Should English be the only language in the United States?

Wei Jiang

Wei Jiang

By Wei Jiang
SYLP student

As an immigrant from China, I work at a retirement home in Bothell
About a month ago, I went to work as I normally did. When I walked into the building, I felt like there was something different. The floor leader, who usually smiled at everyone and said hi, was really quiet, and I couldn’t spot a smile on her face.

So I went to ask her what had happened. She told me that her employer made her sign a paper that forbade her from speaking Spanish during work hours. If she did, she would get fired. She wanted to know why she was the only one told this and felt it was unfair and discriminatory.

When I heard this, I thought it wouldn’t affect me. But the next day, all the employees had a meeting before we started work about only speaking English at work. The employer handed a paper for everybody to sign in order to continue working at the retirement home. That was when I understood how the floor leader was feeling earlier.

In the end, I signed the paper because I didn’t want to lose this job during the downturn of the economy. Even though it would be good for everyone to learn English and speak it well, the United States is a country that promotes freedom of speech. Many people oppose the English-only law because they feel more comfortable having the option to speak their own language.

Ever since then, I have been bothered about this situation. I have a lot of questions in my mind, and I can’t work as well as I usually do. My coworkers wondered if it was legal to make us sign the paper. Is this acceptable? What other options do we have if we don’t sign this paper?

I am the kind of person who has to find an answer before I am able to concentrate on other things.

I went to Google and found government pages to see if this is legal. After researching, I found out that there are more cases about this than I thought. There are too many different situations about the topic, and some of them are legal and some are not. Overall, I found out that it is unconstitutional to make employees speak only English at work.

I personally understand why the United States dictates that all forms of official communication (written and verbal) should be in proper English. English is the leading world language for science, technology, and international business.

However, we live in a country with freedom of speech, and I think that we should have the freedom to speak our native language whenever we feel like it, either at work or at school.

Some immigrants came to the United States because of this freedom, and not everybody speaks perfect English. ♦

Wei Jiang can be reached at

(The stories in this issue are written by SYLP students, not Northwest Asian Weekly staff.  Opinions herein do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the newspaper.)

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3 Responses to “Should English be the only language in the United States?”

  1. Megatron says:

    You will learn in time that you will not be able to do a lot of things at work that you may normally do.

    If your employer requires you to wear a green vest, then you must where a green vest. You may hate green vests, but that is the employer’s decision. Your employer has decided English is the language to be spoken because that is what they and their customers are comfortable with. It may surprise you, but in an environment where people MUST interact, and be aware of the people around them, that they like to know what they are saying. People feel uncomfortable when someone talking around them do not know what they are saying. This is more so in a retirement home… someone’s home.

    This is not illegal.
    Please take this into consideration before screaming you have lost your freedom of speech.

    I’m sure less freedoms would be available to you in your home country.

    Outside of your duties to your employer, the one paying you to do their work and follow their rules, please feel free to do anything within the bounds of law.

  2. William Turnbull. says:

    As an immigrant from China, how would you feel if you were at work in say Peking China and two employees from Guangzhou were speaking Cantonese in an environment, such as a nursing home, where it is imporant for all on duty to know what is happening? With the multitude of languages in China, some very, very smart officials several hundred years ago recognized this problem and proclaimed an official Chinese language.

    For good communication, cooperation and effectiveness it is important to have everyone speak the same language in a work environment.


  1. […] I was younger, I used to think like Ms. Jiang (who wrote “Should English be the only language in the United States?” in issue 37), being offended by the policy of only speaking English in the […]

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