Assimilation

People are having cows over recent policy and legislation proposals to base immigration on things like possessing useful skills and speaking English.

First off, let’s deal with that English issue, shall we?  Someone coming to the US and wanting to be a functioning member of our society is going to have to deal with other people.  While Congress has never bothered to declare an official language in the US, we do have a common language.  The vast majority of people in the US speak English.  They may also speak another language.  English may not be their first or primary language even.  But most speak English.  If you want to communicate with the majority of people one might meet in America, then English is the language you’ll need for that.

Recognizing that is not any kind of “ist”.

Indeed, this will remain so even if we push more people to be bilingual.  Get more people to learn a second language and what happens?  Some learn Spanish.  Some learn French.  Some learn German.  A few go with less common (in America) languages:  Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Swahili, Hindi, whatever.  But all of the speak English.

It just makes sense to ask people who want to come here to live to acquire at least a basic knowledge of English.

“But it’s not fair,” some say.  “It’s too much to ask.”

Spare me.

My wife is Japanese; born and raised in Japan. She learned English well enough to attend and graduate from college in the US–in English. (She came over on a student Visa and when we met one thing led to another and…)

A friend of mine is from Russia and speaks English better than most native speakers I know. (He’s also a stronger proponent of America’s founding values than most as well, but that’s a different essay. I am definitely proud to call him friend.)

Another friend is from Portugal.  She speaks, reads and writes English.  She came to the US as an exchange student in high school and finished her senior year here in English.  She returned to Portugal but ended up marrying an American and emigrating.  Since coming here she’s written and sold thirty some novels for various publishers.  In English.  Yes, she does have an accent, but while its different it’s no more extreme than many of the regional accents in the US.  Her use of written language is certainly as good as anyone’s.  Oh, and she’s another stronger proponent of America’s founding values than most people born here.

And so on and so on.

Works the other way too.  I learned Russian in the Air Force. I had a pretty damn good accent at the time (as approved by instructors who were native speakers). My vocabulary and grammar weren’t quite up to “native speaker” levels but one of my classmates was good enough to be selected as the person to play the role of a Soviet defector in an exercise at the base he was assigned to (note: the folk at the base did not know it was an exercise. They thought he really was a defector) and fool other linguists into thinking he really was Russian.

So, no, it is not too hard.  It is not an unreasonable expectation.  The above examples go far beyond what anyone is asking of new and prospective immigrants.  It is not too much to ask that they have, or seriously commit to gaining, a working knowledge of English.  Why would anybody coming here and expecting to live and work here, to be part of our country, do anything else?

I, personally, welcome folk who come to the US to be part of our country, to celebrate and live by our founding values of liberty, self-reliance, and the rights of the individual (we haven’t always lived up to those ideals but they have always been the ideals), to become and be Americans.  People who want to turn it into the same place they are leaving, not so much.

And if you’re coming here to become an American, then why in the world would you not commit to learning the dominant language of America?

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6 thoughts on “Assimilation”

  1. I don’t know about modern objectors, but traditionally the main objection to Everybody Knowing The Same Language is that it cut out the middle man– and the middlemen objected.

  2. Besides, English pretty much is the Latin of today. In smaller language countries you need to know it if you want to study in the university level since most of the textbooks are going to be in English (STEM in Finland, for example, and several other fields, and you may very well need English in lower level studies too for the same reason – there are not going to be enough material available in Finnish because it would cost too much to translate or just write it when it is available in English and it’s easier to get the students to learn that language first), you need to know it if you want to get good access to internet, you need to know it if you want to communicate with people in other countries – and that includes lots of countries where it is not even an official language because it’s one of the biggest languages today so it makes sense for somebody to learn it first before learning something you can use in fewer parts of the world because in most places you can find at least somebody who speaks English, at least a little bit, while finding somebody who, for example, speaks Spanish in any European country except Spain is going to be a problem.

    Really makes no sense to move to USA and not bother learning English. Or not to be expected to learn it. Considering how many people everywhere else have learned it even when they have no intention to move over there.

    And I’m a native Finn who lives in Finland and has only visited USA, and only a couple of times. 🙂

  3. I only speak English. I was born in the United States, and have no intention or desire to ever leave the country, not even for a vacation. As such, I haven’t seen a need to learn another language. (I have WAY too many other interests to persue, and I doubt that I’ll have the time to get to all of them)

    It strikes me as incredibly rude to go to a foreign nation, then demand that the inhabitants speak YOUR language, to better accommodate you. That would be like going to your neighbors house (actually, considering the current context, breaking into your neighbors house) and demanding that they all speak Klingon.

    Side note; I’m guessing that your Portuguese friend is Sarah Hoyt? I haven’t read her novels, but I love her social commentary.

      1. Probably so, but I don’t read many novels. As a truck driver, my reading time is limited, so most of my reading is non-fiction; social/political commentary, theology, finance, marketing, etc. The last novel that I tackled was a Hopalong Cassidy book; but I am related to the guy that wrote it, which is why I read it.

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