Do you really want to tell us something?

Do you really want to tell us something?


English language unites people Multiple languages divide nations



Carol Helm: Let us all be proud of our heritage, nation and state, and encourage our immigrants to become self-sustaining Americans.


Published: 2/15/2009 2:20 AM

Last Modified: 2/15/2009 4:09 AM

Copyright © 2009, World Publishing Co


Carol Helm is founder and director of the Oklahoma-based Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now (IRON).

(Please note Link takes you to the home page of the Tulsa World site, search for the article from there. The site also has a PDF file of the article. 16-02-2009)


"Passage of legislation to make English the state's official language will prevent Oklahomans from being compelled to deliver taxpayer-funded services in the 119 languages currently spoken in Oklahoma. It will eliminate enormous printing costs of ballots, registration forms, brochures and signs for cities, county and state agencies."

(Mast paragraph that appears before the article; quoted in full as fair use)


"Language unites people. Multiple languages divide nations."




Carol Helm writes an article about the financial costs and tribulations of having different languages spoken in a State. And providing services in different languages.


This is a sentiment which I share myself and have expressed in my previous posts in 2008:


Language, disuniting domains


Should we speak more than one language?



As an English teacher and professional language services provider I quite understand the problems and issues people face when having to learn English. Part of the problem is a misunderstanding of the complexities of English, some of which are created by marketing strategies of publishers and language schools. Some is just pure mythology.


At least English is not about getting the grammar right, it is about communicating with others. Most people are not interested in your grammar, but only in what you have to say.


However, there is also an underlying issue here. A desire to learn the language. And by learning I do not mean being super proficient in the language but knowing enough for example to communicate with your GP at least on basic matters.


The question immigrants have to ask themselves, and I am an expat living in Spain, is: do I want to learn enough to communicate in the language of the country I am living in? I am not one to automatically advocating going through the rigmaroles of having to take boring language classes. But a minimum functional knowledge of a local language can be achieved with little or no effort.


The question is who has the duty to care: the native speaker or the non native language speaker? Of course, cooperation is always a good strategy.


Language unites us, languages keep us divided. Do you have anything to tell us?




Tags: Language, native speakers, Language unites us languages keep us divided, English, common language


Brian Barker said...

I see that President Barack Obama wants everyone to learn a foreign language, but which one should it be?

The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish.Yet this leaves Mandarin Chinese out of the equation.

Why not teach a common neutral non-national language, in all countries, in all schools, worldwide?

An interesting video can be seen at

A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at

Lawrence said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for the comment.

The problem with President Obama is that he is far ahead of the crowd in his ideas. If you ask me, and I am glad you didn't since I don't want to put words in the President's speeches, I would interpret his comments on learning languages to really mean: if you learn a second language you, especially Americans, would be able to communicate with other peoples and other cultures and discover that we are all the same. Irrespective of colour, race, religion or whatever you care to think of that would keep us divided.

Or to put it differently, we are too slow for the President.

Of course, it makes survival sense (ie evolutionary sense) for the individual to learn a second language but this would be at the cost of the group. Since not all the members of the group would be in a position to learn all the languages that will help an individual survive.

Your suggestion to teach a single language is of course logically sound but not necessarily empirically feasible. Take this analogy.

Today some countries drive on the left (UK; Australia, Japan) and some on the right (US, Spain, Germany). It would make sense (e.g. economies of scale, ability to drive everywhere etc) to have everyone in the world drive on one side of the road. But making sense does not make it practical.

Finally, from my experience teaching English, once we put a language in the context of politics and nations we've just lost the plot. Language is about communications and a means to channel information. Anything else, is just politics and cultural divide.

The solution must surely be one of cooperation. Immigrants (like myself) must learn enough of the local language to be linguistically independent in every day needs. And society can invest in language needs to help people in very serious setting: complex medical treatment, law courts, police stations. But as some of the stories I have posted on this blog show, technology can help solve these language problems efficiently and economically.

To cooperate means to have a will to cooperate.

All the best