English is the language of the USA, isn’t it????

January 8, 2010

“Why should I have to press 1 for English?”

That was the question posed on a sign on the truck parked next to me and I readily identified with it.

I was originally somewhat amused and later annoyed when many years ago I began to encounter those recorded answering services that make you press 1 for English and often also force you to listen to your options in Spanish (and maybe other languages).

At first it might not have bothered me too much because I think at the time I was taking college Spanish courses (I went back to school in my 40s). But the fun wore off after I left those Spanish classes behind.

(I’m glad I took those three semesters of Spanish. Not only have I been able to use some of it — not much — but it has also contributed a great deal toward my appreciation of life and understanding of my own language.)

For some reason, the powers that be in our nation never saw fit — probably never saw it necessary — to make English our official language, but it is none the less. This nation was the outgrowth of English colonies and indeed the founding fathers were English or descendants of Englishmen, and it is often written that in their beef with the English Crown that resulted in the Revolution they were merely asking for the “rights of Englishmen” of which they claimed they were being deprived.

Of course from the beginning we had different ethnic and language groups, Germans notable among them. And some German-American buffs would have you believe that German almost became out national language, but I have read that such a claim is inaccurate, even though there was a large German population, many of whom continued to speak their native tongue. I even read once in a biography that President Lyndon Johnson attended a public school for a time in the Texas Hill Country where classes were taught in German. My oldest daughter’s father in-law, who has a German surname, said he recalled that as a boy in church he listed to sermons delivered in German (but he speaks no German himself).

French is another language spoken in the original 13 colonies, and Spanish was spoken in the former Spanish holdings now part of the United States and indeed has spread all over these days and seems to me to have become an almost de facto dual language with English here in the USA. But now we have a whole host of other languages being spoken here as well.

Through it all, though, it is clearly recognized that English is the language of the USA.

A nation is more united if it uses one language, although I realize our neighbor to the north does quite well with its English and French (the Quebec separatist movement notwithstanding), and as far as I know, Switzerland does okay with its German, French, and Italian (is there more? — not sure).

But I have also read that some other nations, such as Belgium (I think) have some internal strife caused by a division in languages. Maybe the Philippines would have been a better example.

One thing that rankles me is that we go to such lengths in this nation, in some places anyway, to accommodate Spanish speakers. I used to be a newspaper reporter in Porterville, Ca. and covered the school beat. At the time, they had a program where some elementary classes were taught in Spanish. Now a good thing about that was that those classes were open to English speakers so the little children could get an early introduction into foreign language, and it is known that children learn language quicker and easier than adults.

But looking back, I’m not sure that was the right approach. It was even noted by some at the time that non-English speaking children seem to pick up English rapidly on the playground (I hope it was something more than curse words).

Also, even one of the proponents of offering instruction in Spanish for new arrivals told me that as a child his folks worked in Mexico (as missionaries I think) for a time and he had to learn Spanish because they put him in a public school there and only Spanish was spoken.

What with a poor education system and a corresponding alarming high rate of illiteracy in this nation (just read what people write and listen to their speech — well besides this blog) and it becomes apparent we need all the help we can get in communication.

We should all, native speakers and others, master or improve our English.

I’m a kind of language buff, even though I have never actually mastered another language, but I think knowing other languages adds to the quality of life and understanding, but I think learning and using the only real language of the USA , English, is  paramount.

Why should I have to press 1 for English?