English As a ?Global? Language The notion that English is a global


The notion that English is a global language rests on fairly substantial ground since it is used officially and unofficially throughout the world. Linguist David Graddol estimates in a report to the British Council that '500 million to one billion speak English now as either a first or second language,' and 'there could be two billion new (my italics) speakers of English within a decade.' Jacques L'vy, a native speaker of French who studies globalism at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, states 'It's a lost cause to try to fight against the tide. It could have been another [global] language; it was Greek, then Latin, French, now it is English.'

In the United States today a heated debate over Mexican immigration has triggered a move toward making English its official language with no concessions granted to other native languages such as Spanish. Voting instruction, court documents, and governmental regulations would be written only in English. Hospital personnel, police, and school teachers would all communicate in English only. Mexican, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Russian immigrants would have to leave their native languages at the border, and speak and write only in English, at least in officialdom.

When we designate English as America's official language what are some of the ramifications for those with a different, native language' Even if the immigrant wants to speak English as soon as possible, is it even reasonable to expect it immediately' Since 'must implies can', it is illogical to expect someone to do something that is not possible. To learn a language (even our own) takes time and a lot of it. When we insist that somebody discard their native language, isn't there an implied disapproval of their language' Few things are more personal than somebody's native tongue, and if we disapprove of it then we shouldn't be shocked when they are offended.

Americans have been taught that its foundation rests squarely on Plymouth Rock (1620) and Jamestown (1607) whence it traces its northern European ancestors backwards to England and forwards through the colonies. Our teachers have told us that the European aspect of American history begins with the Mayflower and Jamestown. Americans generally don't have an interest in their history before 1607.

Gore Vidal once referred to the USA as the 'United State of Amnesia', meaning that Americans tend to forget and ignore their own history. Our history reveals, however, that what is now the continental United States was first Spanish, not English. It was the Spaniard, Juan Ponce de Le'n, who first stepped ashore in Florida in 1513, more then 100 years before the Mayflower. Within 30 years the Spanish arrived at Appalachia, the Mississippi, the Grand Canyon, and sailed up the east coast to Maine and the west coast to Oregon. Francisco V'zquez explored the interior of the United States in 1540 marching north from Mexico across what-is-now the Arizona border. The Spanish built settlements such as St. Augustine, Fla. (1565), Santa Fe, NM, San Antonio, Tucson, San Diego, and San Francisco. By the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, Spain possessed approximately half of present-day continental America. In the early to mid-1800s, the army of the United States began to seize Spanish and Mexican territories including California, Texas, and Florida. The people of those regions remained, and so the United States not only acquired land, but also the Spanish language, Mexican culture, and Hispanic customs. Other Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Latinos eventually migrated to these areas and brought with them their language, culture, and customs as an overlay to the already existing Spanish and Mexican presence.

Now some Americans, looking at only the Mayflower and our English heritage, want to make English its official language. And much of the reasoning is racist. Tom Tancredo, Rep. from Colorado, states that with Mexican immigration, 'We are committing cultural suicide. The barbarians at the gate will only need to give us a slight push, and the emaciated body of Western civilization will collapse in a heap.'

Since English is a global language, and its instruction is needed worldwide, teachers with fluency in English might think they hold the keys to the kingdom. The fact remains, however, that English learned as a foreign language will be an overlay to the student's native tongue. The student's native language will always embody his history, culture, customs, family, and manner. And whenever a student willingly gives up his own language, even briefly, to learn English, we must realize what a difficult sacrifice he has made.

1.Noam Cohen, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, August 6, 2006

2.Ibid