University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Bilingualism in the United States
There are many arguments that have advocated for bilingualism to be encouraged in the United States. There is one faction that claims it makes foreigners feel accommodated and accommodated and also to facilitate the learning of thousands on non-English speaking students who go for studies. On the other hand there are those who claim it leads to a national disunity. The paper will look at these two sides of the debate and lastly take a stand on why the US should provide bilingual services to its immigrants mainly by basing its argument on reasons derived from the benefits gained on its educational, social and economic aspects.
Bilingualism can be taken to mean fluent regular use of two languages in the day to day communication. Scientist have been able to show that being able to speak two language is even more fundamental than just being able to have a conversation with individuals of different backgrounds. They have proved that bilingualism makes one smarter. Bilingualism can have the effect of improving a person’s cognitive skills that are in no manner related to language. There is an increasing diversification of ethnic and racial diversification in the United States today. Currently, over 40 million language-minority people reside in the United States with the projections expected to increase with time. Immigrants and learners from all over the world live in the united state: a situation that should naturally pave the way for bilingualism.
Debates surrounding bilingualism have been brought forward time and again as the United States population becomes more diverse. The big question remains; should English be made the official language? Should there be a prohibition of other languages other than English In government services and public services and even in schools? Should non-English speakers be taught using their native language, English or both languages? In short, the debate has time and again been about whether bilingualism should be simply encouraged or outright prohibited. Different scholars presented different views basing their arguments on what the effect of bilingualism may bring to the United States. Proponents like of English-only argued that bilingual lead to national disunity ethnic group isolation and even encourage economic disparities between the rich and the poor (Mujica, 508). Opponents, on the other hand, felt that the English only movement could violate the civil rights of the migrant in the United States. Considering the number of non-English speaking immigrants and the number of non-citizen students in the United States, bilingualism should not be an option but a civil right so that no group feels sidelined
The controversy over bilingual was partly whether bilingual education programs should be introduced into the system. It was until min-1960s that bilingual education was initiated. However, bilingual education teacher training was introduced later in 1974 (Garcia, 391). Even though some scholars insist that foreign learners be taught in the English language to since teaching them in their native language would be one way or another delay their education (Crawford, 595). Research shows that the contrary to their beliefs bilingual learning is not time wasting as gives the learners an advantage of acquiring a second language and be able to continue their learningprocess. Craford states that bilinguals program learners tend to outperform the other non-bilingual counterparts. This fact is supported by scientific research proving that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s executive function making such learners good problem solvers than their counterparts. Bilingual children tend to out-perform monolingual children on exercises that require concentration. Research shows that bilingual speakers are better in cognitive control and attention. Proponents of bilingual education assert that any non-English speaking student taught in their mother tongue and then English, the student is capable of learning English in a more efficient manner. Bilingual program opponents still believe that it does not mainstream the learners into the system of education, therefore, put at a disadvantage (Crawford, 594). Contrary to these beliefs the learners
Improve their skills both in English and their native language. When children are exposed to both his native language and English in a learning environment, they will find it shameless to use their mother tongue. It will consequently help them develop a frame of mind that can easily conceptualize the English language. Since United States does not have a national language officially recognized, some groups in the United States believe that the presence of foreign languages poses as threats to the traditional English language. Bilingualism does not in any way corrode the English language in the United States but in turn serves the purpose of interconnecting global communities. Those who do not support bilingual education also argue that it is expensive and wasteful as it has to be done in other languages other than English. Taking into account the outcomes of bilingual education and given the number of non-English speaking people residing in the United States, the cost of this form of education is neither wasteful nor too expensive (Fallows,23).
Since the mid- 1900s, what has become explicit is whether individuals should maintain their native language use alongside English or whether English should supplant the original migrant languages. During this period, there came up a number of cases interpreted as sympathetic to towards bilingualism. Bilingualism is important in the United States since it is inhabited by individuals from various backgrounds. This is to ensure that all American citizens especially the migrants feel accepted and not discriminated against. Migrants who are non-English speakers are more likely to feel sidelined, and their civil rights violated in a setting where they are completely subjected to the traditional American language especially in schools and public service. Mujica argues that it is expensive for the government to isolate non- English speakers linguistically (581). He believes that all migrants should function in the traditional English language given the fact that English is going global. A scenario like the one being proposed by Mujica may lead to some of the migrant communities being completely ignored. Fallow confirms that some of the adult migrants never end up learning the English language (263). This will mean that such adults will never be privileged to government and public service. Bilingualism should be encouraged further so as to enable the migrants fit into the environment. For example, these people may not be able to use the road when every sign is written in English or even buy products when all product description is in English. Bilingualism also is important as it enables the non-English speaking individuals exercise their constitutional rights during major elections in the United States
Some English speaking individuals may feel that native languages of the migrants such as Spanish are there to erode the English language. These results from the constant influx of large counts of migrants added to the increased ethnic awareness. The migrant, on the other hand, may wish to retain their mother tongue as a way of preserving their heritage. These migrants may feel the need to be in touch with their background while in the United States. The native language is one of the major ways of preserving heritage and culture. It is such a treat that inspired S. I. Hayakawa; California senator to propose constitutional amendments to have English used as the national language. Such an amendment was unnecessary since English by defacto is the language used in the United States. English is one of the most established languages worldwide and in the United States therefore it is completely unreasonable to believe that a small immigrant group living in a neighborhood can threaten its existence.
Bilingualism increases the range of people with whom we can interact. It exposes an individual to different cultures, friendship and experiences. Being able to speak a second language does not just ease a person’s communication with others; it also allows an individual fully to experience the cultures that associate with that particular language. Languages and cultures are intertwined, and the speaker of a language is exposes to the traditions and beliefs of the native speakers. (Crawford, 959) Believed, that an individual may never become productive without learning the English language. During the drafting of the American constitution, John Adams suggested that English should be used as the United States official language but was rejected on the grounds of incompatibility with the freedom spirit (Hakuta, 165). Being able to speak different languages can open doors to many opportunities both academic and employment. Crawford says that sometimes immigrants refuse to learn the English language and fail to become useful living off welfare (595). This is a kind of misconception that Americans harbor towards immigrants that without learning the English language, one can never be able to become productive in their life.
The issue of bilingualism is as old as human migration itself into the United States. From the pre-colonial time, bilingualism was already widespread and appreciated. Many states have embraced the bilingual programs and dropped the English-only programs. Bilingualism is especially in the education system has enabled learners to achieve their educational goals despite their inability to understand or speak English language. This has been achieves through bilingual educational program. Through the use of bilingual language in the United States, non-English speaking migrants have found themselves being accommodated by the government. The migrants have been able to retain their history, culture and heritage. Even though some of the English speakers may feel that their tradition is threatened by the presence of the various native languages in the United States, it is practically impossible for English to be assimilated into the other languages. Even though English is the language, the Americans speak, numerous suggestions had been made in the past to make it the official language in all the states. This was because some individuals felt threatened by the rapid growth of the migrant communities.
Fallows, James. “ENGLISH HAS NOTHING TO FEAR-VIVA BILINGUALISM.” New Republic 195.21 (1986): 18-19.
Crawford, James. Bilingual education: History, politics, theory, and practice. Trenton, NJ: Crane Publishing Company, 1989.
García, E. Spring/Summer. Director’s Note. In E. Aguilar (Ed.), Focus on diversity, 1, (2), pp. 1-2. University of California, Santa Cruz: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning. 1992a,
Hakuta, Kenji. Mirror of language: The debate on bilingualism. Basic Books, 1986.Mujica, Mauro E. “At Issue: Should English Be the Official Language of the United States?” CQ Researcher 19 Jan. 1996: 65.