Practice What You Speak.

TAPPED readers, please welcome Tova Wang as an occasional contributor to the blogTova is a nationally known expert on election reform and political participation and a senior democracy fellow at Demos.

New Census data released yesterday shows more than ever that there is a need for English language education. Yet despite moves by states to make English the "official" language, when it comes to providing opportunities for immigrants to learn English -- including naturalized citizens and those who seek to naturalize -- they're not quite as zealous.

According to Census figures, 78 percent of naturalized citizens speak a language other than English at home compared with 19.6 percent of the overall population. Of those speaking a language other than English at home, 44 percent reported that they did not speak English "very well," while 8.6 percent of the total population does not speak English very well.

Politicians and activists pay a lot of lip service to the importance of English. Just this November, Oklahoma voters passed a referendum making English the "official language" of the state, joining several others that already have such provisions. This means no state business can be conducted in another language -- even potentially when it comes to providing medical services and information about education and voting.

At the same time, these state legislatures and the "English only" promoters don't seem too concerned about the reality of English language instruction. According to a 2007 report by the Migration Policy Institute, many states report long waiting lists for English classes, indicating high levels of unmet demand:

In recent years, the federal government has provided an estimated $250 to $300 million a year for adult ESL as part of Adult Basic Education grants to states. States have contributed an estimated $700 million a year for adult ESL. Federally funded ESL programs are currently serving about 1.1 million adults in the 50 states and District of Columbia.

But MPI estimated that, even in a best-case scenario, an additional $200 million per year for six years would be needed to meet demand. That's because they estimate that several million immigrants need English language instruction to pass the naturalization exam and/or to have the necessary skills to participate in the country's civic life.

Most immigrants are yearning to learn English. They know how important it is. And even with differences over immigration reform, Americans can all agree that people living here should have the opportunity to learn enough English so that they can be active participants in our communities, and we can all succeed economically.

We have got to step it up when it comes to providing instruction in English by making it an integral part of federal and state budget plans. And states should stop passing silly English-only laws that threaten the health, safety, and democratic rights of millions.

-- Tova Wang

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