January 21, 2005


Wednesday's New York Times (I'm a bit behind in my reading) has an article by Nina Bernstein in the New York section called `Problems With Speaking English Multiply In a Decade'. The burden of the article is that more and more New Yorkers don't speak or write English, mostly because they arrived in this country as adult immigrants, and the author emphasizes that English language classes are desperately scarce in Queens and Brooklyn, where most of the non-English-speaking immigrants live. By contrast, there are lots of centers elsewhere in the city devoted to teaching English to adult immigrants. Most notably, Manhattan, with a much, much smaller population of recent immigrants, has 80 English-as-a-second-language programs, while Queens has only 14.

What makes these figures especially striking is that a major argument of the English-only folks, who advocate eliminating all other languages from all official government documents (including applications for social services like Medicare), is that rigorous measures must be taken to require immigrants to learn English so that they won't keep refusing to abandon their native languages in favor of English. Bernstein's article highlights a fundamental flaw in this English-only position: if you don't speak English, and if you are surrounded by other people who don't speak English, then you need English classes in order to learn English. And those classes are simply not available to very large numbers of immigrants, in New York and elsewhere in the country.

Posted by Sally Thomason at January 21, 2005 11:52 AM