Should English be the official language?

I’m sure this debate has come up before, but a search for English and “official language” didn’t find it.

I live in a small college town with about 15,000 year round residents. Our education budget is already stretched (like those of most counties), yet there is currently talk of appropriating funds from other sources to provide more bilingual (English & Spanish) instruction in the classroom. (The Spanish speaking population here is about 6%, relatively small compared to some areas of the state where during picking season it reaches 25%.)

I like to think that I’m not a xenophobe (which is not to say I’m not, but I like to think I’m not) and I understand why people come to the US to better their lives for themselves and their children. I also am cognizant that children born to aliens, legal or otherwise, are citizens of this country.

However, I resent having to pay for more teachers in order to teach their children in another language. English is here as in the vast majority of the nation the language of government, most news media, popular culture, commerce, banking, etc., and not to know it is more of a handicap than blindness. While I support government spending on ESL courses, I believe that it is time to make English the official language (at least of government) in the United States and to require fluency in it for status as a citizen or permanent alien.

If a state or a city wishes to add another language (e.g. if Miami wants to make Spanish and Creole co-regnant with English) that’s fine and they should have the right, but for areas in which English speakers are the majority and non-English speakers are not a significant minority, I believe that responsiblity for learning teh language should be up to the individual or their parents. I certainly would not migrate to France, Switzerland, or Italy without learning the language or if for some reason I had to I certainly wouldn’t expect their governments to supply teachers for my children.

So am I being unreasonable or do you agree?

There are a couple things going on here.

  1. IIRC there is an English proficiency req’t for citizenship. As well as history, and gov’t, and possibly other areas as well.

  2. Making English the official language would not change the need for some children to have bilingual education for some period of time in order to function in school. People will debate how long the bilingual ed should last (1 yr, 3 yrs, 5 yrs…), but the need will still be there. The days of our grandparents when kids were thrown into school not speaking English and had to sink or swim are over. That’s not coming back.

  3. Many states already have an English official language status. I believe CA is one of them, but when I get my ballot in the mail, it’s still in English and Spanish, so it’s unclear to me what the offical language deal does. And there will also be the need for interpretors in courts, etc.

Bottom line, this seems to be pretty complicated although on the surface it seems like in needn’t be. Personally, I would not like the feds telling the states what to do on this, but would rather see the states have the authority to do what makes sense.

Another question I have is “where does it end?” In the southern part of Georgia there are a significant number of Haitians during part of the year. Creole is a very difficult language to find qualified interpreters in, let alone qualified bilingual teachers. Should we nevertheless try to find them?

In Atlanta the area called Chamblee is nicknamed Chambodia because of the high number of immigrants from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and numerous other Asian nations. Should we accomodate them?

Suppose a single Hungarian family comes here- should we appropriate funds to teach the teacher Hungarian?

I’m a strong believer in letting common sense tell us how to handle these situations.

The following fairly recent thread began with the Constitutional issues, but picked up some perspectives on the most appropriate manner of teaching English to immigrants as well as some history on how we handled this during the last major immigrant wave, a hundred years ago:
English-only in the US: Unconstitutional?

I would have to say that this doesn’t strike me as having anything to do with “official language” recognition. It’s a matter of prioritizing education dollars, not designating an “official language.”

Bilingual education is a discredited concept. It has been tried in a number of places, with disastrous results for the Latinos who particpated. Many of the Latino students who were placed in bilingual education classes never learned English properly. Their results in other subjects were worse as well.

Things got so bad that the voters of California recently passed a ballot proposition ending the practice. Ending bilingual education produced substantial educational gains for Latino students.

I urge you to fight tooth and nail against bilingual education. It’s bad for everyone.

i don’t think we need an “official” language, but english should be the default. If you cannot speak/read english, do not come to this country and complain that the signs are not written in sanskrit.

Learning the default language should be a prerequisite for immigrating to a new country.

Not true. Many educators think that extended bilingual education is damaging to the students ability to learn English and that it sould be limited to one or two years, with “mainstreaming” done quickly. Prop 227 in CA went along those lines. It did not end bilingual education, but reduced it signifcantly. This initiative was backed by the majority of Latinos, or at least recent immigrants (IIRC).

The official language is whatever language the head of the nation uses for his/her speeches. I don’t think you should start complaining until the day Bush learns spanish (and we all know that will never happen. He hardly knows english as it is)

Uh, Bush does know Spanish. He gave an interview to a Spanish language radio station during the campaign.

Bush speaks pretty passable Spanish. Mine is a bit rusty, but I’ve heard him speak Spanish and while he definitely has a Gringo accent, his vocabulary is pretty darned good.

We’re waiting for your retraction. Repeat after me: “I was wrong about Bush.”

Um, sorry, but President Bush does not speak Spanish fluently at all. He speaks barely enough to fumble a bit in prepared speeches. At least that is the impression I get from the very little I have heard him speak. Like when his “friend” - “Ansar” came to Washington. The name is “Aznar” and he mangled it.

In any case I do not think this makes any difference in the OP and is just a sidenote.

As I have said in other threads I do not think there is such thing as a “national” language. For the vast majority the language is English but there are large parts of the country where Spanish was spoken before they even became part of the USA. I can’t see why there should be only one language. People speak what they speak. I do not think the majority should have the right to impose their language on the minority.

Gozu: You are incorrect. The official language is that language designate in law as such. The United States of America, as a nation, does not have one so designated. There are, on the other hand, a few states which have one or more official languages designated as such by their legislatures.


The specific program that had been implemented in California had a number of problems and was failing in several (not all) areas.

Claims that “bilingual education is a discredited concept” are simply political rhetoric that ignore the success that it has had in numerous situations when applied differently than the discontinued Californai model. In fact, as the historical record shows, (see the linked thread, above) it was successfully used in many cities throughout the period 1890 - 1920.

Here’s the wording of Prop 227.

It doesn’t appear to provide for limited bilingual education, but rather for limited “sheltered English immersion.”


Good grief, december! You just said that the wording you cited doesn’t say what it says!

“It doesn’t appear to provide for limited bilingual education, but rather for limited “sheltered English immersion.””


I think that’s called a distinction w/o a difference.

The former system, IIRC, had the major subjects (eg math) taught in the student’s native language (usually Spanish) with special instruction for English as a seperate subject. The idea was not to slow down the learning of those major subjects. But many parents were complaining that their kids were not learning English well enough or fast enough.

What the hell was I taking Latin in high school for? I’m never going to Lata.