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Meg Brown, Published January 23 2011

Bigotry is always ignorant

In response to Jason McDonald’s foolish sentiment that an immigrant who can’t read or write English is a “waste of life” (“U.S. citizens must read and write,” Jan. 9), a little literacy and education on his part is clearly in order.

First of all, there are many “real Americans” who cannot read or write for various reasons. According to McDonald’s logic (rather, lack thereof), they, too, are “wastes of life” and should be deported.

Being able to speak basic English is a requirement for citizenship. But there are several ways for non-citizens to legally reside in the United States or work toward the citizenship requirements. That’s written into American immigration law, too. If McDonald doesn’t like that, he should either live somewhere else or adjust his attitude to the laws he claims to be defending.

I tutor university students in college-level writing, and I work with many English-as-a-second-language students. Most native speakers, especially those who have never tried to learn another language, do not realize that English is very difficult to learn. English is based on several dissimilar languages, contains words from dozens of other languages, and has very little core structure or rules that can be memorized – exception is the rule. Thus it can take years to become fluent.

One needs only to consider the fact that most native speakers do not become truly fluent in reading and writing until at least middle school. Yet some expect immigrants to learn English in months or even speak fluently before they arrive. How ridiculous, especially when this is expected of someone from a part of the world where opportunities to learn English are few, or at least a low priority compared to having enough to eat or simply surviving the dangers and horrors of life in a war-torn region.

The best way to learn a new language is through immersion into the new language and culture, which means that immigrants who come to the United States will learn English faster. The incentive to learn a language is especially tremendous when one is surrounded by it. Also, if immigrants have driver’s licenses, they can more easily travel to work and English classes. So why shouldn’t this man, presumably a legal resident, have a license if he qualifies for one?

I have a very different definition of what makes a person a “waste of life”: one that includes composing ham-fisted and uneducated pieces of back-door bigotry that only serve to embarrass the writer.