English-Only is for Chumps

A couple years ago, I was reading an Asian American lifestyle website. I stopped reading it abruptly when an author and a bunch of commenters came out strongly English-Only, and cited some ignorant arguments; ignorant of demographics, ignorant of bilingual education, ignorant of bilingualism. I wanted find the people and physically puke on them. Below is what I wrote in the comments of the post in question. I had forgotten about the whole episode, but somebody who read that page found their way to my blog, and the link showed up again in my analytics. My opinion on English-Only policies remains the same to this day.

Heritage languages are a birthright.  Tagalog and Pangasinan were my birthright, and I was cheated out of them.


Why is it that white kids learn a second language to get ahead, and brown kids learn English to keep up? Aren’t kids language learning machines? Why aren’t they all seen as potential bilinguals? What extra resources does it take to make someone well-spoken and literate in two languages… teachers and books?

Growing up bilingual is a perfectly normal human state; being able to speak, read, and write in more than one language is not harmful. There are plenty of places in the world where bilingual education is the healthy norm.

Why can’t we get it right in the US? A) Because it’s politicized. B) Because education is underfunded. C) Because monolinguals don’t understand bilingualism.

Listen to me: “new immigrants have to work hard and learn English just like the rest of us” is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT about bilingual education, it’s about ESL. If your school’s “bilingual program” is an ESL program in disguise, yes, the kids are getting the shaft. But that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate REAL bilingual programs, or go to an English-Only policy! Come on, children!

“Having multiple translations and teaching people in their own language” is not bilingual education, either, son. It’s monolingual. Think about it. If you’re not teaching kids to speak, read, and write in two languages, IT’S NOT BILINGUAL.

Bilingual ed is not about giving immigrants a break; it’s about giving kids an edge. And bilingual services (voting, DMV, etc.) are not meant to pamper the immigrants, they are meant to allow people to participate in society. Speaking English is NOT a prerequisite to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is no language requirement to “all men are created equal.” Sure, not being able to speak English well can limit your achievement in this society, but it cannot limit your civil rights!

Which brings me to my final point, before I unsubscribe to this website and stop reading [your website] forever. And that is this: don’t you for a second think that English-only is some kind of real ISSUE, that poor, decent people are being victimized by the specter of Foreign Language taking our American identity away and giving our precious tax dollars to skinny brown thieves who refuse to speak English. And don’t you tell me we have to argue over a fistful of dollars for educational funding for bilingual education and services when this country is involved in two wars overseas and trying to build a rocket to Mars. No, kids, no.

English-only is about discrimination and xenophobia. They’ll make it sound reasonable, they’ll even make it sound like it’s deadly important. But it’s not. It’s about scaring white people into voting conservative. And I’m not buying it.

I won’t be back to this website, I’m too disgusted with this post. I wish you well, I respect your right to disagree with me. I’ve dedicated my career to learning and teaching foreign languages, and it’s brought me success, but I would give it all back if I could go back to the 70s and punch my pediatrician in the face for telling my parents to speak only English to me. I would give it all back if I could communicate with my family.

2 thoughts on “English-Only is for Chumps

  1. In India people are multilingual. My kids speak Tamil, our mother tongue, at home and speak English and Hindi in school.

    We can’t underestimate the importance of English which is becoming universal language. English can be used as a bridge between people whose mother tongues are different. But at the same time it is good for each one not to forget the mother tongue as it gives them an identity.

    For language is knowledge. Knowing many languages is always helpful for me interacting with people in a multilingual society.


  2. Wow. Just. Wow.

    In 1958, the plantation nurse told my mama she had to speak English only to her children, who would be Americans now. Otherwise, language would hold them back.

    So we can’t speak Ilocano or Tagalog and we did not communicate as children with my parents in their language. On the plus side, my English can be flawless if I choose or Hawaiian creole if I choose. I just can’t speak with my kin folk.

    But there’s alway time for that. I wonder if you heard me speak, would you be able to discern the nuances? Was the nurse right?

    But thank you for pointing out how people conflate ESL and bilingual education. So. Not.The.Same.Thing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s