Why do many US immigrants learn English?
The United States does not have an official legal language. … If immigrants come to the United States with the intent of doing business and/or becoming citizens, they usually do take the time and make the effort to learn the English language.
It is not racist or bigoted to expect immigrants in the United States to learn to speak English. Note that I said LEARN to speak English, not to expect them to arrive here speaking fluent English.
During the past thirty years, there were many immigrants from Cuba and Haiti in south Florida, where I lived for awhile. I never encountered anyone with a Cuban heritage who could not converse clearly in English.
Haitian emigres were often bilingual, as they spoke fluent English and indulged me in my rudimentary ability to speak French (which they spoke well, better than Quebecois, in my opinion).
When I took public transportation, as I did every day to work, passengers who were recent arrivals from Haiti would read the local Sun-Sentinel newspaper as often as Le Monde. Being comfortable reading a newspaper in a second language is a good indicator of fluency.
Why do many US immigrants learn English? + Example
I am answering this question because I objected to the conjecture made in another answer Why is it racist to expect immigrants in the US to speak English? Isn’t it easier for immigrants to be productive if they can speak the national language?
Does it make sense for immigrants to expect businesses to learn their languages?) about European immigrants. That answer described current immigrants—“Pablo, Nguyen and Huang”—as more capable and faster learners of English than early 20th century immigrants to America. My Russian grandparents and great-grandparents were NOT inferior in terms of cognitive ability to 21st-century immigrants!
Immigrants who got off the boat at Ellis Island, such as my grandparents, had ZERO social services available to them in the USA. In the early 1900s, there were no court-provided translators, no Social Security, no food stamps or other public assisstance.
Young children learned English before their parents and even taught classes in places of worship (churches and synagogues) to adults. My grandfather did that. He arrived here at age 6 from Ukraine via Trieste, and was teaching English as best he could to classes of 50 or more adults in the evenings by the time he was 11 years old, after attending elementary school during the day. My grandfather was NOT a prodigy! He was ordinary in that he was one of many such children of recent arrivals.
Speaking English in public venues is a matter of personal preference. My grandparents argued in Yiddish about what to buy at Safeway and Piggly Wiggly when I went food shopping with them. My grandparents spoke unaccented English, and when they conversed with others (e.g. the butcher, the cashier) they always spoke English.
Why do many US immigrants learn English? + Example
English is the business language of planet Earth. Surprisingly the only people that seem to not know that are… Americans.
Now, what does the above has to do with anything?
It results with most native English speakers having unrealistic expectations towards immigrants who do not speak English when it comes to how fast a person can learn a language.
Most of those unrealistic expectations are fueled by interacting with people like Europeans, who all learn how to speak English as a second language since kindergarten and the worst thing that can happen to you when interacting with them is that their accent of an otherwise grammatically perfect English is hard to understand – something you can adjust within a few years.
When I came to USA at the age of 24 and had people whining about my “hard to understand” English and “weird grammar” – I was already studying English for 14 years.
It took me another 5 years of living in the USA to get to the point where I could communicate in an active way (talking and writing) in such a way that native English speakers were not uncomfortable due to being confronted with an unfamiliar accent or “artificial” grammar.
Learning a language from scratch on the other hand, especially as an adult, is an impossibly hard task. Quite frankly, if you start learning a language at the age of 30 for the first time – it will never happen.
You will probably learn to read and understand proficiently, but your ability to write and especially speak will always be limited.
Dealing with a-holes who assume you are stupid, just because you have difficulty with re-wiring your brain for real-time spoken English grammar at an age nobody can really do it anyway does not encourage a person to practice in public, further limiting the speed of learning the language.
America has no official language.
It doesn’t matter how many people speak it, or where – there is no official language in the United States. What does this mean?
It means that government documents can be in two dozen languages and that all government publications can be in whatever language the specific document creator decides.
In contrast, Canada has two official languages: French and English. All Canadian Supreme Court justices are required to be bilingual. The government operates in both languages and both languages only. There’s no official documents in Inuit for example.
I would support making English the official language of the United States, possibly with an allowance for making Spanish the official language of Puerto Rico.
The problem people have with language can be summed up in an old saying: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. America is an English-speaking country so the immigrants should be required to speak English.
The problem comes when an immigrant can get by without using English – including visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles, to the Social Security office, to get food stamps or health care, etc.
The problem comes when people come to this country and think “I don’t have to speak English: they all speak Spanish in the important places anyway.” or “I don’t have to learn English before I come to America.”
The “revolt” against foreign languages in this regard is due largely to Spanish – and the large number of non-English speaking immigrants, which could very well be a substantial number of the illegal immigrants coming to this country.
The “revolt” also comes because now, in America, when you call a corporate support line, you have to specify you speak English. This should be an automatic assumption – even though corporations have a valid and justifiable reason for accommodating their Spanish-speaking customers.
My personal view would recommend the following:
- Make English the official language of the United States, with the exception of Spanish being the official language of Puerto Rico.
- Subsidize English learning classes and offer them at no cost and without immigration checks
- Publish all government documents in English only, and make all departments work in English only
- Encourage companies to “default” to English only, unless a Spanish-speaker requests Spanish, etc.
Attacking people because they speak a foreign language is bigoted, because there is no reason for it except prejudice and xenophobia. The prejudice is an unthinking outgrowth of the revolt against the encroachment of Spanish into America, and the ability of many to never learn Spanish.
America is an English-speaking country.
Why do many US immigrants learn English