Heritage Languages in America: Tapping a 'Hidden' Resource,
By James Crawford

In a rational world, the philosophy known as English Plus would put a quick end to campaigns for English Only. The logic is overwhelming: Why should any nation limit its horizons to a single language when the global economy rewards those who can adapt to diversity? Why choose isolation from other cultures in a time of change that brings not only opportunities but dangers as well? Why pass laws to repress ‘bilingualism,’ a resource that our competitors are trying to conserve and exploit?

These questions are especially relevant for the United States, where generations of monolingual complacency have left us behind most of the world when it comes to foreign-language skills. Such ignorance fosters parochialism, which encourages intolerance, which breeds conflict and limits cooperation. It is a cycle that imperils our vital interests not only in trade and security abroad but also in democracy and race relations at home.

Fortunately, there is a solution close at hand. Immigrants are importing most of the world languages we need, free of charge. Native Americans, by struggling to keep their linguistic heritage alive, are preserving cultural treasures that would otherwise be lost. To make the most of such gifts, we merely need to encourage their development, especially among children. Naturally, our schools must ensure that all students achieve proficiency in the national language. But English is no longer enough. America needs English, plus other languages.

All of this makes eminent good sense. The philosophy has been endorsed by editorial writers, state legislatures, members of Congress and presidential candidates. It articulates a comprehensive, equitable and humane language policy. Unfortunately, it has done little thus far to halt the march of language restrictionist legislation, which has now been passed in more than 20 states and numerous localities.

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