actually finished ahead of the U.S. team in Group B.

To be fair, athletes from other countries have been interviewed and featured. There was an interesting profile of Guo Jinging. Bob Newmeyer interviewed Usain Bolt didn’t he? Also, one of the sideline reporters interviewed a Russian athlete immediately following her performance. And wasn’t a Canadian diver interviewed as well. But why didn’t anyone interview a Chinese diver after a round? If this happened, I didn’t see it. Perhaps the Chinese have forbidden its athletes to have direct contact with Western media? If it had been simply a language issue, with a little planning, NBC could have arranged to have interpreters at the ready to assist. For better or worse, English has become the lingua franca of international commerce – call it English language imperialism if you want – and most of the athletes, Americans excepted, are multilingual, therefore the language barrier could not be a legitimate explanation as to why so few European and Asian athletes have been interviewed.