Top 10 Reasons Immigrants Should be Required to Learn English
It’s a privilege to become a naturalized citizen anywhere, or to simply immigrate and begin a new life. In the United States, English is the main language spoken, official or not. Because of this, immigrants are generally expected to embrace the language, along with customs and culture, while holding onto their own language and culture. This is what makes America work: multilingual citizens and a multicultural landscape. The requirement to learn English isn’t a requirement to shed one’s former identity, but to take on a new one along with it. This is a beautiful thing!
Of course, learning English isn’t just great for an ideal immigration experience. It should be a requirement. This is not to bar immigrants from coming to the United States if they haven’t had or can’t afford English lessons. Rather, it is to benefit the immigrants themselves. Learning English is the first step in basic survival in the United States, the ability to gain a driver’s license, eventual citizenship, and job security. It’s a way to begin to connect with other Americans, other than those in one’s immediate cultural group. America is a melting pot, and one of the largest binding elements of that melting pot is the English language. It unites us. It’s American. It’s part of our daily lives.
Beyond basic survival and one’s own benefit, the ability to speak English is going to benefit one’s future generations. If you learn English, you can massively empower yourself. But you can also empower your children.
Here are a few reasons why learning English is necessary for those immigrating to America.
10. Basic Survival.
It is difficult to get along in the world without the ability to speak or read the local language. Imagine the difficulty of garnering a job outside of landscaping or hard labor, acquiring a driver’s license or ID, or even ordering a coffee at Starbucks without the ability to speak and read English! For some, ordering a meal from McDonald’s is difficult, yet alone doing the difficult things like figuring out how to rent a place or get health insurance coverage.
Put simply, knowledge of the English language in the United States is necessary for basic survival. While a fair amount of people speak Spanish and other languages (with U.S. citizens becoming more and more bi- and multilingual), relying on translators just isn’t an option, especially when living in small towns or rural areas where the chances of finding a translator are a lot slimmer.
As immigrant Abraham Morales says:
Learning how to speak and write English helps us not only to survive, but to advance as well. I know of talented new citizens whose level of English limits their ability to pursue career opportunities, to be more engaged in their children’s education, or to better understand complex U.S. systems…
We are constantly using the English language in conversations with others, in reading road signs and menus and forms, and in handling basic tasks like grocery shopping and paying bus fare. English is required for basic survival, which eventually leads to flourishing and the ability to truly pursue one’s happiness.
9. Assimilation Becomes a Possibility.
Part of moving to the United States, usually, involves a dream of being truly American, of becoming an actual citizen of the promising, hope-inspiring country. Being able to talk to one’s neighbors. Interacting with others at various social occasions. Taking one’s children to school and helping them with their homework.
In Business Week, Havovi Cooper notes that learning English is absolutely necessary for full assimilation into American culture:
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.
Put simply, assimilation can be good and it does not require fully shedding one’s background and original culture.
Assimilation allows immigrants to feel like they are truly Americans, and to interact with others—and something we all need for a fulfilling life is companionship and friendship. Beyond that, assimilation allows for greater opportunities in the job sector. Often, fluency or near-fluency in English is a must for potential employees in the United States.
One of the nicest parts of assimilation is a decreased rate of discrimination. If immigrants show that they are embracing American culture, they are much more likely to get support from other Americans.
8. Immigrants Need to Know Their Rights.
We all feel somewhat unsafe when walking on dark streets in bad neighborhoods late at night, but imagine the uneasiness felt by an immigrant who can’t speak English and therefore can’t defend his or her basic, inalienable rights as an American. This is an all-too-common problem for new Americans who can’t speak English yet. The law is confusing enough for those of us who can speak English, but without some level of fluency, it is nearly impossible to understand one’s rights.
This becomes most important in dealings with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is known for being tough in its dealings with illegal aliens as well as legal immigrants. They’ve been known to break their own laws in failing to respect the fourth and fifth amendments—protection from unreasonable searches and seizures and self-incrimination. They’ve entered homes without warrants, held children in custody, threatened or tricked immigrants into signing forms which give away their rights and allow them to be deported, and threatened or straight-out disrespected their basic rights as American citizens.
There are organizations like the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) to help out immigrants in these situations with various translations to be used in these situations (from Spanish to English, for instance) but the fact of the matter is that the ILRC is not available 24/7 with translators, especially in the midst of an ICE-controlled raid. The only sure-fire protection is the ability to speak English, be aware of one’s rights, and defend those rights.
7. America Has Voted.
The way a democracy tends to run is that majority rules, and the majority has voted loud and clear for immigrants to be required to learn English before immigration or shortly afterwards. Check out this Gallup poll for all of the information. Put simply, Americans really want foreigners coming to the United States to try to learn English. It’s part of respecting the country and of being able to flourish here. Most people think it’s more than required, actually: it’s essential.
Seventy-two percent of Americans believe that immigrants must learn English. The stats haven’t changed very much over time—just over a decade ago, in 2001, 77% called for immigrants to learn English. The people have spoken, and for good reason. One of the requirements for becoming a full-time US citizen is the ability to read, write, and speak in English. One way that lawmakers are planning to reshape immigration reform is for illegals to “earn” citizenship by studying American history and the English language. Even in racial and ethnic groups, over half of Americans agree that learning English is necessary. Even when comparing liberals to conservatives, both parties have over half of voters in favor of immigrants learning English.
Lucky for immigrants, there are numerous free and reduced-price language classes offered to new Americans who are looking to sharpen their language skills or start from the very beginning. It might be difficult to make time to learn the language, but it should be a real priority for those new to America.
6. To Gain American Support for Further Immigration Reform.
In some sense, learning English is a small worry compared to what many immigrants encounter in the process of attempting to immigrate and what comes after. There’s a lot of red tape. And although the United States is known as the Melting Pot, not all Americans are so keen on allowing immigrants in, especially when it comes to illegals and refugees from unstable countries. Immigrants need all the help they can get when it comes to gaining the support of American voters. Here’s how a writer at Prospect.org puts it:
What the “make them learn English” provision says to [an individual unsure of immigrants] is: Don’t worry, it’s going to be OK. We’re going to make sure that this wave of immigrants is woven into the American tapestry just like the prior waves of Irish and Italian and Chinese immigrants. They won’t take America over. They’ll become American.
There’s something to be said for learning at least a little of a language whether you’re visiting a country for a day or planning to live there for the rest of your life. It shows you really care about the place that you’re in, that you respect its residents. And in order for immigrants to gain support from ordinary Americans, it’s necessary that they show this level of respect: learn English. Try to learn English. And try to become American, whatever that may mean.