In the world today, there are over 6,500 languages spoken, and about 2,000 of those languages have less than 1,000 speakers. In the United States, there are only 311 languages present out of the 6,500 spoken worldwide. Of the 126 million households in America, 14 million of them don’t speak English at all. Knowing these statistics, how can we, as a country, not accommodate all of those people who have struggled to get to America? They came only to hit another barrier when they got here: a language barrier. Don’t they deserve equality, something they have fought so hard to achieve?
This problem is very near to me, because my grandparents are both immigrants who moved to the US for a new beginning, and were limited with their career and daily choices due to the fact that they didn’t know English. Most English speakers do not even realize how important it is to know the English language. The English language is everywhere: on our road signs, our menus, instructions, billboards, and even the driving permit test only offers seven languages. For a country that is full of immigrants or children of immigrants, one would think Americans would change our ways and culture to be more accepting of everyone else’s, not force them to lose part of who they are.
In most schools throughout in the world, students begin to learn English at a young age. However, in Kentucky, students are only required to take one foreign language for two years. I have taken Spanish for five years and am still not fluent. Knowing this, why do we expect our immigrants to learn our language, a language full of multiple words with the same meaning and two words that sound the same but have two completely different meanings. English is extremely complex, yet we force all of our immigrants to know it if they want to succeed.
The United States has become a country that claims to celebrate other’s differences, but in reality, we are a country that torments others for their differences; a country that claims to be the best without allowing any other cultures space to breathe, much less thrive. In 2010, there was a blatant attack on minority-language speakers when Arizona submitted legislation stating that no one with “accented” speech should be allowed to teach children who are still learning English. A 1999 study published in The Journal of Language and Social Psychology demonstrated that speakers of non-standard English (such as speakers of African American Vernacular English or Chicano English) often face housing discrimination based solely on telephone conversations, that is, based solely on their use of the English language. Surely the same findings would hold in other situations, such as employment discrimination. Furthermore, workers’ and minority linguistic rights continue to be scaled back more and more. In 2002, Congress did not renew funding for the Bilingual Education Act (Federal legislation that provided funding to school districts to develop bilingual education programs) when it expired and instead funneled that money into No Child Left Behind.
We, as country, as a community, and as citizens, need to stand up and fight for language equality. Not everyone has lived the same life. We are all different, and instead of forcing immigrants to accept our culture and our language we should listen to their stories, culture and language, because we are all unique and the U.S. as a country needs to learn and accept that.
The English language is used all over the world, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in the world speaks it. It also doesn’t mean that everyone in America should be forced to speak it too, especially after America’s immigrants fought so hard to be here. All they want is freedom, and we attempt to take away their freedom in their language.
Editor’s Note: Sofia DeVenuto (10, J&C) wrote this piece for her Journalism 2 class.