Can`t Learn Or Won`t Learn? Either Way, Aliens Won`t Be Speaking English
Every time I watch President George W. Bush, Senator
John McCain or Senator Edward M. Kennedy predict
that newly-amnestied aliens
will “learn English“, such is my frustration
that I feel like throwing something at my television.
Bush and his cronies must be fully aware that fluency—or even
basic conversational skills—is not in the offing for
recently-arrived illegal aliens. In fact, I have
witnessed first hand that
many aliens who have been in the U.S. for
more than two decades cannot even
answer simple questions like, for example, “Where do you
As someone who has spent
twenty years trying to teach immigrants English—in vain, 99
percent of the time—I promise you that
language assimilation is not on the verge of happening no
matter what carrot is dangled in front of them.
bilingual Canada, English-speaking civil servants are
frequently unable to
learn French, even though it
costs them promotions, and
national Anglo politicians have been unable to learn French
even though it has
cost them the Prime Ministership.]
My equally unsuccessful colleagues and I have spent
considerable time beating ourselves up over what we perceived as
our collective failures. After all, if your job is teaching
English and no one is learning, what other conclusion can you
draw other than you`re lousy at your job?
But—thankfully—recent research uncovered that ESL teachers
need not be so hard on themselves. According to two economists
at prominent academic institutions, no one can teach non-English
speakers for the simplest of reasons. Save for the rare
exception, they cannot learn! [Legislate
Learning English? If Only It Were So Easy, By
Austan Goolsbee, New York Times, June 22, 2006]
In their study,
“Language Skills and Earnings: Evidence from Childhood
Immigrants" University of Chicago Business School
Professor Hoyt Bleakley and University of Houston professor
Aimee Chin found that beyond “the critical learning age
of 11 or 12” it is “difficult” to become fluent in a
And even if some level of fluency is reached among the
English learners, most will speak with a heavy accent.
The study`s significance is obvious to everyone—except Bush
and his open borders gang.
Among the 20 million aliens who may qualify for amnesty, the
vast majority are adults beyond the “critical learning age.”
They are therefore unlikely English learners and hence will
most certainly be locked into low-paying jobs and a life of
Couple their ages with their mostly indifferent attitude
toward learning English, and the conclusion is inescapable. No
matter what is legislated, amnestied aliens either cannot or
will not learn English.
Another societal fall-out that evolves from the huge
contingent non-English speakers is the negative impact on their
U.S. born children.
In their follow up study published by the University of
California, San Diego`s Center for Comparative Immigration
Studies, “What Holds Back the Second Generation? The
Intergenerational Transmission of Language Human Capital Among
Bleakley and Chin found that children whose parents were
older (than 12) when they arrived in the U.S. do not speak
English well and perform much worse in school than
English-speaking children. They are more likely to go to
preschool and much more likely to drop out of high school.
Not even expensive taxpayer funded
after-school intervention programs can alter the future for
most children born into non-English speaking households. A
former teacher at a highly-diverse primary school in
Stockton, California told me that if children do not develop
basic reading skills in the first grade, catching up in the
second grade or beyond is improbable.
Given that so many non-English speaking children fall behind
in school from the first grade on, it is little wonder that they
don`t graduate from high school.
Even though academic research vindicates me, the stiff
resistance to acquiring language skills remains frustrating.
And the old, “They`re not learning; the
fault is yours” is maddening.
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA.) who, in response to Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger`s suggestion that
Mexicans turn off Spanish television and focus on English,
said that “immigrants” would like to enroll in ESL
classes but long lines and up to a three year wait prevents them
from doing so.[“Hispanic
Leaders Blast Schwarzenegger`s Advice To Turn Off Spanish T.V.,”
Fox News, June 15, 2007)
My questions to
- Where are the long lines and the
three-year waits? At the
Lodi Adult School, where I teach, and at every other
California school that I am aware of there are no lines and
- Did you graduate from the University
of California, Berkeley, and
U.C.L.A. law school without speaking English? Why not
promote the values of English language that were so helpful
- Why didn`t you, as a former ESL
teacher, support Schwarzenegger and endorse his obviously
sound advice? Aliens are more likely to listen to you than
For anyone who wants to learn English, the opportunities,
both in the classroom and outside it, are multiple.
Neither Bush nor Schwarzenegger can force learning upon the
The pity is that the eagerness that the aliens famously
display to come to the U.S. for a “better
life” doesn`t include an equally-urgent desire to take
the first step toward becoming Americans by learning English.
Joe Guzzardi [e-mail
him] is the Editor of VDARE.COM Letters to the Editor.
In addition, he is an English teacher at the Lodi Adult School and has
a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive