Followup on the English Issue

Judging from some comments I’ve been receiving, I see that many still don’t get my point about the impact of requiring legal immigrants to know English. Actually, I suspect that even Stephen Miller doesn’t understand this.

To make the point most clearly, suppose that Congress adds the English requirement but makes no other changes (i.e. no point system etc.). My point is that the same people would come here, with and without an English requirement. Those of you who are thinking that this means the main people who immigrate are the college educated have it wrong. The blue collar, lesser-educated people are highly motivated to immigrate and thus WILL develop the necessary level of proficiency in order to attain a green card.

As I mentioned, long ago I was an ESL instructor in San Francisco’s Chinatown. (The story of how I got there is interesting but a tangent here.) I taught mainly ESL 50, the lowest level. Actually, the lowest had been ESL 100, but so many immigrated knowing next to nothing that the city instituted an even lower course. Most were not high school graduates, and basically knew the ABCs; some didn’t even have that. But they all learned, and by the end of the semester most were fit to work in a low-level service job in which English is spoken, and I would set this level as the requirement. Had English been a requirement for their green cards, they would have picked up their English back home before they immigrated.

By the way, refugee status is not the same as a green card. Refugees may arrive under circumstances that do not give them time to learn English before coming here. But under current law, they can apply for green cards after a year in the U.S., and again that would give them time to come up to speed in English.

11 thoughts on “Followup on the English Issue

  1. Isn’t this whole thing nonsense? For immigration, sure, right, but seriously, who comes here *now* as an immigrant without learning English either before or in the first year?

    Now, as a guest worker, to pick tomatoes, is English necessary? It seems this new proposal does not cover them. Perhaps they are not immigrants, but visitors, and we will have a separate policy for that, and maybe they can earn some credit, say 3/5 of their time here, towards a green card, which will still require English. I mean citizenship already does, doesn’t it, some minor degree of understanding but not fluency, something like that?

    I’m not at all happy with this RAISE proposal, it virtually requires applicants to be fluent not so much in English but in Python or JavaScript. Isn’t that exactly what we do not need?


  2. Never forgot what my father told me 60 years ago in discussing his father (my grandfather) who was a immigrant from Sweden (~1908). My grandfather spoke Swedish and learned English. Swedish was hardly spoken in the house. My Father (born here) never learned Swedish except for a few words, phrases. He was told my his father that we’re here in the US and we’re going to speak English. .


  3. I spoke German, but my wife only spoke English when we moved to the Netherlands for a job long ago.

    Within two months, I spoke Dutch fluent enough to be considered Dutch by most everyone I met. By month three, my wife spoke only Dutch in local shops. And this was with no requirement to ever learn Dutch.

    I am in 100% agreement with you, Dr. Matloff.


  4. From experience with an extended family member (brother of my sister-in-law), I know that unless pushed an immigrant who lives in a city with a large population speaking his native language, there is little incentive to learn English. While SIL became reasonably fluent quickly, he was here many years, took ESL classes at the community college, but made little effort until recently – after about 10 years in the US.

    Now we have the opposite problem. My brother who is not proficient in Spanish will not allow it to be spoken in the home to my elementary aged nephew; it is to my nephew’s advantage to be bilingual. He is learning it in school when he could have done so more easily earlier at home. To their credit, my nephew is extremely fluent in English. His pronunciation and enunciation is superior to my granddaughter’s who is several years older. I attribute that to his mother’s efforts on her own behalf to obtain her teaching credentials.


  5. Hi Professor Matloff. I have some bilingual (English/Spanish) neighbors that sometimes pretend not to speak English in order get rid of a salesman or to not get involved in some situation. To your knowledge does this happen in the Chinese-American community?


  6. In Miami you have to speak Spanish in order to be considered for any job. You can check the online job postings if you like. It is a way of maintaining all employment in Latino hands. Some of those Cubans who don’t speak English, speak Russian very well.


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