Will it be a disadvantage to know only English in America

Ten years ago, I moved to Japan to teach English as a second language at a rural middle school. The experience made me realize how lucky I am to be a native Speaker of English.


The combination of being American and speaking English as a mother tongue gives Americans great economic privilege.


Why is that? For the past century, English has been the lingua franca of global trade and communication. A 2013 Report from Harvard University found that English skills go hand in hand with better earnings, leading to a better quality of life. Adults and children around the world spend years and a lot of money learning English as a second language.


The problem for those of us who grew up speaking English is that we forget how easy it is for us to have English skills.


The United States is a multiracial country, with more than 350 languages spoken. But like many predominantly English-speaking countries, the United States has millions of people who grew up speaking English and only English. Moreover, the recent wave of nationalism, tough immigration policies and english-only rhetoric in the United States gives the impression that Americans are content, even proud, to enjoy the advantages of being native Speakers of English.


But given the changes taking place in America, what is the future of English? Can the country become more diverse and learning French for kids?



Monolingual America?

The United States has no official language, but English has always been Paramount.


As a multicultural nation of immigrants, the U.S. government has never promoted official languages at the federal level. The fact that English is the most widely spoken language stems in large part from British colonial history. It's worth noting, though, that Native American languages like Navajo were wiped out early in American history.


For decades, however, in a country where people only need to live in English -- as opposed to some, like Sweden, where English is not the mother tongue but English education begins as early as elementary school -- demographics are changing rapidly.


Writing for the BBC last year, William H Frey of the Brookings Institution said: "The US population is changing so dramatically and so rapidly that it will change far more than any other country over the next decade."


He was referring to the fact that by 2018 almost half of young people in the United States will be from ethnic minorities. Generation Z -- roughly defined as those born after 2000 -- is on track to be the most racially diverse generation in US history, a number driven by immigration and mixed-race relationships. In 2011, the U.S. Census reported that "the use of languages other than English in households increased by 148 percent between 1980 and 2009."


These rapid changes may be one reason why anti-immigrant sentiment is running high among many white voters in the United States. But in a country already so diverse, diversity is a genie that, once let out, cannot be put back in the bottle.


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