Keep the US English Speaking

By Hewko, John | The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Keep the US English Speaking


Hewko, John, The Christian Science Monitor


Whether we like it or not, the universal language of discourse in America is and should be English. I speak from experience. My parents were immigrants and my wife is an immigrant from Argentina. I speak six languages and have spent 15 of the past 20 years living and working abroad. Bilingual education is bad policy for the United States and for its immigrants and should be discarded, once and for all, as a failed and misguided idea.

My parents came to this country from Ukraine after World War II. My father was 19, my mother 11. They spoke no English when they arrived. Today, my father's English is perfect, although when he says words such as "European" or "worm" you can tell that he was not born in Detroit. My mother sounds like any other born and raised Midwesterner. Why? Because when they arrived they had no choice but to learn English - and learn it quickly.

I have no doubt that my mother's first year in a Catholic school must have been intimidating and difficult, and my father must have complained as he slogged through his university texts, translating them from English into German and then into Ukrainian because there were no good English-Ukrainian technical dictionaries available. But then again, no one forced them to come to the United States. Sure, signs, government forms, ballots, television, phone recordings, and school instruction in Ukrainian would have helped. But this approach would have only served to slow considerably their integration into American society, their ability to benefit from higher education, and to advance in their chosen professions.

I never once heard my parents (or my grandparents for that matter) complain about their fate. It was simply accepted that when one decided to come to the United States, the priority was to learn English - a message quite clearly reinforced by society at that time.

But times have changed. Voters in Colorado failed to pass an initiative this fall that would enforce English-only education programs. Meanwhile, 60 percent of the voters in Massachusetts passed a measure to get rid of bilingual education. Sadly, the electorate in Colorado has missed the boat.

Being thrown into an English-speaking world without a bilingual education parachute didn't mean that my parents left their Ukrainian heritage behind or failed to pass it along to us children. …

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