The English-only movement in America

A conversation about making English the only official language in the United States. Tim Schultz, lobbyist with Washington-based US English makes the case for this, ahead of an English-only vote in Oklahoma.

This is not the usual fare on The World in Words: we don’t often offer the microphone to people who discourage the use of other languages. But Schultz argues that English is what keeps America — a land of immigrants and therefore of many languages — intact. He believes that Spanish in particular is fast becoming an unofficial official language here (if that makes sense). He says government agencies use Spanish and other languages without thinking about the message they are sending. What they should be doing, he says, is using English so that non-English speakers are encouraged to learn the language, and succeed in their adopted homeland. Finally, he acknowledges that bigots and racists may be among the supporters of English Only. But as far as he’s concerned, they do not form the mainstream, nor does he share their views.

Also, an election ad in Chinese, aimed at Americans who don’t speak Chinese. This comes courtesy of conservative think tank/advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste, which clearly doesn’t think this glossy ad in a foreign language is a waste of money.

Listen in iTunes or here.


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11 responses to “The English-only movement in America

  1. Hi Patrick, the interview with Tim Schultz was very interesting, and I liked the fact that you allowed him to express his views. Tim Schultz made a remark about Switzerland being not really an immigration nation. This is not true; according to latest OECD statistics, about 12% of the US population is foreign-born, whereas the number for Switzerland is 24%. Switzerland has 3 official languages, and a fourth one which has semi-official status, and there don’t seem to be many problems with keeping the society together.

    Here’s a link to the OECD statistic:

  2. boaby

    I don’t imagine anyone will act on this comment, but the mp3 is not working, neither here, at PRI or in iTunes.

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  4. Lauren Cruz

    I’m a student at Northern Virginia Community College. As part of my Intercultural Communications class I’ve been following your podcasts and I have to say this particular podcast really intrigued me. We’ve chosen a different culture than our own to study for this semester as well as how to find a medium in which to successfully communicate with other cultures and the values that each have in common. Language is a huge component of this and it is imperative to have some sort of universal for all cultures to be able to communicate through. I am a supporter of proper immigration but at the same time I firmly believe that anyone who moves to this country should learn to speak English. I feel that should be the case with anyone moving to a different country. On the other hand, I do believe it is beneficial to have individuals who are proficient in another language. It is a huge addition to an individual’s education as well as a useful tool in the working world. In reference to Tim Schultz’s comment on those individuals who are less likely to identify themselves as Americans if they speak Spanish or another language at home and how those individuals will find less of a need to learn English if we keep making Spanish the unofficial second language, I completely agree. We’ve made a lot of exceptions for these individuals, almost everything these days has a Spanish translation or option. This is starting to cause a lot of problems; there are some areas in the US where you almost have to speak Spanish to be understood and it shouldn’t be that way. English has been the language of this country for many years and I don’t see why that should change now. It is a universal language and if that’s something that is taken away here, how are we ever going to have successful communication in our own country let alone with other countries? Because Spanish is now used more frequently in the US more Spanish speakers don’t have to learn English. We should not be conforming to them, we’re only making it harder for them to succeed. They moved here which means they need to learn our language which is a part of this culture. Which leads to why I think that Puerto Rico should not become the 51st state. We’d be making a country who’s primary language is Spanish to switch to English and I don’t see how that would be successful. I think Puerto Ricans would become resentful towards us and we’d be taking away a part of that culture. But back to the language debate. I do believe foreign language education should be encouraged in schools, but I am firm believer that English should be the official language spoken here in the US.

  5. Frank

    That spokesman is really good at his job. I was almost convinced of the merits of his project. But if they (American English) really want to give immigrants the right incentives to learn English, can’t they use more targeted legislation? I suspect that by making it an official-language issue instead of of an educational issue, they are able to get wider support (from bigots, as mentioned), but don’t really have any effect on incentives, nor, more importantly, results (fewer Americans poor because they do not know English).

    p.s. I just started listening, having only heard Ep#1 before this.

  6. chloe

    I was a bit confused about what they meant by “official” language? did it mean that it was the ONLY language spoken? on signs, doors, pamphlets, etc? or is it the officially recognized language, with courtesy to other languages? In any case, I don’t think the United States should have an official language. So many languages and cultures and different demographics make up this country that it would make very little sense to constrict the people to one tongue.

  7. patricox

    As I understand it, “official” means different things in different places, even in different US states. It does not mean the only language spoken, but it only can mean that it is the only language that the government does much of business in, for example, issuing legal notices.

    In the US, there are federal laws concerning voting and social benefits that have been interpreted as requiring translations into minority languages. So, declaring “official English” status is often a symbolic gesture, intended to send a message to non-English speakers that they should learn English.

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