As the November 2012 primary draws closer, likely GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has declared his support for English as the official language of the United States. Discussions of English language requirements have been central in talks over the possibility of Puerto Rican statehood. And recent reports from France, Vietnam, Africa, Korea and elsewhere suggest that English is becoming the key to economic growth there. Now more than ever, having one common language is becoming more and more a crucial part of our national identity—and a key to an individual’s success.
Unfortunately, nationwide, we are still facing a growing problem, and one that is preventing American citizens from achieving the best economic success. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, 23.1 million Americans, or 8.1 percent of the population, spoke English less than ‘very well,’ meaning they likely have difficulty carrying on more than a basic conversation in English, and classifying them as limited English proficient by the Census Bureau. By 2010, these numbers had jumped even higher—more than 25 million Americans, or 8.7 percent of the population, now speak English less than ‘very well.’
Despite the media controversy that often surrounds these Official English designations, making English the official language of government is a common sense way to unite Americans while ensuring that each individual, regardless of his background, has his best chance to achieve the American Dream. Americans speak more than 300 different languages, and with an influx of new immigrants settling here each year, a common, shared language allows us all to interact with each other, no matter what our background or native language.
In what has become a political battle over the issue, supporters of Official English are often called xenophobic and anti-immigrant. Yet as an immigrant myself, I can speak to the ways in which it actually helps open doors, providing opportunities for immigrants without infringing on their cultural heritage and their freedom to speak whatever language they choose in their daily lives. Armed with fluency in English, an immigrant is more likely to work in a better, higher-paying job, and is more likely to fully participate in the democratic process and all that America has to offer. In short: Official English will help raise immigrants up to the economic level of native English speakers.
Rather than promoting an English-optional society by providing endless translations, Official English allows the government to promote a culture of assimilation, sending the message that English is the language of success in America. It does not force anyone to speak English exclusively; rather, it sends the message that no matter how many languages an American speaks, one of them should be English.
While U.S. English continues to promote the benefits of English as our common language, we also encourage non-English speakers to seek help through the abundance of English learning programs across the country. America’s Literacy Directory (www.literacydirectory.org) lists programs by zip code. The U.S. English Foundation’s website also has a listing of free online English learning programs. With so many opportunities to learn English, and with so many doors to be opened upon doing so, immigrants should be celebrating the melting pot that is America—a nation that allows people of all languages, cultures and backgrounds to coexist, thanks to the unity of a common, shared language. Simply put, English as our official language is a common sense way to bring us all together and place all Americans on an equal playing field. It is time for us to stop politicizing the issue and instead focus on its practical benefits and the impact it will have on our nation’s future.
Mauro E. Mujica is the Chairman of U.S. English, Inc., the nation's oldest and largest non-partisan citizens' action group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States. Founded in 1983 by the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California, U.S. English, Inc. (www.usenglish.org) now has more than 1.8 million members.