The disadvantages of immigrants not learning english

Written by laurie rappeport
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The disadvantages of immigrants not learning english
Not all agree that English is necessary to successfully adapt to American society. (Statue of Liberty image by sival from

Immigrants living in America must demonstrate proficiency in English if they wish to attain American citizenship. The Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey shows that the number of immigrants to the United States continues to increase, a statistic that fuels the debate. Some people feel that an immigrant can succeed as a productive American citizen without knowledge of English, but others believe that not knowing English puts the immigrants and American society at risk.


Immigrants who don't learn English may experience difficulties in their efforts to assimilate into American society. America prides itself as a "melting pot" where people from all over the world can live together peacefully and work together for the common good. Immigrants often feel alienated in America, and if they don't learn English, that sense of alienation may increase. The inability of non-English-speaking immigrants to integrate successfully into their new community can lead to long-range problems that will affect their families, workplaces and communities. In Lucy Tse's account of the state of English in the United States, as summarised in the Harvard Educational Review, she writes that even among immigrants, "English fluency is a badge of prestige, a membership card for entry into the mainstream."

Professional Advancement

New arrivals to America must learn English in order to successfully advance professionally. Learning English allows the immigrant to acquire the skills and connections needed to find a good job and advance, or, if no opportunity exists for advancement in one workplace, to find an alternate workplace where the options for better conditions and pay exist.

Effects on Children

Children whose parents don't speak English will enter the school system without the language tools that allow them to learn successfully in an English-speaking environment. If large numbers of non-English-speaking children attend school together, they will associate with each other in their native language, delaying their own acculturation and language acquisition. The need for bilingual education can severely strain schools' ability to successfully educate all students, as they must devote extensive resources to the education of the non-speaking children. Additionally, a Pennsylvania State University study has found that children of non-English-speaking parents have a higher risk of health problems and obesity, possibly, the study suggests, because the parents lack the language comprehension that would allow them to be aware of and to protect their children from unhealthy influences and practices.

Protect Rights

Immigrants who don't speak English often don't understand their rights when they must deal with American bureaucracy or law-enforcement personnel. Their lack of English skills can impede the rights of immigrants to participate in civil debate, and may prove a limiting factor in their participation in the electoral process. Immigrants with English skills can protect their rights and join public discourse about any number of issues, as well as exercise their right to vote.

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