Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Is English Only Making Us Stupid?

Research shows that there are cognitive advantages to bilingualism.  Speaking more than one language makes you smarter.  Neuroscientists are examining the ways in which strengthening particular regions of the brain that are connected with specific functions benefits the working of the general area and therefore the ability to carry out tasks beyond that immediate function.  Others consider the ability to think through multiple sets of concepts and being able to see things from different perspectives and the advantages that brings.

So, when I hear about English only movements and proposed legislation, it makes me wonder whether such positions are designed to make us dumber.  There has always been a deep anti-intellectualism in this country, especially from those with strong nationalist leanings and English only is clearly based on a desire to claim ownership of the culture for a specific group.  English only tends to be championed by folks who are not the most proficient speakers of English, are based on biases against certain groups, and come with a deep reticence to entertain a global perspective and the insights that come with thinking differently.

This is a nation of immigrants.  Virtually all of us come from ancestors who spoke a different language. Yet, the bilingualism is often lost on the third generation.  The cognitive boost of bilingualism is an advantage that recent immigrants have over those who have been in the country for generations.  There is certainly an advantage to being raised in a culture -- knowledge of how things work, what can be done, and the ability to pick up subtleties.  Is English Only an attempt to keep newer immigrants from having an advantage of their own?

People who speak multiple languages are either foreigners or liberal elites, both of whom are groups to be feared and opposed.  Joe Six-pack is also Joe One-language.  Seeing Russia from your front porch makes you tough and savvy, but being able to speak Russian makes you someone whose liberal indoctrination, also known as education, makes you less able to make reasonable decisions.  Is English only just closed-minded and exclusionary or is it meant to retard social intelligence?