Date: Thu, 14 Sep 1995 06:56:37 -0500
From: Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UIUC.EDU
Subject: Re: FOR English Only
EOL sure does generate some heat, even among informed types like us. Some
points I'd like to add:
a major problem with EOL is that it will not ensure compliance: just how do
you _make_ someone learn/use a language? Anyone who survived foreign
language requirements in school knows that it just doesn't work for most
people. Complicating things further is the fact that historically in the
US there has never been more than a token ESL opportunity compared to the
number of people who need/want ESL courses (for children or adults).
Furthermore, my fear is that EOL will become a barrier to learning English,
make it more threatening, make non-English speakers or limited English
speakers feel more isolated from the mainstream than they already do.
Finally, why not leave well enough alone? The US has achieved without
official language legislation a far higher percentage of majority language
use than any other nation with official language mandates. More than 97% of
the US population reports using English according to the last Census.
Non-English speakers actually WANT to learn English to get ahead. It is
minority languages, not English, that are endangered species in this
The problem for some OEL advocates, of course, is that there is a
relatively high percentage of people who ALSO use a language other than
English or live in a household where someone else does. So what else is
new? That percentage may be up from the inter-war years (when immigration
was curtailed drastically and the Census didn't ask language questions
anyway), but in the long run it's nothing unusual for this country. Does
this mar our cherished image of monolingualality?
My daughter, who is in 7th grade, has to choose a pen pal for a school
project from a list of approved countries. She told me the other day, of
course the pen pal has to speak English before they let them join the
program. Then she added, how come they always have to use our language and
we never have to use theirs?
The same supporters of EOL are telling immigrants to lose their native
tongue. Then they turn around and complain that monolingual Americans
can't compete in a multilingual world economy.
Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]uiuc.edu
Department of English office: 217-333-2392
University of Illinois fax: 217-333-4321
608 S. Wright Street home: 217-384-1683
Urbana, IL 61801