By Mauro E. Mujica
New York State is a true melting pot. With 173 languages spoken, only California boasts more linguistic diversity.
This mix of languages, cultures and traditions is a benefit, of course. After all, the United States was built and made great by immigrants who came from different nations and learned to live and work together in pursuit of a better life. But what happens when this diverse mix of people loses the common bond allowing them to communicate?
In New York, more than 2.4 million residents are considered limited English proficient, meaning they would struggle to carry on more than a basic conversation in English. These residents account for 13.5 percent of the state’s population.
Being unable to communicate in English means being isolated – being surrounded by a wall of language barriers. It means facing difficulty when seeing a doctor, visiting a child’s school and even going to the grocery store.
Unfortunately, the state government currently adds no incentive for this limited English proficient population to learn the common, unifying language of the state – and the nation. In New York, driver’s license testing is offered in 12 languages. Documents and services are offered in an abundance of foreign languages. This, in turn, sends the message that English is optional, rather than essential, to succeed.
Census Bureau data show that individuals with the lowest English speaking ability have the lowest employment rate and earnings. Data also show that individuals who speak English “very well” earn, on average, $7,000 more than individuals who only speak English “well.”
Official English policies do not limit the languages an individual can speak; rather, they provide an added incentive for non-English speakers to learn the language of success.
Mauro E. Mujica is chairman of U.S. English Inc.