Most immigrants come to America to create a better life for themselves and their children. However, there are many new challenges that these immigrants must face, such a learning a new language. In order to fit in with American culture and succeed, many individuals feel pressured to learn English. This pressure may also be reinforced by the government, as the Tennessee Department of Education says that students must be proficient in English by 7th grade or they will be classified as long-term English learners. Despite this order, the Tennessee government is not providing the resources needed for the children of immigrants to learn English. This is a very frustrating conundrum for immigrant parents.
This is not an issue of questioning whether children should be forced to learn English by a certain time frame because many groups have argued the appropriate cutoff point for an English learner. To me, it doesn’t matter that students have to learn English by a certain age. What is more alarming to me is that the children of immigrants are forced to learn English at all. Through this investigation, I want to think through why feeling forced to learn a new language is even an issue that needs to be talked about.
At the basis of the issue, I want to ask: How many students are not proficient in English? Asking this question will show how big of issue this even is. Though, regardless of the answer, forcing children to learn English is still an issue. Even if only a small percentage of students are not proficient in English, it is still a very real problem for those students. They are still facing inequality without any help from the government. Not being able to learn English and being marked as not proficient will affect even the smallest percentage of students’ entire lives. They may be denied jobs or seen as unintelligent. In order to get to the heart of understanding why this is an issue, it is important to understand this basic statistic. However, this basic question will not allow to understand why this is an issue and why it is continuing. Further questioning will be necessary to determine the core issues and beliefs that are behind putting important on English proficiency.
To get closer to the fundamentals of this issue the next question I want to ask is: Who can decide what proficiency in a language is? Language is very fluid, as it can change over time and from place to place. People in New York speak English differently than people in the South, who speak it differently than those in Elizabethan era Britain. Because of this, there is not one primary way that proficiency in English could be measured. Also, most native English speakers don’t know every word in the language, so where is the cutoff for proficiency? Perhaps it is the students being able to understand their schoolbooks or being able to hold conversations with their friends. This arbitrary line is defined by the Tennessee Department of Education, which is given this authority simply because they were the first to establish a rule. When asking who can decide proficiency, we are asking why do we give the authority to the Department of Education? Just like there is no concrete, uniform way to determine proficiency in a language, there is no concrete reason that the authority should be given to the Department of Education or anyone.
After asking who has the authority to determine how well someone speaks a particular language, the next question would be: What makes one language or culture more important than another? There is no reason to even require an authority if there is no justification for enforcing a particular language. Even people who don’t live in America that don’t speak English are looked down upon by many Americans and seen as unintelligent. These native English speakers believe this because they see their language as superior. While it is useful to have common languages for trade and business, there is no reason to place English over other languages. Forcing people to learn English to speak more commonly than their native languages leads to language erasure. Since language is an important part of culture, language erasure could lead to culture erasure, which leads to a lack of diversity. From this conclusion, the most broad question that could be asked about this issue is: Why is diversity important? Those that argue for the superiority of English would likely also believe that diversity is not important. Diversity makes global commerce and trade agreements more difficult because of language and cultural barriers. However, without diversity, there would not be as many resources to trade. The world would all be ordinary and uniform. Without diverse cultures, there would be less history and current events to learn about and a lack of various resources.