English only: Today! Tomorrow! ˇSiempre!
Detroit  Free Press
May 22, 2006

"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English." -- President George W. Bush, April 28 "In pivotal states, he [Bush] would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parties, sometimes joining in singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in Spanish, sometimes partying with a 'Viva Bush' mariachi band flown in from Texas." -- Author Kevin Phillips, recalling Bush's first presidential campaign in "American Dynasty" Let me say right off the bat that I don't want anybody reading this column in any language but English.

English is what I write in, more or less, and I can't be responsible for what might happen if translators unfamiliar with standard idioms such as "right off the bat" get involved.

Decent, hard-working American readers know exactly what "right off the bat" means. But let some foreigner get hold of that phrase, and the next thing you know you've got a flying nocturnal mammal trying to land in your hair. Many bats are rabid, so you see where this bilingual nonsense can lead.

A lot of decent, hard-working American lawmakers, including state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, are sponsoring legislation to make English our official language, and I say more power to them.

For one thing, it's hard to think of another language that would work in such a showcase position. You can debate whether the robin or the Kirtland's warbler would serve us better as Michigan's official bird, but when it comes to an official language, English is pretty much the only one you'd want to consider.

Imagine how much harder it would be to select a Medicare prescription plan if all the descriptions were printed in, say, Farsi. (OK -- so maybe it wouldn't be that much harder. But it wouldn't help.) Hoogendyk's bill, which won easy passage in the state House of Representatives last week, would make it clear that state agencies have no obligation to publish written materials in any language but English.

But if we're serious about making English our official language, I think everyone should be required to speak English whenever they're on U.S. soil, especially if they're using cell phones to plan a terrorist attack.

A lot of people argue that forbidding the use of other languages would discriminate against people who emigrate here from other countries. But unless we pass a law requiring immigrants to speak English, they'll never be able to compete in a global economy.

Just look at India, where the national language is Hindi. Many Indians are technically skilled, but in the absence of laws mandating the use of English, even the best-educated Indians have been utterly unable to compete for ...

OK, so maybe that's not the best example. Some Indians do compete successfully, and a lot of them speak better English than I do.

But that's exactly my point. Immigrants are going to have to speak our country's official language pretty darn fluently if they're going to compete with Indians, Mexicans and Chinese citizens for the best American jobs. Let's do this thing for them.

Contact BRIAN DICKERSON at 248-351-3697 or dicker@freepress.com. Copyright © 2006 Detroit Free Press Inc.