Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Heritage Foundation supports English as the national language

The Heritage Foundation supports English as the
national language, attacks bilingual education.

Published: 08.01.2007


Immigration reform: the need for upholding our
national language


With the most expansive immigration and naturalization
overhaul in the past 40 years languishing in Congress,
it is worth pausing to reflect on the wise words of
Alexis de Tocqueville: "The tie of language is perhaps
the strongest and the most durable that can unite
Lost in the immigration reform talk is a declaration
of English as our national language in both principle
and practice.
A common-sense amendment offered by Sen. James Inhofe,
R-Okla., would give every senator the opportunity to
affirm the importance of declaring, preserving and
enhancing the role of the English language in the
United States.
American history shows the nation's remarkable
resiliency in forging "Out of Many, One."
As opposed to other countries, where geography and
racial composition are requisites for citizenship, the
United States is rooted in a conscription of ideas,
among them are equality, liberty, democracy, freedom
of religion and self-government.
The United States affords people of any creed or color
the opportunity to become Americans.
Former President Ronald Reagan once remarked that
someone could spend an entire lifetime in China, speak
fluent Chinese, follow Chinese customs and yet never
truly be Chinese.
Critical to that success has been the role of a
unifying and singular language. The ability to
converse, interact, trade and communicate in a common
language is key in order for newcomers to assimilate
into the nation's unique fabric and become active
participants in - and valuable contributors to -
History is scattered with examples of newcomers who at
first resisted learning a new language, only to
realize that without a firm understanding of English,
the American dream is effectively out of reach.
Unlike the past, however, when language assimilation
was strongly encouraged, multilingualism is now more
promoted. The problem is that multilingualism leads to
separatism, which works against assimilation. The
facts are staggering:
• One in 25 American households are linguistically
isolated, meaning that no one in the household older
than age 14 can speak English.
• 21.3 million Americans are classified as "limited
English proficient," a 52 percent increase from 1990
and more than double the 1980 total.
• The total annual cost for the California Department
of Motor Vehicles to provide language services is $2.2
million. Providing the same level of DMV translation
services nationwide would cost approximately $8.5
million per year.
Beyond the fiscal and bureaucratic nightmare of
multilingualism is the inherent danger of driving a
spike between English- and non-English-speaking
Immigration tests the bonds of country and citizenship
unlike any other force because it involves a
fundamental change of allegiance.
A common language is the best way to ensure
assimilation among the citizenry; it assuages concerns
and sets forth a unifying medium for immigrants and
new citizens to pursue happiness and prosperity. In
return, assimilation encourages patriotism and a
deeper appreciation for the community and homeland.
Legislators must rise above the simple rhetoric of
purporting the significance of a common language, and
mandate the use of English in all federal functions
and capacities.
Sen. Inhofe's amendment establishes that " . . . no
person has a right, entitlement or claim to have the
government of the United States or any of its
officials or representatives act, communicate, perform
or provide services, or provide materials in any
language other than English . . . ."
This does not necessarily require that English be the
official or exclusive language of the nation. But it
does mean that English needs to be the primary and
authoritative language, particularly in public and
political discourse, as well as the laws, records and
proceedings of government.
In contrast, the Senate's immigration proposal would
have codified Clinton Executive Order 13166, which
requires the government to provide services in any
language on demand. This policy discourages immigrants
from learning English by effectively requiring
official multilingualism.
The empirical data in favor of English immersion - the
opposite of multilingualism - are overwhelming, with
even its most vociferous opponents conceding its
Among them is Ken Noon, the founder of the California
Association of Bilingual Educators.
Two years after leading the march against Proposition
227 (ending bilingual education), he stated, "I
thought it would hurt kids. The exact reverse
occurred, totally unexpected by me. The kids began to
learn - not pick up, but learn - formal English, oral
and written, far more quickly than I thought they
Simply encouraging someone to learn English is not
enough. Immigration reform is a good vehicle to give
teeth to the long-held notion that English is the
"unofficial" language of the land.
If legislators are serious about fashioning one out of
many, then a unifying language requirement is both
sensible and necessary.
Americans must demand that their legislators act on
the principle described by Alexis de Tocqueville as
"the strongest and the most durable that can unite

Matthew Spalding is director of the B. Kenneth Simon
Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation
( Israel Ortega is senior media
associate at The Heritage Foundation.

What I posted:

The empirical data is not in favor of English
immersion. In fact it is “overwhelmingly” in favor of
bilingual education. Study after study shows that
children in bilingual programs consistently do better
than children in English immersion programs on tests
of English reading. In addition, a number of studies
have shown that dropping bilingual education did not
increase English proficiency in California. Here are
some references:

Krashen, S (1999). Condemned without a trial: Bogus
arguments against bilingual education. Portsmouth, NH:

Krashen, S. and McField, G. (2006). What works?
Reviewing the latest evidence on bilingual education.
Language Learner 1(2): pp. 7-10, 34.

Parrish, T.B., Linquanti, R., Merickel, A., Quick,
H.E., Laird, J., & Esra, P. (2002). Effects of the
implementation of Proposition 227 on the education of
English learners, K-12: Year 2 report. Palo Alto,
CA: American Institutes for Research, and San
Francisco: WestEd.


  1. Dear Professor:

    It is with great pleasure that I write to you this evening. I have been working diligently on this situation since about 1980 when an elderly United States Senator, S. I. Hayakawa, was doing everything possible to alert individuals pursuant to the establishment of an official language.

    Since that time I have done all things within my scope to assist people with the knowledge of how desperately important it is to have one unifying language. Further, I traveled to Hawaii where as you are probably aware the preservation of a culture appears to be at the forefront of everything Hawaiian, starting with the Hawaiian language acquisition. Believe me I was not too happy when it was mandated that every elementary and middle school student be immersed into Hawaiian language classes.

    I do have one question if you do find the opportunity: Why is the English language referendum attached to such an awful immigration bill? Is this part of the politicking? Is this acceptable in your mind? Thanking you very much in advance and I remain,



  2. Dr. Mr. Schilling,

    I actually see things quite differently. I do not think that cultural retention is an obstacle to national unity and am very supportive of bilingual education. Not only do I think that this is a right fully supported by international conventions--like the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( also see it as a clear basis for the achievement and success of individuals and our society, generally. Moreover, my view is backed up with at least three decades of research which show that well-staffed, well-funded, and well-designed bilingual education programs are among the best anti-poverty measures that our nation has ever devised. Finally, globalization demands that we equip ourselves as nations through our education system and our youth with bilingual competencies.

    One last thing. A second or third language has always been the gem of the upper class. That which has been reserved for the wealthy needs to be democratized and incorporated into the instruction of all and perhaps especially to those whose backgrounds poise them to be cultural and linguistic brokers and boundary crossers of today's increasingly inter-connected world.