The Conversation

Assimilation requires communication

In response to Poll: Three-Quarters Say 'Essential' Immigrants Learn English:

Maybe a better way to write the headline would be, "26% think it's not essential for immigrants to learn English."  As Jerry Seinfeld might put it, "who are these people?"  I've begun referring to such poll results as the Tenth Dentist Enigma, named after the old toothpaste commercials that claimed 9 out of 10 dentists surveyed recommend regularly brushing your teeth.  I want to meet the loose-cannon Tenth Dentist who doesn't recommend that.

Assimilation is important.  Communication is essential to assimilation.  How in the world can anyone assimilate without speaking the national language?  What ghetto is more difficult to escape than the linguistic ghetto?

But I also believe that communication is only one ingredient of assimilation.  In fact, I think language skills are best viewed as the indispensable pre-requisite for the true key to assimilation: commerce.  Nothing brings people together like commerce, which is a marvelous fusion of voluntary cooperation and communication.  Nothing assimilates people - either immigrants or the native-born - like employment. 

It is dangerously short-sighted to believe that only immigrant populations can fail to assimilate.  I can show you plenty of native-born groups, ten generations American, who haven't assimilated very well.  Every last one of them is also characterized by high unemployment.  And you can see the same thing around the world.  Look at the late unpleasantness in Sweden.

You can compel local and federal agencies to print all the material in foreign languages you like, and it won't help anyone surmount the linguistic barriers to successful employment.  It's possible that people who refuse to master the common language of a nation might form an enclave where linguistic segregation is not a barrier to commerce... but then, such an enclave has not "assimilated," has it?  Quite the opposite.  It never ends well.


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