Some of you might disagree with me on this, but I have to say it anyway.
It disgusts me - disgusts me - to hear someone say, “If you want to live in America, you need to learn to speak English.” And I’m not sure if it’s worse, or sadder, when the person speaking those words is himself an immigrant.
What’s wrong with this?
I find it hard - no impossible - to believe that a single human being anywhere on Earth deserves the authority to dictate to another how she is permitted to communicate and express herself. To force a person to speak in a particular language is an intimate violation of her very humanity - in much the same way as forbidding her from speaking at all.
It is completely without benefit to “society” to have a government-mandated language. It’s nothing more than nationalist fear. There is no compelling business case for it, nor will civilization descend into a Babel-like cacophony of unintelligibility. By nature, people will work towards communication on their own - they want to be able to understand one another. Learning the language that the majority speak in a country or province is simply a good idea for someone new, as it assists him in employment and business transactions, as well as emergency situations and building relationships. I’ve never met a single person who would rather live his entire life alone and disconnected than try his best to learn a new language. Humans default to community. Force creates resistance.
I’m not by any means advocating we start teaching multiple languages in equal measures at school (though perhaps here in America it wouldn’t hurt to do a much better job teaching a few foreign languages - you know, for “economic” reasons), so before you shudder at the thought of American children speaking anything other than American (oops, wait...I mean English. Well, sorta. But that’s another article for another day.) and in any way approaching the number of languages many other children worldwide speak fluently, don’t get all crazy. That’s not what I’m saying. Americans should still speak whatever it is they speak and still be taught it in school (how well most of us learn it is, again, another article), and conduct their business using whatever is most economical.
But they should speak privately - even publicly - however they wish. Let them speak in “English,” in Spanish, in Gibberish, in a combination of all three, with hand gestures, with their eyes, with an instrument, with a paintbrush, or by saying nothing at all. This is what is meant by the right to free speech in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
We are enriched by the infinite ways people express themselves. We grow by trying to learn and understand words and phrases and ideas unfamiliar to us. We gain a much more complete picture of the world by attempting to see it through another’s eyes.
We lose everything when we refuse to listen.