Over the past several weeks, momentum has been building in the State Legislature for the passage of a bill that would designate English as the official language of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. HB 361, the Pennsylvania Official Language Act, introduced by Representative RoseMarie Swanger, would make English the language of all acts of government.
As an immigrant myself, I have seen firsthand the importance of learning English to succeed in America. Official English helps encourage immigrants to assimilate, which in turn helps them succeed, presenting them with more opportunities and allowing them to share their culture with others here in the United States. America is a melting pot, and with so many differences among us, the one thing that has the ability to tie us all together is a common language: English.
Official English is not meant to prevent other cultures from being represented or other languages from being spoken. Rather, it is meant to put the government behind the idea of assimilation, removing the crutch of translations and encouraging immigrants to take advantage of the opportunity to learn English. When a citizen cannot communicate in English, he or she is missing the experience of interacting with 90 percent of the people in this country. Learning English not only allows immigrants to open up and share their unique culture and background with others, but it also allows them to experience a wider range of job opportunities, a higher income, and greater access to benefits provided in these higher paying jobs, such as healthcare. Rather than encountering experiences that are difficult when faced while dealing with language barriers, a world of endless opportunity is opened to them.
Supporters of this legislation have called it unifying and a no-brainer. Challengers have vehemently opposed it—many using faulty arguments and incorrect statements with regard to what Official English legislation will do. I want to clarify some of these misconceptions of Official English, to make perfectly clear the benefits that these bills will have on immigrants across the state.
Opponents have said Official English legislation could lead to reduced funding for programs that teach English, that people with minimal English skills will be at a disadvantage when seeking medical treatment and care because of Official English, and that this legislation will hurt economic growth and job creation. Opponents have also said that Official English legislation will dishonor immigrants and send a “warning” to the international business community, preventing development in the economic growth of new industries here in America. Perhaps most erroneous is the belief that passing Official English legislation shows that supporters resent the presence of immigrants.
In reality, making English the official language of government empowers immigrants by putting them in the driver’s seat to their own destiny. Rather than relying on the government to translate important documents so an immigrant can receive government services, the immigrant is encouraged to learn English and, as a result, make a better life for himself. America is a land of immigrants, and the Official English movement will do nothing to change that. Instead, it serves an attempt to help immigrants raise themselves up to the economic level of native-born citizens. When immigrants are more successful, America is more successful. When immigrants maintain their native language and heritage—but also learn English and assimilate to American society—everyone benefits. Foreign businesses will be drawn to the diversity and level of accomplishment of Americans.
Without Official English, the funding for programs that teach immigrants English will remain the same. The current method of only allowing translation services for people who speak a language represented by enough citizens will continue to leave some at a disadvantage. Attempting to access health care while facing language barriers will continue to be a challenge. Disproportionate numbers of immigrants who do not speak English will remain in lower paying jobs and living below the poverty line.
Official English will do nothing but improve the status of immigrants across Pennsylvania, and neglecting the chance to pass this bill will only hinder their ability to succeed. Official English will not affect foreign language courses, and actually encourages all Americans to be fluent in more than one language. But the basis of Official English should be stated loud and clear: its fundamental purpose is to allow immigrants fully become American citizens, to fully participate in everything the American society has to offer, and to honor their heritage by gaining the ability to freely communicate and live the American dream.
U.S. English, Inc.