Not Quite Fluent

In America, we speak English…or do we? (Caution: mind-blowing stats are within)

There are many things that drive me absolutely crazy. One of them is people who feel the need to turn on every light in the house at 11:00 AM. Another is people who fish for compliments. But in terms of language learning, my biggest pet peeve is when people say “Speak English, you’re in America”.

Now, I’m not a person who is too keen on pity. But when I think about the single Latina mother struggling to raise her kids even though she is legally residing in America, I can’t help but ponder why her native language is something to be ashamed of.

Something that most people don’t know is that, unlike most other countries in the world, the United States of America has no official language. People are often surprised by that because (depending on what part of the country you live in) practically everything is in English. In more diverse areas of the country, signs may include Spanish or even French. But despite the lack of language diversity in our surroundings, the idea that English is the only American language is completely untrue.

Of course, there are reasons why certain people might want to speak English while they are here. If you’re a French chef trying to get a job in an American kitchen, it’s your responsibility to adapt and learn English. If you’re a Chinese student here on foreign exchange, speaking English is a huge part of the educational experience. I experienced this firsthand this summer while volunteering with my school’s international program. As a general rule, kids who speak better English are able to make more friends and achieve higher grades in every¬†class. For them, English is just another part of the experience.¬†But a lot of the time, such as the Latina mother I mentioned earlier, English is not as essential nor should it be the expectation.

But enough of my two cents–let’s take a look at the mind-blowing stats I promised.

Over 60 million people in the United States speak a language other than English at home.

37 million of these people speak Spanish.

States with the most Spanish speakers include, not surprisingly, California, Texas, and New Mexico.

However, Illinois and Colorado also make it into the top ten.

The least Hispanic state? Maine, with only 0.22% of the population speaking Spanish at home.

230 different languages are spoken in the U.S.

143 of these are dying languages.



Now you know a little bit more about why I hate that little saying. In a lot of cases, it is important for people to learn English. But that doesn’t mean we need to disregard all other languages! Our linguistic diversity is a lasting mark of our status as the great melting pot. Let’s not squander it. ;P




Sources:

Spanish Speaking State Statistics


http://www.ethnologue.com/country/US
https://www.census.gov/topics/population/language-use/surveys.html


Sydney Sauer • August 31, 2016


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