Speaking English in America

Crap, sorry about the bold. David? Gaudere? :o

So what do you do for the towns that have a larger number of Russian speakers than spanish? My wife is Russian and the place I live in MD has a good amount of russian natives here with a small Spanish population. Are we gonna have to have all the stuff done in Russian too even though nationally they are a small minority?

Here in MD they don’t, at least when she took the drivers test, have other languages they just give non native speakers more time to take the test.

I think there should be a national language of English because otherwise we are gonna have to have WAY too much red tape and crap to have more than one. IT might work in other countries like Canada but they don’t have the population that we do. I don’t think that people should give up their language but if they want to live/work/drive/whatever here they should learn English, if I wanted to live anywhere else I’d have to learn their langague and think that’s what I’d need to do as well.

From the Detroit News today: A plan is now afoot to provide Michigan students with the state’s educational assessment test, called the MEAP, in other languages.

From the article:

I found it interesting that educators in a metropolitan area, who one would tend to think would be more liberal, see this as a bad idea.

well, it’s a different thing.
Yes, the majority of folks in the US speak English, and many to the exclusion of any other language. TV programs, newspapers, court proceedings, routine governmental forms etc. are in English.

However, we also have a significant population (in numbers if not percentages) of immigrants who may have little or no knowledge of English, and a whole host of other languages.

We want these immigrants to quickly begin to support themselves etc, right? Well, in the employment biz, not having transportation or a legal driver’s license is considered to be a ‘barrier to employment’. And a significant one at times.

And, unfortunately, in testing areas, one needs a greater (vs. lesser) command of the language used. I took French in High School many years ago, and was reasonably able to make myself understood verbally while touring Romania in 1972. However, had you given me even a simple 4th grade level Social Studies test in French, I’d have failed miserably, even with multiple choice answers.

Potential solution (and I’ve seen this done). As a matter of practicality, if you have a significant population with a different language, it may be useful to have the test available in those common languages. (the Family Independence Agency in MI, for example, has their forms printed in English, Arabic and Spanish). For others, if there is a demonstrable language barrier, interpreters should be an option, sure make the applicant provide them.

I had a client who spoke several Germanic languages fluently, passable English, had been an expert mechanic in Romania, but unable to take the test here - we called and discovered that he could have an interpreter present to help him read/understand the questions presented on the state licensing exam.

*Originally posted by spooje *

Gotta go with spooje here. Having a national language and requiring that people learn it is not the same at discrimination on the basis of national origin.

If I were to emigrate to another country, first I would have the courtesy to learn the official language(s). Not even I am arrogant enough to demand that my new country adapt to my convenience.

A friend of mine used to tell people visiting Germany to “Be sure to stop by the charming little village of Ausfahrt” (German for “Exit”).:slight_smile: Reading is essential to driving, and nations have the authority to have an official language if they so choose.

This may surprise some, but I’m generally pro-English only. I think that, in an immigrant nation, there needs to be some unifying factors, and English is a good one of those.

However, I’m not in favor of requiring English for the sake of requiring English. If English (except for the ability to read road signs) isn’t necessary to be a safe driver, than the exam need not be in English. However, the person requesting the foreign-language version should pay for the costs of translation.


Badtz Maru writes:

> Some nations have much lower standards [for getting a
> driver’s license] than us . . .

Really? Name a few. It was clear from the time that I spent in the U.K. that the British driving test is considerably harder than the U.S. one. I’ve had the distinct impression that the U.S. driving test was one of the easiest in the world, since nearly everybody drives in the U.S. Does anyone have any definitive knowledge of the relative difficulty of driving tests throughout the world?

Great… and what do you do when a German immigrant wants to take your driving test or read your signs??

There are much more than two languages out there. The fact that you guys have one more official language than us is not saying much. What will happen when a Chinese or Korean immigrant sues your government to make them offer the tests in their languages. I believe the line should be drawn somewhere, lest we have another Tower of Babel incident.
I don’t know about where you guys live, but in Tampa, almost everything is in both English and Spanish. But I think this is more a courtesy than a law- as it should be.

And I think that though you may be allowed to drive on a foreign license, English is very important on American roads.
I hope I don’t sound like one of those “If you’re gonna live here, learn the damn language” people. I only speak one language, and even their limited English is better than my (insert their language here). I agree with giving people courtesy and hiring multilingual employees to reach out to more of the public and everything, but one official language is not a bad thing.

I am one of those people. America is the second most welcoming nation for foreigners. No other nation, except Canada, would bend over backwards to accomodate people who can’t be bothered to learn the language. The plaintiff in the Alabama case has been here for 13 years, and she can’t speak English. Heck, I was in China for a month, and I learned enough Pudonghua to get around and talk to people, albeit in a limited range of topics. When I lived in Seoul, I started from zero and over the course of six years became fluent in Korean. I speak semi-fluent Spanish, and I wager I could pass a driving test in it. Why is it such a chore for Ms. Sandoval to learn English when she is living in an English-speaking nation with a full-immersion classroom around her 24/7? If you want to live here, learn the language.

Milossarian, good article. Drivers tests are one thing (again, as a courtesy, not a right, but I’m absolutely against giving academic standards tests in other languages in a public school.

Should I start a new thread?

To survive in this country, kids need to learn English. I don’t care where you are from, or how large the regional ethno-linguistic community is where you grow up. Meeting academic standards in public schools means that they meet them in English.

First of all, why assume school-aged kids are literate and capable of taking complex tests in their native language? I know many immigrants who left El Salvador as children. They are “fluent” in Spanish, but Spanish they speak and write is at the level they were at when they left home - I doubt it would serve them in an academic setting. wring, you make a good point - I took French classes for 6 years and I can’t say a damn thing, never mind pass a 4th grade social studies exam. But the difference is, my economic survival and future doesn’t depend on being able to pass that exam. If I’d moved to France as a 4th grader, immersed myself in the public school system, I might fail the damn exam the first 7 times I took it. But by 5th grade, I’d be fluent, confident, passing. However, if when moving to France, I were isolated in English-only classes and coddled along and taught social studies in English and then once a year I had to pass exams in French, I’d probably fail it forever. At what point do we decide to let kids fail a little in the early stages to make sure that they eventually master the material?

I know its hard for teachers - Ruffian is a bilingual ed teacher and I’d love to see what she has to say about this.

Milo, let me know, should I take it to a new thread?

Back to drivers’ licenses, I think it’s great when they are offered in multiple languages. When I’ve driven in foreign countries, I’ve made sure to pick up what I need to know in order to drive safely (LOL at the “Ausfahrt” thing). There’s no reason to expect that people can’t do that here. But to set a precedent that failure to offer drivers’ exams in multiple languages is discrimination or a violation of anyone’s rights is dangerous and wrong.

Truth be told, quite a few communities that were founded by people of a specific nationality kept using that language well into the 20th century. For instance, the schools in some German communities (towns and neighborhoods) stopped teaching in German only after the US’s entry into WWI.

The Alabama driving test was offered in quite a few (twelve?) languages, not just Spanish, until the recent English-only law went into effect. I believe that Illinois offers it in both Spanish and Polish.

dropzone is right - my da-yad (midwestern accent)'s parents were immigrants and lived in ‘little Germany’ (aka Racine WI), where their marriage certificate, kids baptism records etc were in German.

as for the rest of it, I still maintain that being able to read English sufficiently well in order to pass a test is not really a skill needed for driving. Yes, some signs have words on them, but things like stop signs etc. have specific shapes, things like road construction, detours etc. have arrows etc. Road signs - well, before my kid was reading he could still steer us to his favorite places based on landmarks etc. Frankly, when it’s time to get my glasses changed, I can tell 'cause I can’t read most of those things either.

I have an employee who is the American born son of a migrant worker. He had to quit school in the 4th grade in order to help support his family, his native language is Spanish. He’s able to deal with most situations verbally, in English (but if it’s something like signing a mortgage or whatever, it’s better to have an interpreter to make sure he understands everything clearly) Anyhow, he reads English at about the 3rd or 4th grade level, which would mean he can’t do the driver’s license test. I asked him what they did (30 years ago) - they read the questions for him. Sounds good to me.

Finally, a new sig!

At the risk of sounding like “one of those people”, I have to totally agree with Badtz Maru and goboy. I think it pure arrogance that you don’t try to learn the language of the country you live in. Especially when ther are free classes! Why should we, as a Nation, bend over backwards for every immigrant, legal or not, that comes into the country? Do you see this happening in any other country? Do you see special government programs set up for immigrating Americans? Should I move to Ughanda and then raise hell because I cannot speak the language? Should that government spend millions of dollars to establish a school for my children, pay for my housing, and provide my food because I can’t speak the language and therefore not get a job? Should that government then start teaching MY language in school? It’s asinine to think so, but that is exactly what the United States is doing. IMHO, the United States is turning into a nation of wussies. I also think the borders should have been closed 50 years ago and foreign investors not allowed to own property. One day you are going to wake up to find that you live, not in America, but a big garbage dump of laws, rules and regulations, and because you might hurt someone’s little baby feelings, you won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.

::::climbing off my soapbox, slinking off to take my medication::::::

By this arguement, I could honestly state that command of the English language is not necessary to practice medicine: neither from a technical standpoint nor from an economic standpoint (a Spanish speaking doctor will find a lot of patients that are more comfortable getting their medical care from someone that speaks their first language). I think the practice of law or engineering could not be performed without a firm command of English, since a lawyer deals with case law, statute law, etc. that are in English and could lose meaning in translation, and an engineer deals with codes, standards, etc. that are likewise in English and could likewise lose meaning in translation.

But the arguement of the case refered to in the OP states that requiring a driver test to be conducted in English is discriminatory based on national origin. If we accept this arguement, then, by extension, we must be ready to require that all license exams be offered in any language known to man(backspace, backspace, backspace- humanity :)).

To say “not using Spanish is discriminatory against Hispanics”, but then say “Spanish is the 2nd most common language in the US; you don’t really have to do things in Hmong, as well, since there aren’t that many Hmong in the US” is discriminatory and hypocritical. It just reduces the number of people discriminated against. It doesn’t eliminate “discrimination based on national origin.”

I know this smacks of a “slippery slope” argument, but it follows directly, unlike: 1) a ban on partial birth abortion will lead to a ban on all abortion, or 2) a ban on private possession of nuclear weapons will lead to a ban on private ownership of all weapons.

IMO, the OP is addressing two issues; multiple official languages, and the government’s responsibilty within that system.


I don’t know where you’re from in Canada, hansel, but I’m guessing it’s not Western Canada or Quebec. To respond to the OP, IMO official bilingualism is NOT working well in Canada, and I believe the US of A would be well-advised to steer clear of it. The build-up of ethnocentric animosity, the incapability of either side to admit that the other has a valid language, the perceived ramming of either language down the other ethnicities throats are not what I would call working well. We have de jure bilingualism, but in everyday life, we do not have de facto bilingualism; the situation would be the same in the states.


Addressing the second issue of the OP, I believe with two languages, the cost of everything the government does is increased by 50%. I call that fairly significant when we’re talking about official government processes which cost hundreds of $millions. The government has a huge responsibility for duplicating every federal process, document, roadsign, and official building for two languages, as well as employing mostly bilingual people; single language speakers are routinely eliminated from eligibility to work in their own government, as well as being barred from promotions.

so why don’t you both speak a native american language? this nation was founded by people who came to a new country and didn’t learn the native tongue. the whole english-first thing is just a giant case of “do as i say, and not as i did.”

where is this attitude coming from that if you move to america, you ought to learn english? like english-speaking culture has some kind of constitutional right to exist and be supported by law. if you move here, you ought to do as you damn please. the US has no official language. it never has. the concept is unamerican.

government services should be available in any language american citizens require regardless of expense. we do not take away people’s rights because it’s too expensive or inconvenient to accomodate them.

furthermore, i haven’t seen any evidence so far that actually providing driver’s license exams in other languages is inordinately inconvenient or expensive.

this whole discussion is framed assuming the burden is on the non-english speakers to prove they are worthy of having the exam translated- it’s not. it’s their right as americans. the burden is on the government to prove it’s outrageously expensive in practice to accomodate non-english languages. particularly, that it is outrageously expensive in the context of other unbalanced government services like road building and maintenence, which disproportionately benefit people living in the country and the suburbs but everyone pays for.

all the arguments about needing to speak english to live here i’ve seen in the thread are totally circular. the only reason you need to speak english is because of these laws requiring government services to only be available in english, which are designed to promote the idea that you need to speak english to live here.

as a citizen of the united states, it is fully my right to speak whatever language i please, and also my right to not have to learn yours.


Muffin, As a Canadian, I’m all for the present quo that you have outlined. As far as the national official languages are concerned, the inclusion of French has held this wonderful country together. It has recognized historically two founding peoples. The territorial official languages recognize the languages of all the existing indigenous groups, many of whose people are monolingual(I presume).

But I look forward to the day when everyone speaks English,although I’ll probably be dead then. All pilots all over the world speak English as I understand it for safety reasons, (except Quebec) I think. Most people in the first world speak English. The Internet will be the most viable research tool for education, and the lack of English understanding will be a handicap in that arena.

As far as this situation in Texas is concerned, there must be some presumption of understanding English on the roads, because the general method of communication by signs is in English.

What do people who say "you don’t need English to drive a car, so the test can be given in (fill in the blank) any language do for brains? Or perhaps they just haven’t gotten into an accident with an avowed non-English speaker. Just try asking for driver’s license information, or insurance information. Speak English or leave (politely said).

While English may not have been explicitly defined as the “Official Language” of the US, I argue that since the establishing act for the US (the Constitution) was written and published in English, by a Congressional Congress that transacted their business in English, this sets the precedent that English is the de facto official language, at least of the Legislative Branch. There is nothing “unamerican” about that.


Are you talking about rights, or “entitlements”?


Well, somebody has to write, administer and score the exam. That means there has to be somebody employed by the government that can read and write any particular language.


From where do you get this idea? There is nothing in the Constitution (I’ll say this again: written in English) that guarantees anyone the right to interface with the government in any known language. In a lot of cases, the government will make an accomodation to those that don’t have a command of written English, but that is not a “right.” The only case I can think of where it would be required is providing a translator to a criminal defendant, so that they can have effective representation, and understand the procedings against them.


I guess all those roads in urban areas built themselves :).


Only a handful of jurisdictions have established laws requiring English as an official language. The reasons might be “to promote the idea that you need to speak english [sic] to live here,” or they might be for the purpose of saving tax dollars. To argue (in English) that the only reason that one needs to speak English in the US is because of silly “English only” laws is kind of disingenuous. It is true that you can live your entire life in the US without learning English, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You will be ghettoizing yourself to whatever community it is that speaks your language.


Knock yourself out. If you want to do any business with me, it is probably going to be in English (I don’t have the vocabulary to practice my profession in Spanish, but I might buy a taco from you in Spanish).

This is my 100th post. Next stop, 1000.