There are plenty who would say that immigrants should be required to learn English for, shall we say, less than culturally sensitive reasons. Leaving those questionable reasons aside, however, there are actually some points worth considering when it comes to the question of whether or not people who would like to live in an English-speaking country should learn English.
Understanding English in a predominantly English-speaking country allows immigrants to get better-paying jobs.
According to the Census Bureau, about 5 million native-born Americans have limited English skills. An additional 20 million foreign-born US residents can’t speak English “very well.” This lack of facility with English is one of the major reasons many immigrants turn to jobs that don’t require extensive language skills—migrant work, for instance—and that means far lower pay than they need to take care of themselves and their families.
Not learning English can lead to social isolation.
Immigrants often form separate communities more easily navigated by their native languages even after they’ve moved to an English-speaking country. While maintaining one’s culture of origin is important, doing it to the exclusion of all else can create tension and limited opportunities to fully benefit from a new country and all it has to offer.
Lack of engagement with an adopted culture can lead to violence and extremism.
UK Labor MP Chuka Umunna noted that “the Government has a duty to address the lack of integration of immigrants….Failing to do so has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate to exploit.” If an immigrant doesn’t feel like a fully integrated member of their new society, it’s easier for them to be swayed by those promoting terrorism and other violent behavior. Learning the predominantly spoken language is one way to create a sense of connection and ownership when it comes to community.
Learning English doesn’t have to mean completely abandoning the traditions and languages of one’s country of birth. But it is a vital way to truly become part of a new community.