Why bother making English the National Language of the US?

Recently there has been a lot of press and criticism of Barack Obama for stating that he thinks children in public schools should all learn Spanish. In response, the United States Senate passed a bill on May 18th to make English the official National Language.

What really struck me about this seemingly pointless outrage was that English is obviously the most commonly used language throughout the United States and I really wonder how easily one could function without some understanding of English here. Maybe someone who spoke mostly one language always had the assistance of a bilingual person, they would be alright but for most knowing English is the only way to go, it seems.

I have studied Spanish before, I took three years of it in High School, but still had a really hard time with what felt like relearning the language when Sand and I went to Uruguay. At first I could not get over the fact that I had actually done pretty well in my Spanish classes, but I felt completely inept. After a while, I finally realized that the difference was that I have learned Spanish in terms of writing. I can fairly well read and write in Spanish, especially in full sentences, but this is not how anyone converses.

After getting over myself, my ego, and just sounding dumb for some time while learning how to converse in Spanish I learned to speak fairly easily and regularly got my meaning across. I was getting pretty happy with my ability in speaking Spanish in Uruguay and learned how to more effectively ask what a verb or word meant; instead of only telling someone that I did not understand I would say that I did not know that word or verb.

Happily, Sand and I spoke in Spanish sometimes, until we got back to the United States. Here I noticed that probably the reason I never learned to converse in Spanish is because everyone I know speaks English and most do not know Spanish well. I soon realized that if I wanted to hang onto any of the Spanish I had learned while in Uruguay, I had better do some studying on my own to retain it.

Since getting back to the US, I have started doing certain things to try to keep some Spanish in my head:

1. I have started using Rosetta stone each night. I haven’t used this program before, but am really enjoying it. I can choose how often I want to go through the exercises and have chosen to use the exercises where it says something and I choose the matching picture (because I had so much trouble with hearing and understand people).

2. I’m also planning on going to Spanish Conversation classes at my University, Elon University to help keep myself thinking in Spanish.

3. Continue hanging out with Sand and speaking in Spanish sometimes when we are together. Also, translating English phrases into Spanish and looking up the words that I don’t know in the dictionary.

4. I know this one doesn’t have a lot to do with Spanish, but I’m going to sign up for more French classes in the fall. I have taken one semester already, but just tried to get through it, not necessarily learn the language. I want to learn French more throughly as well as Spanish.

While we were abroad, I felt so embarrassed when I needed someone who had just “picked up English” in their travels to translate for me because I pretty much only know English. I think one of the faults with most Americans is that we don’t know how to converse in languages other than English. But really, the worst part about it is that there is no need to learn if you stay within the country because nearly every single person you run in to will know English.

I realized while abroad that not everyone knows English and that I feel one of the best ways to learn other languages is to simply expose yourself to it. This is part of why many Americans only know English; we are not regularly exposed to other languages, so there is no need or incentive to learn others. I have decided not to be like many other Americans, and really want to learn some other languages. Currently I’m focusing on Spanish and French, but someday I’ll expand that range. If you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to email or leave a comment. I really feel like we all should know more than just English, even if many Americans are outraged at Barack Obama for suggesting this education be mandatory.