A National Language

I support English as the official language of the United States. I do so because having an official language is more efficient and less costly than other alternatives. You only need to look as far as Canada and the European Union to understand why a single, common language is the best choice. The national languages of Canada are English and French, despite the fact that 90% of Canadians speak only English. The European Union has to contend with 25 or so official languages. Citizens of both Canada and the European Union complain about the costs of not having a single, common language. An example of this expense is the cost of translating and printing of government publications in the EU. Every proclamation and law has to be translated and printed in 25 languages, i.e. German to French, French to Spanish, German to Latvian, and so on.

National languages are not uncommon. National languages are a very old concept, actually. The Romans declared Latin as the language of the empire. Doing so created many efficiencies in various aspects of Roman life including trade, government, and education. Latin enabled their advances in mathematics and science. Widespread use of Latin allowed for all of their knowledge to be transcribed, preserved, and understood by future generations.

While the United States has not had an official language until yesterday, English has been for some time the “practical” language of the United States. English proficiency is required for citizenship. When an immigrant gets his or her citizenship, he or she must be able to read, write, and speak English. Naturalization applicants must demonstrate this in one of several citizenship interviews. It is not a big step to state plainly that English is the national language of this country.

Many immigrants who come to this country arrive with reasonable working English, if not fluency. Learning English is considered by many immigrants a prerequisite for coming into this country to work. I work with quite a few individuals from other countries who learned English before coming to the United States. Most speak very good, if not excellent, English, and have spent years and considerable expense studying it to develop this proficiency. Learning English is an investment they make so that they can avail themselves of the full array of opportunities America has to offer. Immigrants who come to the United States without this preparation are setting themselves up for lives filled with frustration and challenges.

Benjamin Franklin worried about the huge numbers of German immigrants coming into Pennsylvania to seek the opportunities of America. He was concerned that few of them spoke any English. He was concerned that, before long, everyone would be speaking German and English would become a second language in the British colonies. But those immigrants learned English and now, generations later, the descendants of those families all speak English.

By making English the official, national language of the United States, it becomes clear to all immigrants that English education is needed to make a life in the United States. Getting that education before coming to the United States is best. Those already here need to enroll in English classes and make the investment in that knowledge just as millions have before them.