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they are
so little used. One of the main themes of the leading pro-English
organization in the USA, US English, is to draw attention to cases
of this kind. For example, it cites the fact that in 1994 the Internal
Revenue Service distributed half a million forms and instruction
booklets in Spanish, but only 718 were returned. It expresses
concern about the cost of a language policy in which, for in-
stance, in 2002 California was offering licence exams to drivers in
thirty-three different languages. It concludes that a better return
The future of global English
for money would come from spending it elsewhere: in improving
the English-language abilities of immigrants to the USA. There is
an important issue of empowerment here: pro-official supporters
argue that educational programmes in the immigrant’s mother
tongue are no real help, because they eliminate the incentive for
immigrants to learn English, and this keeps them in low-paid jobs.
Official status, it is asserted, would help to safeguard English as
the language of opportunity. There would also be enormous sav-
ings in efficiency, both at national and local levels, it is suggested,
if everyone had the competence and confidence to rely on English
as theirmediumof communication in official contexts. This would
also ensure that everyone would understand road signs, safety reg-
ulations at work, medicinal instructions, environmental hazard
warnings, and the like. If it is possible for someone to have such a
poor knowledge of English that they have to take a driving exam
in another language, the argument concludes, it is improbable
that they will be able to cope with the English-language demands
placed upon them by the multiplicity of road-side instructions.
� The socio-economic argument: against Anti-official support-
ers doubt whether government time and money would really be
saved, given the cost and complexity of introducing the new law.
In particular, they question whether the legislation could possi-
bly be enforced, and point to the difficulties of giving a precise
definition to the notion of ‘official’, in relation to language, and
of making a clear and consistent distinction between ‘public’ and
‘private’ discourse. For example, would a march in support of
some minority issue be a public or private event, and would it be
permitted to carry banners in languages other than English? The
fear is that the public domain will gradually erode the private one,
ultimately threatening freedom of speech. Especially in a country
where there is a great readiness to use the courts to solve disputes,
the new law would, it is felt, cause greater complications than it
would solve, andwould probably bemore expensive to implement
and maintain. It might actually end up being honoured more in
the breach than in the observance, with the legislation proving
inadequate to cope with the realities of a highly complex and
dynamic social situation. An important complication is that any
new layer of federal control would also have to be implemented
alongside the individual laws enacted by several states (twenty-
seven by 2002), which already display a great deal of variation.
The ‘all-or-nothing’ view of language support is also hotly con-
tested, using the following line of reasoning. There may indeed
be no principled way of drawing a line between one group of lan-
guages and another, but it does not follow from this that nothing
should be done to help those who speak the more widely used
languages, where relatively large numbers of people would bene-
fit from receiving a modicum of support in their mother tongue.
The fields of health and safety, such as those cited above, pro-
vide a good example of areas where much more could be done
than is available at present. Some commentators have drawn at-
tention to the different situation in other countries which have
high immigrant populations. In Germany, for example, phar-
maceutical companies have to provide instruction labels in five
Gastarbeiter (immigrant ‘guest-worker’) languages: Turkish,
Italian, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, and Greek. They are not re-
quired to carry such labels in the several other languages currently
found in Germany, such as Russian and Polish. In this view, to in-
troduce a policy banning all such labels on the grounds that some
languages cannot be represented is felt to be absurd. It is thought
to be common sense to provide safety instructions on medicine
bottles in as many languages as is practicable, to minimize the risk
to as many people as possible. It is not feasible to help everyone
who has difficulty with English, but it is not acceptable to con-
clude from this that the government should therefore help none of
Even though the moderate official-English position maintains
that it has no intention of harming ethnic identity or the natural
growth of languages other than English, anti-official supporters
claim that the withdrawal of resources and the fresh focus on
English is bound to harm the provision of services in these lan-
guages, even in areas which are supposed to be protected, such
as health care and law enforcement. It is also thought likely that
interest in foreign-language learning will further diminish, and
this is felt to be an unfortunate development at a time when the
climate in international business competitiveness and political
The future of global English
diplomacy is one where foreign-language ability is increasingly
seen as advantageous (see p. 18).
� Educational issues Several other kinds of argument are used in
the debate – in particular, to do with educational theory and prac-
tice. For example, the pro-official position is concerned that many
students in bilingual education programmes are being taught by
teachers whose own level of English is of a low quality, thus in-
culcating an inadequate command of the language, and a ‘ghetto
dialect’ that will mark the speakers as socially inferior. They point
to the shortage of adequately trained teachers, and to the many
problems in assigning students to the right kind of programme for
the right length of time, and claim that bilingual programmes are
not as efficient as English-immersion programmes in fostering the
transition to mainstream English classes. Anti-official supporters
stress the value of bilingualism as part of a child’s learning expe-
rience, observing that immigrant children are more likely to do
well in learning a second language if their own language is val-
ued by the society in which they find themselves. They stress the
potential for success of bilingual education programmes, arguing
that the best predictor of achievement in English for immigrant
children by age eighteen is the amount of time spent in bilingual
classrooms. If there are inadequacies in the educational system,
it is suggested, these are due to the failure of government to
provide enough financial support for learning resources, educa-
tional facilities, and teacher training, and to the fact that bilingual
programmes are available to only about 25 per cent of students
with limited English proficiency. The ‘official English’ bill, it is
pointed out, does virtually nothing to enable fluency in English
to be universally achieved – other than simply stating that it must
be. To evaluate the arguments on both sides would require a
detailed consideration of such matters as teaching methods, re-
search procedures, and assessment goals, and is too complex an
area to be given summary treatment in the present book.6 But it is
6 The relationship between bilingualism and education is well addressed in
Baker and Prys Jones (1998); see especially pp. 290–1 in relation to official
English movements.
important to appreciate that a great deal of time has been, and
continues to be, devoted to this issue.
Many of those who support