Welcome to the second in a six-piece series on the history and facts behind American immigration. Each week, Liberty Nation author Kelli Ballard will examine a contentious issue related to today’s hottest topic. In part one, we looked at the formation of the US, from the indigenous people to such bold politicians of today as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
Immigrants have contributed a lot to the United States: culture, art, music, skills, and, of course, language. There are probably very few areas in the US where one could go for a length of time without hearing at least one conversation in a vernacular other than English. In such a diverse nation, populated with peoples from all over the world and from different nationalities, it’s no wonder we have so many different languages in play here. But what happens when a foreign dialect encroaches on and takes over our communications?
Top Foreign Languages Spoken in the US
There are too many different languages spoken in the US to list, so we’ll go with a few from the top ten. English, of course, is number one, but next on the list, and growing exponentially, is Spanish. Approximately 53 million people living in the United States speak Spanish: 11.6 million are bilingual speakers and 41 million are native Spanish speakers.
It might be surprising to some that number nine on the list is Arabic. There are more than 900,000 speakers, with the most heavily concentrated areas in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.
Coming in at number ten is Russian. There are approximately 825,000 Russian speakers living in the US, mostly residing in Alaska, California, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Others in the top ten include Chinese, French, German, Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese.
If you live in a state with a high concentration of a foreign language, then you’ve likely experienced some of the issues that develop as an alien dialect supersedes the native tongue.
Will Spanish Become Our Nation’s Language?
Second only to Mexico, the US has the highest number of Spanish speakers, more than Spain (47 million) or Colombia (48 million). In fact, it’s estimated that there will be 138 million Spanish speakers in the US by 2050, which would make us the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. One major issue is the number of people who are not bilingual and cannot speak English, or do so with high limitations, also known as limited-English proficient (LEP) speakers. Spanish speakers account for 64% (16.2 million) of the country’s total LEP population.
If you happen to live in one of the top ten states where Spanish is prevalent, then you understand the challenges it poses. Let’s take a look at the states with the highest population of Spanish-speakers:
- Colorado: 11.9% population with 597,000 Spanish speakers.
- Illinois: 13.2% population with 1.60 million Spanish speakers.
- New York: 15% population with 2.79 million Spanish speakers.
- New Jersey: 15.9% population with 1.34 million Spanish speakers.
- Arizona: 20.4% population with 1.29 million Spanish speakers.
- Florida: 20.9 % population with 3.94 million Spanish speakers.
- Nevada: 21.1% population with 562,000 Spanish speakers.
- New Mexico: 28% population with 546,000 Spanish speakers.
- California: 28.8% population with 10.4 million Spanish speakers.
- Texas: 29.5% population with 7.37 million Spanish speakers.
Hola Not Hello
Because so many are LEPs, states have to make adjustments for them, which affects other residents. Health care is one illustration. For example, when I used to live in California’s Central Valley, I had a broken elbow and had to see a specialist that was in town only two days a week. By the time I got in, the bone had set, and it’s now permanently damaged. Arriving promptly for my appointment, I still had to wait an extra three hours past my scheduled time because, as the nurse told me, they had to take patients with interpreters first. As a reporter, I worked for a newspaper in the Golden State’s agricultural area and covered city council meetings. I can’t count how many times residents would address the council via a translator and say, “I’ve been here 20 years,” but still couldn’t speak English.
“The state [California] now has 22 counties where at least one-third of school-age children speak Spanish, including 46 percent of children in Los Angeles, 60 percent in Monterey, and 71 percent in Imperial County. The same figure rises to over 80 percent in parts of southern Texas and Arizona. Even Kansas and Nebraska—hardly traditional immigrant destinations—now have counties where over half the school-age children speak Spanish at home.”
Teachers are stressed, classrooms are overcrowded, and students who are not able to speak English just make these issues worse. When I was in college, a friend of mine started a crusade to stop teachers from segregating students by the language they spoke. She said she went to pick up her son in elementary school only to see that teachers were putting English-speaking children on one side of the room with coloring books and crayons while they tried to help Spanish-speaking students learn English.
In areas where there are high concentrations of another dialect, it can be difficult to find work if you are not bilingual. Because of so many LEPs, employers must hire employees who can communicate effectively with their customers.
It is a real problem, but it shouldn’t be. Immigrants are supposed to be able to speak and understand English before becoming a citizen. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to illegal immigrants, but still, most cities and states offer free language classes that so many do not use to their advantage.
While immigrants are what made this country, and have a lot to offer when they come here legally, should we allow our nation’s language to be changed? If you live in one of these states, you probably think English already has nearly been usurped, and it won’t be long before Spanish will be a requirement. You’ll say “hola” instead of “hello.”