5.0 Do Immigrants Even Want to Learn English?

By admin | Blogs

Dec 26

On Facebook today, Another person (Peggy) said:  This is America. Speak English!

(Do you notice the irony in the statement in the image? Your versus You're?)

My response to this idea is - ABSOLUTELY - let's help all the immigrants have an opportunity to speak English! And let's also learn a second (or third) language ourselves.

So I thought I would just post a copy of Chapter 5 of my book, Beyond Words, because it outlines my longer response to this statement pretty well.

5.0 Do Immigrants Even Want to Learn English?


“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Charles Darwin


You’re in America. Speak English!”

Why do people say this?

No, really, I want to know. Why?


If you were in Paris
visiting the Eiffel Tower,
and you called your MOM—
would you talk to her in French?


If someone is speaking in another language, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t speak English. It just means that they CAN speak another language.

Last night, a good friend of mine was talking to her Mom. In Cantonese. Someone passing by said something stupid: “You’re in America. Speak English.” See the irony? He’s talking to someone in English telling them to learn English. If she was speaking in Cantonese, shouldn’t he have said that in Cantonese?

Anyway, this friend of mine is SUPER smart. She went to the University of Denver, which is a prestigious school. She majored in marketing, and now she’s a PR and marketing GURU.


She speaks English perfectly.


She just happened to be talking to her Mom.

So, to the people who say, “You’re in America. Speak English,” I have something to say—


I want your help.


That’s probably not what you expected.

Maybe you expected me to say something mean, like:


“If you don’t speak Cherokee, or Navajo, or one of the other 144 languages that Indigenous People still speak in this country, meaning, you’re not Native American, then you need to go back to wherever your ancestors came from.”


But that’s not what I’m saying.


Dear Mr./Mrs. “You’re in America. Speak English,”

I need your help.


I think we have some common ground. Because like you, I believe that everyone in America should have an opportunity to speak English. So they can easily talk to their doctors, the police, and their children’s teachers. So they can understand our culture. So they can make and buy our products and services.

That’s where you come in.

Since there is no magic pill to learn English, they need someone to practice with.

That’s you.

I’m asking you to come and help someone practice English. Simple. I’ll provide the materials. I’ll teach you how to teach them.

As a bonus, if you want to learn Spanish at the same time, an immigrant can teach you, and I can help with that too. You can learn more about other cultures. Learn more about the world.

You can be smarter. Did you know that people who speak more than one language are literally smarter than people who only speak one? That’s because speaking a second language changes your brain. It creates more synapses—those connections inside your brain that help you think and remember. You can think about problems in more than one way.

But even if you don’t want that—even if you don’t want to know another language, or know more about other cultures, or know more about the world—even if you don’t want to help ME—even if you choose ignorance over education—that’s OKAY, because there is another option you can do instead.

You can go down to any community center, school, nonprofit, or church that has an ESL program—ESL is “English as a Second Language”—and you can volunteer to help someone practice English.

If you truly believe that everyone in America should be able to speak English, it would be great if you actually help them do that.

But know this, when you teach them, you will get to know them as people. You will probably become friends with them.

And you may find yourself saying,

“Welcome to America. I can help you you learn English.”

And you may find yourself thinking,

You’re in America.

Speak English.

. . . Any Language You Want.

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