13166 require that public entities receiving federal funds must have all vital documents available in every language that their clients speak" (Schultz, 2011). Of course, it is worth noting that state laws and federal laws approach the idea of an official language differently. There are state laws that have made English the official language in just over half of the states in the United States. This may be appropriate because states are more likely to have homogenous groups than the nation as a whole. However it is critical to realize that Title VI applies even to those states that have declared English as an official language. In other words, states cannot overrule the federal government's protection for non-English speakers.
If the majority of the United States speaks English, one may wonder why anyone would worry about protecting the right to speak a different language. Having a single language would certainly simplify communication between Americans and might even lead to a more congenial society. However, English-only policies may be very dangerous to America. English-only policies threaten the idea of American equality, because they tend to target those people already perceived as outsiders by mainstream American society. For example, English-only policies would disproportionately impact those people speaking Spanish or an Asian language, in other words, brown-skinned immigrants. In addition, English-only policies would disproportionately impact low-income immigrants, because English is taught in elementary schools worldwide, and immigrants from higher income levels would probably come to the United States with a basic mastery of English. These disproportionate impacts combined with modern racially restrictive immigration policies could dramatically alter the face of American immigration, which may be one of the goals of some in the English-only movement. Moreover, among some English-only proponents there is a subtext in the English-only movement that failure to speak English means that one cannot be a success in America. The group English First says on its website that, "it is impossible to live the American dream without a vast knowledge of English [sic] both in reading and speaking" (English First, 2011). However, the group's page features basic grammatical errors, which belie its emphasis on English reading and speaking as essentials to life in the United States. Furthermore, their statement simply ignores the fact that millions of immigrants have come to the United States without the ability to speak English and have gone on to achieve the American dream.
Even if one discards concerns about racism or classism, there is a real threat that these English-only policies could be dangerous to the United States. After all, these policies ignore the reality of a multi-lingual world. First, English is not as dominant in the United States as many people believe it to be. Approximately 28 million native Spanish speakers live in the United States (Brunner, 2011). In addition to Spanish, millions of Americans are native speakers of French, German, Italian, Chinese, and Native American languages (Brunner, 2011). "Among the top languages spoken by Americans at home is one that has been spoken in this country long before English and Spanish arrived- Navajo" (Brunner, 2011). Limiting Americans to speaking English would literally stifle the voices of millions of Americans. Furthermore, the United States is part of global environment, and English is not the dominant language in the world. There most predominantly spoken language in the world is Mandarin Chinese, with approximately 1,213,000,000 speakers, followed by 329,000,000 Spanish speakers, and 328,000,000 English speakers (Infoplease, 2011). Moreover, the number of Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and German speakers is much closer to the number of English speakers in the world than the number of English speakers is to the number of people speaking Mandarin Chinese (Infoplease, 2011). English is the international language of business and is taught in elementary schools worldwide, so many assume that English will remain a dominant language. However, at different points in history both Latin and French were taught in addition to primary languages because they were considered the official languages for business and neither of those languages has global dominance at this point in time. Therefore, the movement to a single language could cause America to lose some of its competitiveness in the global environment.
Although many people think of English as the official language of the United States, there is and always has been tremendous language diversity in the United States. Moreover, this rich diversity of language is an essential part of the American social and cultural environment. English-only policies could pose a real threat to the United States. First, they threaten the historic diversity that makes America so unique. In addition, transitioning to an English-only country would not only disenfranchise millions of Americans but might also threaten America's ability to compete on a global level.
Brunner, B. (2011). Urdu spoken here: the U.S. is more multilingual than you might think.
Retrieved October 1, 2011 from Infoplease website: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/multilingual1.html
Crawford, J. (1990). Language freedom and restriction: a historical approach to the official language controversy. Retrieved October 1, 2011 from Effective Language Education Practices website: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/NALI2.html
English First. (2011). About English first. Retrieved from http://www.englishfirst.org/about
Infoplease. (2011). Most widely spoken languages in the world. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0775272.html
Schultz, S. (2011). The official language of the United States and its impact on the translation industry. Retrieved October 1,2011 from Strictly Spanish website: http://www.strictlyspanish.com/whitepaper2.htm
Walenta, C. (2011). Constitutional topic: official language. Retrieved October 1, 2011 from U.S. Constitution Online website: http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_lang.html