PRO: LANGUAGE SKILLS EQUAL SUCCESS by Havovi Cooper
Let me set the stage for this debate by revealing that I am not an American. I am a grad student, or oops, “legal alien,” from
Pakistan, and I speak a medley of languages, often in the same sentence.
Like many immigrants to the U.S., I have a heightened sense of defensiveness when it comes to my identity. My cultural values
are important enough for me not to change them as often as a chameleon changes color. When it comes to learning the
language of the locals, however, I am all for it. One of the few immigration laws that makes any sense to me is the one requiring
immigrants to learn and speak English before they can attain citizenship.
So why shouldn’t an immigrant continue to converse in Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, or Russian? Learning English will lead to
assimilation, and assimilation is not all bad. I would not readily trade my shalwar kameez (baggy trousers and knee-length
tunic) for a miniskirt, but I would definitely want to add another language to my repertoire as it would increase my chances of
applying for my dream job—on-air reporter—which will inevitably require fluent English.
Immigrants are also particularly vulnerable in a new environment, so it’s even more important for them to know English
before choosing the U.S. as their homeland so they can be well-versed in their rights and the laws protecting them.
By obliging immigrants to learn English before naturalization, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services will prevent the
formation of a Tower of Babel. After all, according to the Census Bureau’s March 2007 report, there are 37.9 million
immigrants in the U.S. speaking 311 languages. Standardization of a language is necessary at some level, so why not start at the
elementary one by saying “Hi, my name is Carlos” in English?
CON: WHY MAKE UNNECESSARY DEMANDS? by Jacob Stokes
Forcing all immigrants to learn English before they can become U.S. citizens is at worst xenophobic and at best unfair.
Most of those who support requiring new immigrants to know English worry that, if we don’t, newcomers will prefer to live in
linguistic ghettos with others who speak their native tongue, refusing to participate in “mainstream” English-speaking society.
Many also fear that immigrants will come to the U.S. and enjoy its benefits without learning English and becoming productive.
But the facts show a different story. According to the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, 61% of foreign-born
naturalized citizens said they spoke English “very well” or they only spoke English. Only about 39% said they spoke English
“less than very well.” As for becoming productive, besides the armies of hard-working immigrants doing the dirty jobs most
Americans refuse to do, immigrants earn bachelor’s and professional degrees at higher rates than native-born citizens.
Also, many immigrants who desire to learn English are already struggling for a chance to do so. Cities across the country are
experiencing severe shortages of English teachers, leaving lines of would-be English speakers waiting outside their doors. Add
to that the fact that our earlier ancestors—most of whom were Northern Europeans or Africans—were not required to learn
English. Why should the standard change? And if it should, shouldn’t we first make sure people who want to learn English have
the opportunity to?
America was founded on the principle of fairness, of giving everyone a chance to make his or her own way in life—not on
language skills. Immigrants who have fulfilled all the other requirements (good moral character, knowledge of U.S. civics and
history, five years’ residency) should, like the ancestors of everyone in this country who is not a Native American, be allowed
to become a U.S. citizen without fulfilling a stringent language requirement.
Should Immigrants Learn English?
I believe that a lot of immigrants forget that to Some immigrants have no time for classes when
move to another country is a privilege, not a
their children can help as translators. Just
given right.There is no excuse for someone who can
not learn the language of the country they are because someone from a different country lives in
travelling to. I would expect the same as a tourist. I
America doesn't mean they have to go through the
would not visit a country if I did not know the
essentials to survive. I believe that this point should trouble to learn English when some Americans are
be addressed more profoundly. If it is not, then I
illiterate. The language barrier isn't much of an
also feel that if someone is willing to leave a country
to go to one they are not familiar with that they obstacle, their younger children can go to school
should not depend on others to help them survive.
and become translators for them. Immigrants have
If a person chooses to immigrate to this country, the right to choose if they want to learn the
they should at least be willing to show they want to
language. For some, learning the language would
become part of our culture, and learn the language
spoken by most people.If an American goes to take more trouble than just relying on their friends
another country to visit, for business, or re-locates
there, the people of that country are not going to
learn English, just so they can communicate with To impose language policy is to strip the
them. The person who is new to that society should
immigrant of their identity What is the point of
make every attempt to learn the language of that
country, to show they are interested in learning how forcing language and culture on a personal basis
to communicate with the natives there. There's
that does not adhere to the new set of language,
nothing wrong with being bi-lingual or proud of
your heritage. But, once you come to this country, culture, behaviors, values? It will only make that
you need to learn English.
person miserable, make them feel ignored, like
there is no interest or attention to what they are, to
If we do not have a common language, we have
their identity, to where they come from (not in the
chaos.Nations are defined by borders, languages and
culture. While we do not enforce a common culture, geographical sense)
a nation requires a set of common languages. Shared
Immigrants should not have to learn the English
languages ensure that everyone can communicate.
Requiring immigrants to learn English ensures that language, because it would be impossible to
they can interact on equal basis with everyone
enforce. I don't think that this is possible to
already here. Requiring English also ensures that all
immigrants have equal access to educational, social enforce, as it is not possible to know all immigrants
and governmental affairs. Requiring the language
who are illegal. This is just my opinion, but it seems
prevents immigrants from relying upon translation
services at their own expense, or creating demands that other things should happen first, like making
on overly burdened social services. Requiring basic sure immigrants are fed and clothed. Only then,
English ensures immigrants can interact and
communicate effectively. should we focus on allowing them to improve on
their English, if they want to make progress.
Moving to U.S. and Amassing a Fortune, No English Needed
By Kirk Semple. New York Times, Nov. 8, 2011
More than 40 years after arriving in New York from Mexico uneducated and broke, Felix Sanchez de la
Vega Guzman still can barely speak English. Ask him a question, and he will respond with a few halting
phrases and an apologetic smile before shifting back to the comfort of Spanish.
Yet Mr. Sanchez has lived the great American success story. He turned a business selling tortillas on the
street into a $19 million food manufacturing empire that threaded together the Mexican diaspora from
coast to coast and reached back into Mexico itself.
Mr. Sanchez is part of a small class of immigrants who arrived in the United States with nothing and,
despite speaking little or no English, became remarkably prosperous. And while generations of
immigrants have thrived despite language barriers, technology, these days, has made it easier for such
entrepreneurs to attain considerable affluence.
Many have rooted their businesses in big cities with immigrant populations large enough to insulate
them from everyday situations that demand English. After gaining traction in their own communities,
they have used the tools of modern communication, transportation and commerce to tap far-flung
resources and exploit markets in similar enclaves around the country and the world.
“The entire market is Hispanic,” Mr. Sanchez said of his business. “You don’t need English.” A deal, he said,
is only a cheap long-distance phone call or a few key strokes on the computer away. “All in Spanish,” he
Mr. Sanchez, 66, said he always wanted to learn English but had not had time for lessons. “I couldn’t
concentrate,” he said in a recent interview, in Spanish. “In addition, all the people around me were
speaking in Spanish, too.”
In New York City, successful non-English-speaking entrepreneurs like Mr. Sanchez have emerged from
the largest immigrant populations, including those from China, South Korea and Spanish-speaking
Among them is Zhang Yulong, 39, who emigrated from China in 1994 and now presides over a $30-
million-a-year cellphone accessories empire in New York with 45 employees.
Kim Ki Chol, 59, who arrived in the United States from South Korea in 1981, opened a clothing
accessories store in Brooklyn and went on to become a successful retailer, real estate investor and civic
leader in the region’s Korean diaspora.
In the United States in 2010, 4.5 million income-earning adults who were heads of households spoke
English “not well” or “not at all,” according to the Census Bureau; of those, about 35,500 had household
incomes of more than $200,000 a year.
Nancy Foner, a sociology professor at the City University of New York who has written widely
on immigration, said it was clear that modern technology had made a big difference in the ability of
immigrant entrepreneurs with poor or no English skills to expand their companies nationally and
globally. “It wasn’t impossible — but much, much harder — for immigrants to operate businesses around
the globe a hundred years ago, when there were no jet planes, to say nothing of cellphones and
computers,” Ms. Foner said.
Advocates for the movement sometimes known as Official English have long pressed for legislation
mandating English as the official language of government, arguing that a common language is essential
for the country’s cohesion and for immigrant assimilation and success.
But stories like Mr. Sanchez’s, though certainly unusual, seem to suggest that an entrepreneur can do just
fine without English — especially with the aid of modern technology, not to mention determination and
For Mr. Sanchez, who became an American citizen in 1985, one anxious moment came when he had to
pass his naturalization test. The law requires that applicants be able to read, write and speak basic
But Mr. Sanchez and other entrepreneurs said that the test, at least at the time they took it, had been
rudimentary and that they had muddled through it.