Monday, May 16, 2011

English Mania


“English Mania”

Cathleen McCaffery
5.16.11



            Why does the world need “a common language to solve its common problems?” And why is this language English? In this TED talk, Jay Walker states that the world is going English crazy, that other countries (he focuses on China) are obsessed with teaching their children English beginning at an early age. But why does English have power over all other languages to become the universal code? He ends with this statement, backing it up with no facts or data. The comments following this talk were very interesting and spark a debate on the powers inherent in English. One comment states:
“Also, I really don't see what his argument is. Does he really believe English is somehow better-suited than other languages to be the lingua franca? (Latin had that position at one point, French did too; not for linguistic reasons, but political ones.)” - Kevin Unhammer

I would have to agree with this comment, in that English holds no superiority over any other language. As Donaldo Macedo sates in his article, “The Colonialism of the English Only Movement,” the promotion of English in favor of all other languages (especially Spanish in the U.S.) is “fundamentally political.” While Jay Walker focuses on “English Mania” overseas, Macedo’s article focuses on the English mania right here in America, which is just as strong and worrisome if not more hidden.
            Another comment in response to Walker’s TED talk states:
“I totally get why the world wants to learn English. To borrow a term of the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, English has more cultural (and linguistic) capital than other languages. The fact is, resources are not equally distributed in society among social classes. English, then, rather than being mania, presents an opportunity to gain access to resources that would normally be inaccessible (e.g., higher paying jobs, better employment, acceptance into schools, etc). In fact, I met a student from India the other day, and she told me that with English, you can conquer the world. There is an important feature of learning English that is not mentioned in the video: even though (if?) these (and others) Chinese students are able to learn the linguistic code of English, if they come to English speaking countries to further their study or make the host country their permanent home via immigration, they may find themselves unable to claim the right to speak.” - Tim Mossman

The anecdote Tim Mossman brings up about an India student is both fascinating and alarming. He states that the student said to him, in regards to learning English, “with English, you can conquer the world.” If most students in other countries, as this comment and the video suggest, dream of coming to American and ‘conquering the world,’  they are to be met with a harsh reality. And even if the success rate is higher for students from other countries, English has nothing to do with being successful in America, really.
Back to America and children growing up here, English is used as a social and political tool and weapon, disguised under the pretense of socially mobility. However, it is really xenophobia underneath all of this English Mania. The government and media support policies that work to crush any and all other voices, mainly Spanish as it is quickly becoming the main competition for English. English does not guarantee success, as some proponents of the English Only education movement sate. The supporters of this movement look past certain fundamental elements. Macedo sheds light on two of these elements in his article, stating that if English “is the most effective educational language, how can we explain why over 60 million Americans are illiterate or functionally illiterate?” Secondly, Macedo states that “if English Only education can guarantee linguistic minorities a better future, as educators like William Bennett promise, why do the majority of Black Americans, whose ancestors have been speaking English for over two hundred years, find themselves still relegated to the ghettos?” If English is so powerful, why is it that African Americans families, on average, earn less than White households? The unemployment rate for young, African American, English speaking men is over twice the rate that it is for young, white men, also presumably English speaking (http://www.kff.org/minorityhealth/upload/7541.pdf). What supporters of the English Only movement fail to focus on, or purposefully ignore, is that African Americans, a large English speaking part of the U.S. population, are grossly underserved in society in regards to education, income and jobs.
Racism is still ever present and that extends beyond Latinos or even Spanish speaking immigrants. It is merely the focus that has shifted, not the underlying issues, since policy makers fear the increasing number of Spanish speaking immigrants will somehow threaten the large hold English has on power in America. The point here is that measuring language’s values can be done but it is pointless because language is not a lone factor in deciding policies that affect an entire nation and groups of people (education, voting, etc….). As Macedo states, “this position would point to an assumption that…..we live in a classless, raceless society,” which is simply not true, and can never or has never been true. Language is intertwined with race, class, ethnicity, politics, and many other social factors that are impossible to detangle. To argue that English in particular, and language in general, promotes certain needs of students and has the ability to elevate their mental capacity is both ignorant and unfounded. And even ignorance, Macedo states, “is never innocent and is always shaped by a particular ideological predisposition.” Ignorance here, in the minds of conservative policy makers, voters and citizens is a cop-out, they are blinded by racist attitudes and beliefs. Some of these beliefs are so entrenched in a set of ideologies that they are difficult to escape but, intelligence is something that is both earned and sought after and it is the duty of citizens to maintain constant efforts in order to fight ignorance, especially when it has a detrimental effect on America (school systems, children, future etc….). 

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  13. Please remove comments at
    http://languageasculturespring11.blogspot.it/2011/05/english-mania.html
    because it is defamation.
    Thank You

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