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By James Archer

Do you think all immigrants should have to speak English?

During my life, I have heard a lot of people complain about hearing a message on the phone saying “Press 2 for Spanish.” I’ve heard people say, “They’re in America, they should learn English.”

My own sainted mother was one of those people that resented hearing the “Press 2 for Spanish” phrase. Now you have to know – my Mom was a truly good person. She helped SO many people, of all races and colors, and religions. But she just had this idea in her head about   America, and English.

Frankly, I just don’t understand my Mom’s attitude.

Here’s some background. My Father was in the Air Force. I was born in Germany, and our family lived in Italy when I was in high school. My Mom was a professional bargain hunter. Mom travelled all over the north of Italy buying stuff from little shops at incredible discounts. Guess what. She didn’t do her negotiations in Italian. Sure, sometimes she had to use hand signals, or gestures, to communicate. But mostly she expected the little shop keepers to speak English. And mostly, she was not disappointed.

Venice, Italy 2006

Why would we expect shop keepers in Italy to speak English, but be annoyed that shops here market in Spanish?

News Flash – it isn’t the Spanish speakers that are driving this train – it’s the corporations that want to market to them. I know from our ShareLingo classes here in Denver that people really do want to learn and practice English. They just need the opportunity and time to make it happen.

According to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The US Hispanic Market is approaching $1.5 Trillion. That’s a big number, and of course companies like Coke, McDonalds, Comcast, Home Depot, and so many others want to sell to that market.

And, did you know that, according to an article in The Guardian, The United States is the second biggest Spanish speaking country in the world, behind only Mexico? Yep, we have more Spanish speakers than Spain!

Col. Jim and Mrs. Shirley Archer

Personally, I am jealous of all the countries in which the citizens are encouraged to speak multiple languages – which, by the way, seems to me to be just about every country in the world except ours. I’m sure you’ve heard how amazing it is that Europeans think nothing of speaking 3 or 4 languages.

So, back to the point. There are lots of posts, blogs, articles, and news about this topic online. In one that I found, it is even the basis for a Civics Class assignment in the Global Schools Project. High school students are being asked to write essays on how they feel about this topic.


So how about weighing in? Which side of this debate are you on? And Why? Do you feel like it’s wrong for US companies to market, or offer help, in languages other than English?

Do you think we should force all immigrants to speak English?

Or do you feel, as I do, that it’s a wonderful opportunity for America to finally become bilingual? Has your view changed at all in the past 10 or 15 years?

And if you are OK with companies reaching out to Latinos (and other immigrants) in other languages, what about government? This would include places like courtrooms, schools, the DMV, etc. Do you feel like it’s ok for tax dollars to be spent producing materials in other languages? Or does that cross the line?


About ShareLingo
The ShareLingo concept is really simple. Instead of learning from a white board or a computer, we help English learners meet Spanish learners for face-to-face practice together. A bilingual facilitator uses our method and materials to keep things moving so you are never bored. We have language learning solutions for individuals, businesses, non-profits, and schools. Learn more at

Post Author: James Archer

James Archer is the founders of The ShareLingo Project - a Social Enterprise that connects English and Spanish speakers for face-to-face practice. This model breaks down both linguistic and cultural barriers for individuals, businesses, and non-profits.

2 Replies to “For English, press 1. Para Español, marque número 2.”

  1. Hi,
    Just wanted to day thank you for opening up my ignorant mind. I grew up in Illinois but moved to San Antonio, TX at age 13, It was a culture shock. I have a lot of Latino friends and married one at one time. My daughter’s are bilingual and I know Spanish. I just feel that people coming here wanting the America way of life should want to learn English. But we make it to easy for them not to. So, they figure why should they, and who cares, and they have half the channels on T.V. that we do, and more.
    Thanks. Mrs. Emden

    1. Thank you for your comment Mrs. Emden. It’s great that you’ve learned Spanish! I’m sure you can help a lot of immigrants learn more English! Even if they have Spanish TV and other services, I know that the majority DO want to learn English. Just like if we move to a Spanish speaking country.

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