Consider This By Fred Fiske: English | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Consider This By Fred Fiske: English

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One of the first things my grandparents did when they arrived in the United States toward the end of the 19th century, was to enroll in an Americanization school, where they were taught American history and especially, to read and write in English.

Having grown up in a middle European nation where women weren't greatly valued and as a consequence received no education, my grandmother was illiterate. She was determined, however, to learn English, which she thought would be important in adapting to life and to functioning in her adopted country.

My grandparents settled first in a largely immigrant community in New York, where few were able to communicate effectively in English. My mother spoke of how proud she was when her mom visited school and was able to speak to her teachers in English. I relate this to you because largely due to the huge increase in immigration in recent years, a movement has been growing to declare English our national language. All you need to do is to listen to the number of foreign languages you hear on the Metro, in the supermarkets, or almost any public place.

The largest contingent of immigrants is Hispanic, and you've undoubtedly seen signs and directions in Spanish and many places. They certainly make life easier for those who have not learned to speak English, and that’s fine. However, they have encouraged immigrants to live and to work in Hispanic enclaves, and slowed their integration into the larger population.

And now, some schools teach Hispanic students in Spanish. I'm all for cultural diversity. I think the study of foreign languages and cultures is great. But from it’s earliest days, America has been a melting pot. Those who came here learned to speak and to transact business in English. Our declaration of Independence is in English. So was our constitution, our code of laws, our textbooks.

There are students in Montgomery County, Md. from 150 different nations. It would be impractical and prohibitively expensive to provide instruction in all their national languages. Most important, to help immigrants to become a part of the fabric of this nation, to travel a path toward greater social and economic growth, there’s nothing more unifying than the language they speak. Those who learn English do better more quickly.

Children who learn it in school often help their parents to speak and to understand English. Most Americans welcome the newcomers to our country, and to appreciate what they contribute to it. They also feel we are all better served by unity than by division. We have been known as a melting pot, and that melting pot has been stirred by a common language: English as a national language, would my grandmother have favorite it? You bet.

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