Our Native Language
By Bob Branco
We’ve often heard that the United States is a melting pot, meaning that we are a combination of many cultures coming together as one society. I understand why this is happening. History defines it quite well. With that said, I’ve always assumed that if anyone comes into this country, the first thing he or she should do is learn English. Is this because English is our native language? This is a subject for much debate. I am fully aware that foreign languages are offered in high school, and I was proud to take Spanish for four years. The reasons are obvious. People who first arrive here from Spanish–speaking countries need our help immediately.
While most of us believe that English is our official language, there are many circumstances which contradict this. When we apply for jobs, especially people jobs, many employers now require that we speak another language in order to qualify. After all, many customers may not know English, so it’s our responsibility to know their language. I applied for a counseling job, once, and I was turned down because I didn’t have enough outreach into the Portuguese community.
It had nothing to do with my skills, just my lack of knowledge in another language. It’s easy to say that immigrants need to learn English in order to be successful in the United States. I could argue that while they are new to this country and haven’t yet learned English, they still need our services.
Another issue which frustrates many of us is when we call an American business and are asked to press one for English. Why should we press one for English? Perhaps it’s becoming more and more acceptable that we simply live here in the United States and try to survive no matter what language we speak. In other words, so what if we don’t want to learn English? There are enough bilingual doctors, customer service reps, counselors, bank tellers, and other public servants to make our lives as comfortable as possible. If you come here and decide not to learn English, it seems as if you would be more accepted now than you would have been 50 years ago. I may be way off base here, but this is only speculation on my part.
I guess the main question is, what is the future of the United States, and where do we draw the line about language requirements? Are we making too much out of this?
(Originally published in Word Matters)