Current Debates

English Only?


What role should English play in the process of adjusting to the United States? Should English language proficiency be a prerequisite for full inclusion in the society, as stated in the 1907 quotation from President Roosevelt at the beginning of Chapter 2? Should English be made the official language of the nation? This would mean that government business at all levels would be conducted only in English.

Some argue that “Official English” would avoid the expense and confusion of translating government documents and proceedings and would speed up assimilation, empowering newcomers to compete for jobs and position. Others argue that such policies are unnecessary, thinly veiled attempts to marginalize immigrants and continue their exclusion from the mainstream. 

What are the arguments in this debate?  How well reasoned and supported are the positions? Below are links to two diametrically opposed positions, both of which are stated with conviction and confidence and seem to be supported by evidence and research. You may find yourself agreeing with one side and then switching to the other point of view as you read through the material and think about the issues. Therefore, it is important that you evaluate the claims and counter-claims carefully and in the context of the material presented in this chapter. The “Debate Questions to Consider” will provide helpful guidelines for evaluation.


U.S. English

U.S. English, Inc. is a “citizens action group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English Language in the United States.”  The organization works to make English the official language of the U.S. and strongly opposes efforts to make Spanish an official second language

To access this selection:

  • Go to
  • Click The “Official English” tab at the top of the page and then click “Research and Statistics”
  • Scroll down the page to the “Research and Statistics” heading and click on each of the following
    • Questions and Answers about Official English (Pay particular attention to what they say about the practical results of making English the official language)
    •  Official English Claims and Realities (Note especially the responses to charges that “Official English” disparages or marginalizes immigrants)
    • Facts and Figures (There is a lot of information here. Skim the list and note any facts that seem particularly important or cogent)


Institute for Language and Education Policy (ILEP)

This organization is headed by Dr. James Crawford and advocates “research-based policies in serving English and heritage language learners” and strongly opposes “Official English” which they see as an unnecessary assault on immigrants and minority groups. Dr. Crawford argues that the new immigrant groups are learning English rapidly – perhaps in two generations as opposed to the “traditional” three generation pace – and that it is non-English languages that are in danger of disappearing.

To access this selection:

  • Go to
  • Find “English Only” in the list on the left of the home page and click “FAQ”
  • Scroll through the document, paying particular attention to the following issues:
    • Is bilingualism a threat to unity? Wouldn’t a common language promote harmony?
    • Were earlier immigrants more eager to assimilate than immigrants today?
    • Are policies to restrict non-English languages racist? Are supporters of English Only racists?
    • Do bilingual education and “total immersion” programs work? How can educational programs in other languages actually promote acculturation?



  • What assumptions are these authors making about the role of language in assimilation? What stage of Gordon’s model are they discussing? Do the authors believe that a group can adjust successfully to U.S. society without learning English?


  • What reaction might other groups (recent immigrants, African Americans, Native


  • Americans, white ethnics) have to making Spanish an official second language? What stakes would they have in this policy issue?


  • Can you identify some social class aspects of the issue of bilingualism and multilingualism? Which economic classes would benefit from an English-only policy? Which economic classes are hurt? How? Why?


  • The documents at the U.S. English web site argue that English is a global language and that non-English speakers are handicapped not only in the United States but also in the global economy. On the other hand, the documents at the ILEP website argue that proposals to make English an official language are unnecessary and insulting to immigrant groups. List the points made by each group side by side. Which argument seems more credible? What additional facts could clarify the debate? How could you collect such facts?


  • Would making Spanish an official second language threaten societal unity, as U.S. English argues? Is the “English-only” movement a disguise for prejudice and intolerance? What evidence from this chapter and from your own experience can you cite to support these contradictory statements? How could the underlying debate be resolved?