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What's the Proper Role for English in the USA?

| 9 Comments

While I try to place some calls to Republican Party leaders and see if I can find out what they mean when their party platform advocates an "English First approach" for schools, let me leave you to ponder these two very different opinions about what role English should have in this country.

First, I excerpt a comment posted on this blog this morning by Juan D. Garcia, an educator in a K-12 school system in California:

If "ALL English" were the solution, we [educators] would have succeeded long ago. Most "minority" students for the past 60 years have always been in ALL ENGLISH classrooms. China doesn't need Chinese to unify them; they have gladly learned English, Spanish and even Japanese in order to become successful. They are ripping us apart in the world market. Great job Washington; it is a great relief to know that our fearless leaders continue to debate over "ALL English" so that we at least have the common unifying language needed to be able to read "Made in China."

Next, I republish here a short commentary, "English is THE Language of Success--Even in France!," penned by John Lillpop over at Newsblaze.com.

While Barack Obama foolishly talks down to American citizens by telling parents to assure that their children can speak Spanish, the world is going in the exact opposite direction.


Indeed, France is finally getting the message!

As reported in the Daily Mail in England, Xavier Darcos, France's Education Minister, has now admitted for the first time that the secret to success is speaking better English, and says that poor English is a "handicap" because all international business is conducted in the language.

Mr. Darcos added that he wanted to make it easier for all French students to learn English, saying that "while well-off families pay for study sessions abroad, I'm offering them to everyone right here."

He went on to state that said French schools would offer extra English lessons during the holidays.

How is it that the French can see the plain truth, while Hispanics and other advocates of bilingual mumbo-jumbo are so blinded to reality?

Shall we blame it on racism, or stupidity? Or an unhealthy combination thereof?

A word of wisdom to those still uncomfortable with English: Get over it! English is THE language needed to succeed throughout the world.

I invite others of you to weigh in on this important issue.

9 Comments

John Lillpop at Newsblaze's argument is that because English is widely recognized as the language of international commerce, that we, as Americans, (and here we assume the majority of us speak English fluently) no longer need to master foreign languages. That is a ridiculous argument! It is certainly true that English is growing widely and has become an international currency (as most tourists can attest to) but at the same time, in this country we have a severe shortage of competent speakers in critical languages (just look at how much the State Department is now spending on teaching Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Chinese, Korean and other "Critical Languages".

Moreover, I would argue that learning foreign languages can be inherently good -- it helps advance cultural understanding, and helps keep the linguistic part of the brain in good shape, which is helpful for learning even English.

I think that, as Juan Garcia gets at, the goal is additive bilingualism -- teaching English (a must in this society) and helping affirm and retain the home language. I personally am optimistic! I think that language learning is one area that technology can help us improve teaching and learning.

Hi, great language blog you have here! Would you be interested in doing a link exchange? Just send me an e-mail with your URL and I'll add your link to my blog. You can add my link as "Learn That Language Now". I look forward to reading more blog entries from you. Thanks!

-Robbie

"John Lillpop at Newsblaze's argument is that because English is widely recognized as the language of international commerce, that we, as Americans, (and here we assume the majority of us speak English fluently) no longer need to master foreign languages."

I get that from him, as well as the corollary embraced by many, that unless one has embraced English as their only language, they are not truly American. It is interesting to me how language functions within education in other countries. While the American model is to teach in English and give some level of support (ESL) to the expectation that non-English speakers get there as rapidly as possible, other countries (Canada, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia) are far less troubled by the idea of establishing a single unifying language and more concerned with the best language for instruction. "Mother-tongue" is a term virtually unknown here, but well-recognized elsewhere. Other countries, some fervently (as Hong Kong) believe that mother-tongue is the best language for instruction. Along with this, early teaching includes the addition of a second--national--language. Singapore has a unique take on it--encouraging homes where a Chinese dialect is spoken to adopt Mandarin--which is a language of instruction--as well as a language with economic benefits. The first language of a child seems to be of diminished importance when all children are provided instruction in a second language at an early age. Finland and Australia actually go fairly far in embracing a wealth of first languages for instruction--as a matter of belief in a multicultural society.

English is certainly the language the whole world needs to know, whether it is as a first or second language. This is not because it is inherently better, easier to learn and use or capable of coding information more effectively or efficiently. One could argue for the superiority of several other languages, such as Spanish for its better phoneme-grapheme alignment and straight-forward vowel system when seeking to learn a language; however, the limited use of obligatory grammatical agreement via inflectional morphemes in English makes it easier in that regard. Regardless of the characteristics of English that make it challenging to translate because of the complexity of the word order of adjectives, it has been the language of much science, business and industry for so long that other languages routinely just borrow English terms with some alterations in pronunciation.

All that said, what no one seems to mention is that not all individuals are as good at learning another language as they are at doing other things and it is truly intolerant to demand that every person magically be fluent after a certain amount of time, regardless of the circumstances that individual experienced as a second language learner.

Acquiring the first language is a largely innate process and we now have evidence that those preferences and quicker processing are "locked in" long before school age, even though the content of that language which is acquired is conditioned over time by environment.

Learning or acquiring a second language may or may not include access to innate language learning ability and is very heavily conditioned by context and personality of the individual.

A few of us happen to be gifted second language learners who can achieve oral fluency, literacy and cultural adaptations with relative ease. Among siblings in the same family there will often be others who have other gifts or talents in math, science, or other areas, but for whom achieving even a minimal level of oral fluency and reading ability in a second language is a severe hardship compared to learning other things that are of value to the person and to society.

I don't find it unreasonable to expect everyone to attempt to learn one or more languages that are of benefit in a global or national economy. What I find intolerant and absurd is to demand that everyone have the same ability to do so, in the same amount of time, with little or no support at a reasonable cost in the form of effective second language instruction tailored to the age and needs of the individual.

Those who argue for "arbitrary and capricious" laws mandating what everyone should know and be able to do simply have not put themselves in the shoes of others to consider whether, in a similar context and with a similar skill set, they would be able and willing to do the same thing.

Adults who would not be able to tolerate spending six hours a day locked out of understanding everything going on around them because the language they know is unavailable, seem inordinately willing to subject young children to such suffering.

A number of my acquaintances have confirmed that when they were submerged in an all English world as young children, they not only suffered the fear and trauma of not understanding what was happening or what was expected of them, the experience was so psychologically damaging that they have no memory of months or years of their lives when they were subjected to "language torture".

In short, mandating that the effects of "post traumatic culture/language shock syndrome" be absorbed by the large proportion of our populace for whom English is not their mother tongue is counterproductive and clearly discriminatory.

Where is the happy place? The reasoned center?

It seems that both writers suffer from the same thing--being too extreme. They just happen to be on opposite extreme ends of the spectrum. As in most cases, both extreme views are distorted.

Of course it is important to master English to succeed in the world today. It is equally important to expand ones abilities and horizons by learning to speak at least one language other than English.

In his comments, Juan failed to point out (or perhaps to realize) that while the Chinese do learn other languages they also mandate that all their billion plus people learn Mandarin Chinese (which is a second language to hundreds of millions of Chinese born citizens and is the official language in China). Why do they do this? To use this "everyone learns at least this language" approach to unify their people and their country. Any study of the history of China and their inability to unite in the past and the dividing effect the many dialects of Chinese have had on its people, will prove why ensuring that they have a national language in common has been a good idea and is one that has worked.

At the same time John misses the point. We live in a increasingly complex and yet more interconnected world and learning a second or even a third language makes one better equiped to compete, to connect with others, and to see the world and all its people in a better light.

Let's all remember that the extremes seldom find the full truth and that we have great capacity to learn English and other languages at the same time.

You know that all languages are important and it is important that the US government not be actively involved in language extinction either.

There are many Spaniards who simply CAN'T learn and there are many more who cannot make use of whatever English they learnt, so that they forget it.

In Spain English it is being sold and advertised much too aggressively. The teaching books are full of irrelevant texts and lousy illustrations.

hello sir ,
i am sandeep kumar 27 year of age i am intrested to study english in usa . tell me what can i do to study english

I do not think that "much too aggressively" is mine.
The comment sounds like a poor summary of my own text.

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