The Republican opposition in the United States of America has once again introduced a bill in the House and Senate calling for English to be established as the one official language of the country. It would mean not only that all official documents and procedures be drafted/implemented in English, but more tellingly that anyone applying for US citizenship would be tested on their English language capability.

Those applying for residency/citizenship in the United Kingdom are required to demonstrate their knowledge of language and life in the UK, either by taking the ‘Life in the UK’ test, which assumes a reasonable level of English, or by enrolling in an accredited ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) class, which must include elements of citizenship.

The UK already recognises English as its official language, but is also under increasing pressure/obligation to provide services in other languages as our populations become more multi-cultural and therefore multi-lingual. Public services such as hospitals and the police are obliged to pay for interpreters for anyone needing assistance in their own language.

From the other side of the Atlantic, English is very clearly presented as the country’s lingua franca, despite the other significant ethnic communities. The English Language Unity Act, however, would oblige officials in the USA to “preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the Federal Government.” The hope is that legal immigrants of all generations will become assimilated, and that sharing one official language will enable the country to establish true commonality. But can a bill such as this really be expected to work, or will it just create more stigma, hostility and division? And what, in practice, would change?

We would welcome your opinions on this subject.

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