So last time I posted on the blog, I talked about how we know a lot more this year. We’ve learned so much more about bilingualism and the positive effects of bilingualism on children’s learning on preservation of language capabilities for people as they age. At the time I wrote that I was feeling rather pessimistic but I ended up writing a post that was optimistic. So today I’m going to touch on the pessimistic side. While this isn’t a political blog, as you know this is a presidential election year. In the republican primary there are a number of contenders and the subject of the English language as the official language has come up numerous times. Two of these presidential hopefuls are Rick Perry (from Texas) and Newt Gingrich. Both of them have made statements about wanting to see English as the official language of the U.S. In December someone asked Perry about whether he agreed with him about making English the official language. Perry stated that he would agree with that statement. Gingrich claims that English should be the official language because it is the key to economic success for immigrants.
The problem isn’t in the idea that English is important for economic, academic, and social success. The problem is in believing that making English the official language would “force” immigrants to learn English. As if immigrants don’t want to or aren’t learning English! They do. But, it takes time. Making English the official language won’t move this process along any faster. Along these lines there are the constant myths that “back in the good ol’ days” immigrants walked off the boat practically knowing English. Ever have someone tell you that their grandparents or great-grand parents learned English without help, without classes, and didn’t keep their native county’s language? Yeah right– maybe if their grandparents came from England. Or maybe if their grandparents came when they were 8 years old. Ask them what country did your greats come from? How old were they? The answers to these questions make a difference.
There’s the pervasive belief that having English be the official language would then end bilingual education, thus saving money. And, there are a bunch of myths being recycled as well. Aghhh! Ughh! And the comments are often really really ugly. It just seems that I hear more and more strident voices that seem to think that bilingualism is bad for you, and that it keeps children from accessing am language of instruction. I think there’s a lot of fear among people who don’t necessarily understand why somebody would want to maintain their home language. They don’t understand why it might be important him for somebody to know two languages and to be able to interact into languages. It seems they don’t understand what the potential benefits of speaking another language are and they don’t want to. That’s what that makes me somewhat pessimistic.
There was a story in the Washington Post about helping the kids I’m speak fluent Spanish to maintain their Spanish language skills via bilingual Spanish-English immersion. The comments on this were unbelievable! Things like, ” if they want to come here they should become Americans and assimilate” and “our constitutional rights are taking what’s been taken away from us.” WHAT? How do someone’s constitutional rights get taken away from them by someone learning two languages?
So, maybe I’m just pessimistic. I keep thinking that facts should speak for themselves. But, they don’t. We need facts and we need to keep hitting hard and often with those facts.