Much ado about Nothing

I was disappointed (but not surprised) to read that the House is currently “debating” a bill to make English the official language of the U.S. Rather than addressing the issue here, that is, to provide more English classes for those who want to learn to speakn English, our leaders have decided to debate an issue that will not change anything.

I’ve been working here in San Miguel de Allende (SMA) for two weeks now. The American popultion here, even those who have lived her for over 20 years, is ovewhelmingly monolingual. It’s not that many of these folks don’t want to speak the language of the Mexican Republic, but many of them arrived in their 60s and 70s, and found it difficult, or in some cases impossible, to learn a second language in their later years.

In the U.S., there are few immigrants who don’t understand that speaking English translates into better jobs, better pay, and more opportunities. They also know that there are rarely enough ESL classes to meet the demand of the rapidly growing immigrant population. Sure, there are people who come to the U.S. who will never learn to speak English. Having worked with Mexican immigrants in the U.S. for over a decade, most often these are older immigrants or women who don’t work outside the home. Like their immigrant predecessors of a generation ago, they want their children to learn English, and in many cases, would like to learn to speak English themselves.

By the way, although the American population here is relatively small (estimated between 5-8% of the overall population), the businesses here all have bilingual signage. They do for precisely the same reason businesses and municipalities in the U.S. have translators and bilingual signage: it’s good for business.

If it is indeed a national priority for America’s immigrants to learn English, why not create a volunteer corp to pair Americans with immigrants so they can practice speaking English? Or even funding ESL programs so that the number of courses can meet the growing demand?

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