The value of a multilingual America

In response to the Dec. 3 Opinion piece "Keep the US English speaking": Although John Hewko correctly points out the failures of bilingual education in America, Mr. Hewko's general assessment that English-only policies are necessary for national unity mischaracterizes the nature of American culture and the role of language in shaping it.

His claim that English has always been the language of discourse in America ignores the fact that this has always been a multilingual society. Spanish was the first European language spoken in North America, and the US is home to millions of native-born Americans whose first and primary language is Spanish.

Hewko's statement that history is rife with societies torn apart by linguistic differences has little basis in fact. Some of the most vicious ethnic conflicts of recent history - ranging from Northern Ireland to South Asia - have not been over language. The Swiss, with their three official languages, aren't at each other's throats and India, with its few dozen official languages, is a stable democracy occasionally marred by religious-based violence.

Very few would dispute the necessity of English to be successful in American society, but please don't diminish the importance of this country's multilingual heritage.
David Pacheco
Bronx, N.Y.

Regarding "Keep the US English speaking": As a voter in Colorado, I must respond to the allegation that "Colorado missed the boat." It is necessary to dig deeper than election result numbers to understand why the English-only initiative failed to garner majority support, because most voters in Colorado would reject a mandate for bilingual education. The problem didn't involve English-only education, but the initiative itself.

Most schools in Colorado already run an English immersion program. It's redundant and costly to support this initiative. Education funds in our state are at a premium; we don't need more programs either to fund or to watchdog. Those funds should go toward existing class instruction and support.
Kimberlee Young
Colorado Springs, Col.

In response to "Keep the US English speaking": Mr. Hewko's words, "English can be learned without destroying diversity," speak volumes of wisdom. All states should take his message to heart. The sooner we integrate, the less burden we are. Learning the language is a small price to pay considering the doors that are open to Americans.
Maria T. Cabrera
Needham, Mass.

Regarding "Keep the US English speaking": Mr. Hewko trots out the standard tales of immigrant ancestors pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and claims that bilingual education slows acquisition of English by immigrants.

But where is the evidence? It is time to stop addressing this issue with anecdotes and speculation; it doesn't matter how much midnight oil the Ukrainian, Greek, Italian, and Swedish ancestors burned to learn the language of their adopted country, or whether they complained.

The question at hand - is bilingual education effective - remains unanswered. Neither Hewko's law degree nor his status as a child of immigrants qualifies him to answer.
Robert Kurtz
West Lafayette, Ind.Dept. of Audiology and Speech Sciences

Purdue University

Introverts dislike small talk, not people

Thank you for the Nov. 29 Opinion piece "An introvert yearns for a comfortable silence": Toni Weingarten relieves me of feeling like an odd person at crowd gatherings larger than five people. We introverts like people, we just don't have a knack for small talk.
Guin Harwood-Shaw

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number.

Mail letters to 'Readers Write,' and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.