May 24, 2006

Oui, Oui?

Last night, my roommate Tracy told me that France has changed its laws concerning naturalization. The government recently passed a law that requires applicants of French citizenship to speak French fluently. My roommates supported this change and then the topic was brought up about making English the national language in the U.S.

So I wondered: is it a good idea to make English the national language in our country?

Perhaps in some ways. Although the creation of a nation is regulated by a constitution and subsequent laws, the creation of nationalism is much more complex. Nationalism exists when the citizens of a country share a common history, a common dream, and numerous common traits. Indeed, Americans are a patriotic people because they share these three things. We look up to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as our Founding Fathers; we dream about owning a home and pursuing an education; and despite our racial and ethnic differences, we all share much in common. We are generally religious and optimistic---and we all (most of us, anyway) speak English.

Our common language brings us together. We can converse freely with our neighbors and at the grocery store. We watch TV and movies that are broadcasted in a language we understand. And we send our children to schools where all classes are taught in English. Our language (and even our accent) is a way to feel part of a group. If you don't know English, then you're going to have a hard time fitting in.

Thus requiring a basic command of English could actually be a benefit to immigrants. To succeed in America, they have to be able to communicate with the rest of us. It is also essential to have a good command of English if they want to attend college here. Necessitating English-speaking skills as a precursor to citizenship could help immigrants find better jobs and obtain a higher education.


But this subject still makes me feel wary. For one, I don't think it's really necessary to make English our national language. We are all descended from immigrants, many of whom came to this country with absolutely no command of the English language. Yet they settled down, obtained jobs, and learned English. Granted, I'm sure there are some people who never gain fluency, but their children and grandchildren all grow up speaking perfect English. Why? Because second-generation citizens want to fit-in. Case in point, my parents spoke to me in Chinese a lot when I was little, but I learned English because I wanted to fit-in at school. (Speaking Chinese to white Americans doesn't make a girl a lot of friends!)

And isn't the nationalization of English a bit extreme? Perhaps even a little elitist? The U.S. has a lot of roots with Spanish-speaking peoples too. Would it be more fair to make English and Spanish our national languages?

Anyway, I guess there really are two issues at hand here: 1.) making English the national language and 2.) requiring immigrants to speak fluent English if they want citizenship. I don't think number one is necessary and I think number two is necessary only to an extent.

Am I being too lenient? Am I missing a bigger piece of the picture? Let me know your thoughts.

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