Tuesday, February 1, 2011
"English-Only" in Minnesota?
Yesterday a bill was introduced in the Minnesota Senate that would make English the official language of Minnesota. I read the entire bill—the link to it is here: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0175.0.html&session=ls87.
According to the Star Tribune story, “the bill would make it illegal for the state to require documents, proceedings or other state activities to be in a non-English language. Exceptions are made for defending criminal defendants and protecting "the public health or safety."
I’m against this bill. I spoke out last summer when the Lino Lakes City Council passed a resolution for making English the language of the City. The blog I wrote about that issue can be found here: http://chainlink-chainoflakesncd.blogspot.com/2010/07/letter-to-editor-regarding-english-only.html
One challenge of this issue is it generates more heat than light. Already over 400 comments have been made on the Strib web site in response to the story. Many of these comments are based on strong emotions
Let me do my best to share thoughtfully why this bill is a very bad idea.
I am all for people speaking English. I think a country needs a common language. I have never been convinced that making a law saying that English is the language of the state will compel people to speak English. A better way for people to speak English would be to fund and make more accessible ESL classes; however this bill doesn’t do that. Instead it says that documents of the state have to be printed only in English.
Sponsors of the bill say that making English the official language of the state will save the State money; however no figures were shared about the amount of money that will be saved.
The “savings money” argument is a red herring. The same argument was used by the Lino Lakes City Council last summer to justify the need to make English the official language of the City. Despite the claim, no figures were ever shared to show how much the City was paying for translation costs or how much money would be saved in the future. I still haven’t seen any cost figures.
In my work with people who don’t speak English I have never met a person who didn’t want to learn English. Most people who don’t speak English are adults; many of these adults have children who do speak English. Over time most do learn English
The question I have for supporters of this bill is:
• What problem is this bill going to solve?
• How many people in the state of Minnesota can’t speak English?
• What are the estimates of non-English speaking people who will speak English because of this bill?
• What are the present costs of translating documents into non-English languages?
I appeal to both sides of this issue to use facts and logic in this argument. It is way too easy for supporters to fall into the rhetoric of “if you’re going to live in America, you have to speak English, and it is way too easy for detractors of this bill to use the racism card. Neither approach is helpful.
I’m not convinced that this bill or approach is going to help more people speak English. I’m open to being convinced that I’m wrong—but only if I see verifiable facts. Until then, I will continue to speak out against an “English-only” bill.