Since the founding of the organization, U.S. English, Inc. members from across the United States have been sharing their thoughts on the need for an official language. This “testimonials” section has been created to share some of those firsthand experiences and shed additional light on the benefits a common language.
If you have a story to share, please send it to email@example.com.
My grandparents came to America in the 1920’s from the Philippines. My grandmother was illiterate because her little fishing village did not have a school and she was born at the turn of the 20th century (approx. 1899). When I was about 10 years old, I asked my paternal grandmother why my dad, uncles and aunt didn’t speak Filipino like she and my grandfather did. She replied to me in a thick accent, ”Well, Alfred, we’re Americans and Americans speak English.”
– A.T., Washington
My great grandfather, George Finkenauer, came to the U.S. in about 1860. His last name means “Finken” (Bird) “Auer” (Meadow) .When he first registered, he changed the spelling of his name to Finkenaur – leaving out the “e” in the word “Auer”. He told everyone it was his way of making it into an American name.
George rented a flat in NYC and told everyone who came to his home they were only permitted to speak English in his house—and he enforced this requirement. He also refused to speak German to anyone when he was anywhere else. He strongly believed if you come to United States and want to be a real American, you had to speak only English.
– Allen Finkenaur, Connecticut
The following e-mail came to U.S. English, Inc. from an English learner in Indonesia.
I regret why English is treated as a second, or even third, language of my country. Of course, I will not despise Indonesia at all. But the fact that English is far more globally used than Indonesia should properly be an inevitable ground for the government to fully encourage English usage in elementary and secondary schools, so that, when pupils come in to higher level of education (university) after completing the secondary, they will have had, at least, a basic or elementary English that can be a foundation to digest university textbooks mostly written in English.
In my view, a sense of nationality need not to be reflected in a foolish way by valuing exaggeratedly Indonesia as a home language.
Completely supported by unguarded passion to advance and due to the financial constraint, I have been initiating an English gathering. To those who come from common families and everyone who regards English as a determining key for his or her future, it’s hoped that the initiative can function as a place for idea exchange. We try to practice both writing and speaking, discuss our works to find out some possible improper words applied in them.
There are various motivations underlying their participations; study abroad, teaching, story writing and telling, career opportunity widening, etc.. Most of them, however, are back-grounded by strong desire to continue study overseas. Perhaps, the variety reflects their different professions; fresh graduate, NGO activist, lower officials of both state and private institutions, young book translator, etc.. All of them come from common families.
It is necessarily for you to know that such a non-profit-oriented institution is very rare. Most English courses establish a very high charge, even sometimes unreasonable. Clearly, this condition narrows everyone’s opportunity and do not provide a wiser breakthrough to those with restricting financial capabilities.
My Father was born and raised in Mexico and worked very hard to become a citizen of the United States. My parents chose not to teach me Spanish as a young child because they knew that when I started attending grade school knowing how to speak Spanish with a Spanish surname in the late 1950’s, I would be put in a special set of classes for whom “English was a second language.” My parents believed these classes not to be on par with the rest of the school.
My Father was always very proud of his American citizenship and raised his children to respect our country and the liberty’s it affords us. Even though my father spoke with a very heavy accent, he showed me the importance of knowing English in America. I believe we are putting people whom come to this country to participate in the “American Dream” at a disadvantage if we don’t require English as the nation’s official language.
– AMR, California
My maternal grandparents were born in Russia and came to Chicago in 1906 where my mother was born. I never got to know them as they died before I was born but my mother told me that her mother said that since they were in America, they would learn and speak English instead of their native Russian and Yiddish. I now live in Miami, where very few of the Hispanic people have bothered to learn English. Everywhere I go, people speak Spanish and assume that everyone else does too. It’s very disconcerting to live here as it feels like I’m in a foreign country. This is America and we speak English here!
– Arlene Hathaway, Florida
My father came to this country as a young man in 1904. At that time, he spoke only Swedish. His interest in becoming a citizen led him to learn to speak English. He married my mother, also from Sweden many years later.
They spoke only English in our home. Years later, when I was a teenager, I can remember my father having to go to a friend’s house to have them read a letter from Sweden to him. He had forgotten his Swedish. He read the paper daily, so I know he was literate, but time and non-usage had dimmed his recollection of his native tongue. I myself, never learned any Swedish, because, it was never spoken in the home. If my father could foreswear his native tongue to become a citizen, I cannot see any reason to allow any language other than English to be considered. Make English the Official language of the United States.
– Bill Johnson, Oklahoma
I’m behind you all the way. I want to share with you what happened to me and my children when I took them to [Doctor’s office] in Houston, Texas for immunizations on August 1, 2003.
The nurse was speaking only Spanish as she was preparing my children’s shots. She never spoke to me or the children and I had to ask her to take my son’s temperature before giving him the shot as he had been ill.
She never said anything to us in English, just gave them the shots. The only English she spoke to us was when we started to leave and were going out the wrong exit, she laughed and said, “Go this way.”
We went out into the hall and were completely ignored. After standing around for about five minutes holding the kids’ paperwork, waiting to pay, we left. No one said anything. I have the children’s record, including the originals the office should have kept. So they have no records of my children’s shots. What if the kids had a reaction or became ill after the immunizations? I still have all the office documents. They would have had no way to help my kids.
They put my kids in jeopardy. We were treated badly because we could not speak Spanish. I would not want any kids treated this way. This is what is happening because we don’t have an official language. I hope you can use this information in some way.
I started studying English when I was very young in my home country of Brazil. English is mandatory, as is Portuguese, our national language. I was fortunate that when I came over to the States, my English was pretty good already, and I just had to fine tune a little (which I still do). I believe that English should be declared the national language in this country as Portuguese is in Brazil. I say that because the language is an important part of a country’s sovereignty and culture.
In Brazil, we don’t allow the press 1 for English, press 2 for something else because if someone does not know our national language, that someone should not be there in the first place. I educated my daughters in English only because this is their home and English is their language. We are all American citizens and English is our language. God gave us the opportunity to live in this blessed country and I honor this opportunity making sure that my family speaks their homeland’s language—English.
– C.M., Tennessee
I come from a deep heritage of Norwegians and even went to a Norwegian Language camp to learn the culture and language to preserve what my Grandfathers family left behind. He migrated here when he was 9 years old and his family adopted all that America had to offer them. They did not speak Norwegian anymore, only English. My grandfather did not want to return to the land he left, because to him America had provided at a time when Norway could not.
I wish this strong and courageous view of adopting a new home land was the same today, instead of the current view of going to a new homeland and expecting it to change to meet your needs. Is it easy to fully embrace a new homeland? Of course not. [But] is it rewarding? Absolutely! Making English the official language of the US will unite people of all backgrounds. If the money spent on all [current] language [translations] was spent on English as a Second Language education and support for all those who migrate, it would make it much easier for all those transitioning. Immigrants will be able to assimilate faster and enjoy their experiences much more than if they do not know the language and the culture it provides. Please keep America strong and the people united!
– C.S., Texas
My mother was born in Denmark. Her parents brought her to the United States when she was an infant circa 1909. I was born in 1937. When I was a child growing up my grandparents and my mother only spoke Danish when they didn’t want me to hear what they were talking about. Other times, they always spoke English, and very well as far back as I can remember. The point is, learning English was expected back then. It should be still.
– D.B., Michigan
As an immigrant from Germany, who landed in New York in 1956, I quickly realized that you had to know the English language in order to achieve success. Serving in the military I believed in the old Army motto “Be All You Can Be” and by continuously studying it, I achieved everything I wanted to be. I strongly support U.S. English!
– Dieter H. B. Protsch, Major US Army (Retired), Maryland
My father was born in France and came to the U.S. at a young age knowing no English. No teacher spoke French to accommodate him, no school memos were printed in English and French, no food products were printed in English and French nor did he receive a driver’s education booklet in French so he could learn how to drive. He learned English from listening to music, American radio, and books. He learned it himself because he had to. He became an American citizen, joined the United States Marine Corps and fought in the Korean War. He was one of the chosen few, fighting for the freedom of America. He married my mother, had 3 kids, paid taxes, and worked hard. He never asked to be called a French-American.
Nowadays, some people come to America and expect this country to bend to their traditions and their customs and [when] we do, this breaks down our American traditions. There is no excuse to not speak English in this country. It is our language and in fact, a worldwide language. We spoke French at the dinner table, followed some French traditions at Christmas, and we were proud of our heritage, as I am today. But I will not demand to be called French-American. I AM A PROUD AMERICAN.
– Dorinda, California
My father was born in Amsterdam, Holland on January 23, l897 and came to America in October of 1923. He married my mother, who was born in Waterloo, France, in March of 1928. She came to America at the age of three so she learned to speak English at an early age. When I was young and learning about English in school, I asked my father to teach me to speak Dutch. He told me that he was an American and he only spoke English. I still have his pocket Dutch/English dictionary that he used. As time past, I became acquainted with a Dutch cousin who speaks 5 languages including English which she was taught in school. All immigrants that go to live in the Netherlands have to learn that language to survive there. I feel very strongly that if a person wants to live in any country other than their birth country they should want to learn that country’s language.
My dad came to America from Italy as a young man and took night classes in English and citizenship. He was proud to become an American, start his own business, and marry an American girl of Italian descent whose parents’ story was similar to his own. He insisted that we speak only English at home so that he could continue to improve. Dad was a friendly guy and hated not being able to clearly express himself to people he met. He used to say that the day he woke up and realized he was thinking in English, instead of translating from Italian, was the day he finally felt like a real American.
The only thing Dad never got used to was English spelling – he had a hard time with reading and writing the language. I had to read him The Sporting News every week so he could follow his beloved baseball. Living in NY, we knew people from all over the world, who, like my father, had come to the U.S. for a better life. They shared their culture, cuisine, and histories with us, and our lives were enriched by them.
I don’t understand people who stubbornly cling to ignorance. What are they afraid of? How can you lose by knowing more, rather than less? We didn’t have to give anything up to make English our primary language – we still follow all our old family traditions from Italy. But we also have so much more. There really is “gold in the streets” here in America after all. But it’s not the metal – it’s the abundance and variety of traditions and culture available here if you are willing to open the lines of communication. People all over the world study English to try to tap into what we’ve got here. How sad it is when someone who is already here, surrounded by all of this opportunity, chooses to opt out.
– E.P., New York
If English is not declared the official language of this great country we will be in deep trouble in the years to come. I do not believe anyone should be permitted to vote if English is not understood. How do you know who and what to vote for if you do not know the language? What good does a driver’s license do if you are unable to read the road signs? I believe English should be the only language taught in schools unless another is taught as a foreign language.
When I was a small child I moved to Norway with my parents. My Mother was 27 years old, a Wisconsin farm girl who knew not one word of Norwegian. My younger brother and I learned to speak Norwegian by playing with our playmates. We spoke English at home and in time my Mother learned the Norwegian language, It is great if children of parents from other countries have another language to speak. Let them speak it at home, but I am dead set against it being the primary language in any public school in this country. One of the things that has made this country great is that we have had a common language. Let’s not jeopardize our country by having it become balkanized.
Sometimes, when trying to explain why English should be made our official language of government and business, and the responses I get are unexpected and unfavorable, I like to relate an experience that occurred in London, England, while I was employed by the Department of Defense. To me, this experience represents the most convincing proof that we badly need English to be declared our official language.
In our office about half of our employees were British and I believe one or two were from the Irish Republic. I frequently had conversations with one of our employees, Ken, a very proud Welshman. One day, after picking up our mail, he couldn’t wait to tell me about something he’d experienced while at the Navy building. Ken was waiting by the elevator to pick up the mail upstairs. When the elevator door opened “a clean-cut all-American lad in a Navy uniform” stepped into the elevator with him. Immediately after the door closed, the American began speaking to him “in absolutely flawless Welsh.” By Ken’s description of the event he was astounded and asked the young American where he learned to speak Welsh like that. The American replied that he was from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and his parents came from Wales. When he was a child, he said, his parents told him that in their home he must always speak Welsh but away from home he must speak English because he’s an American. The young American told him that he wasn’t happy about having to speak Welsh but now was very pleased to be proficient in both English and Welsh.
I enjoy telling this story. To me it should be the final word in showing how preserving one’s native language and culture in the home or ethnic community enriches American culture; it should also show that the responsibility for doing so is strictly a private matter rather than an obligation of the state. Outside these areas the state should be duty-bound to ensure that all Americans are proficient in the English language and are thoroughly assimilated into American society.
– Fred Hawkins, NC
[When] I came from Colombia to this country 30 years ago, my English was very poor and I just knew enough words to get by in some situations. I was stuck on most occasions, due to my lack of understanding of the language. I mostly hung around Spanish speaking people at first. Even when I was studying English at an adult school, I couldn’t practice it because I was only speaking Spanish with the people at work. Only after I changed jobs was I able to practice my English skills and understand a lot more about the American people and culture. More opportunities opened up for me because I could finally be part of the conversation in most situations and participate in the daily American, life from which I was alienated before [due to] the simple fact [that I did not] speak the language. A country with many languages is a weak country, but a country with one language is a strong country. We need that if we are to survive as a nation. I am proud to be an American now, and I don’t feel I am betraying my culture or my native country for this. On the contrary, I am able to share it now simply by being able to communicate with everyone in English and getting the same respect we all deserve as Americans.
– G.G., California
I came to this country legally many years ago. My English speaking skills were poor, and I still have an accent, but I speak English—the language of my adopted country. I became a citizen and accepted the culture of the United States [and I remain] proud of my native culture. I do not like hyphenated Americans—you are either an American or an Ivorian or a Mexican, etc. but not a hyphenated American. English should be our national language!
– GMR, Kansas
Born and living for 46 years in Germany, I decided to emigrate to California in 1986. I went through a rigorous screening procedure by the INS, and rightfully so. They checked my entire background, my health and … I had to proof that I can write, read and comprehend the English language, which I felt was absolutely justified.
Being an active member of my community, which is one of the most diversified in California, I am confronted with major obstacles re: language barriers. The majority of Latinos, Laotians, Cambodians in our community speak little or no English, but expect us, the English speaking members of the community to accept their way of living, which not always agree with the laws of this country. Our police officers, not able to communicate with them, are helpless watching what is going on. That is a big burden on all of us, who likes to enjoy a peaceful living in our community.
Our city is, like the entire State of California, on the verge of filing bankruptcy, but at community meetings, one provide interpreters for none English speaking members/organizations of our community, wasting the little bit of money we have left. I feel that this is unacceptable! One said: “When you go to Rome, you have to do it like the Romans do” and this should be adapted for America too.
I am second generation American and very proud of it. Both sets of my grandparents immigrated from eastern Europe around 1905. They were young married couples and wanted to start their families in America, to give their children a better life. Being good Catholics they had very large families, one with eight and the other with nine children. Both of my grandfathers had to work and learn to speak English quickly, to fit into the work force. They both insisted that all the children speak English at home.
When I was a teenager, a neighbor made fun of my one grandmothers because she could only speak English, but could not read or write it. I politely explained that when she first came here she learned to speak English, but was very busy raising her family. I also mentioned she could speak, write, and read Bohemian, Polish and German. Then I asked how many languages his grandmother spoke. My grandparents were just two couples, of millions, who immigrated to this country. They understood that English is what binds us together as a country. Learning English quickly is the start of a great life here in America.
– James Vadimsky, Pennsylvania