In order to Americanize the immigrants and exclude people thought to be of the lower classes (undesirable), English literacy requirements were established for public employment, naturalization, immigration and voting. One million Yiddish-speaking citizens lost their right to vote when New York amended its voting laws to require English. In California, the same thing happened to the Chinese.
Native American Indian children were taken from their families and placed in boarding schools, where they were punished for speaking their native language. The goal was to Americanize the children…
And then along comes World War I with Germany…
In 1918, Ex-President Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “English should be the only language taught or used in the public schools. We have room for but one language in this country, and that is the English language”.
In 1918, the state of Iowa outlawed the use of all foreign languages in schools.
Texas went one step further. In 1918, Texas made teaching in Spanish a crime.
In 1919, the state of Nebraska passed a law prohibiting the use of any other language than English through the eighth grade (8th).
In 1921, “English Only” education was approved for all public schools in Louisiana.
Dear reader, do you notice a trend here? Is a pattern beginning to develop?
This isn’t rocket science. The Berlitz “Native Speaker Myth” had found a perfect ally in the political climate regarding language instruction only in English. “English Only” and the Myth of the Native Speaker as the best teacher, had a perfect marriage, each one benefitting from the other.
During this time period, from 1900 to 1921, a teacher of English, monolingual, with a multilingual class, would have felt it was his civic and patriotic duty to enforce an English only policy in the classroom.
Here are some quotes taken from textbooks of the era:
1904 – Harrington and Cunningham, in “First Book for Non-English-Speaking People”: “English is learned by using it in the classroom”.
1909 – Sara R. O’Brien, in “English for Foreigners”: “English should always be the language of the classroom”.
1919 – Dr. Henry H. Goldberger, in “Teaching English to the Foreign Born”: “…teach English by using English as the means of instruction”.
1919 – John Almack, in “Americanization: A Suggested Outline For Teachers of Aliens”: “The psychological moment is at hand to make our mother tongue (English) the universal language.”
Finally, let’s point out that it would have been impossible to be fluent in all the languages of the immigrants. The mindset was, “these immigrants have to understand me, and try to talk like me, if they want to have any chance of improving themselves economically, socially, and culturally”.
To conclude, there can be no doubt that the Native Speaker Myth was by now deeply entrenched as an ideological principle. It seemed unlikely that the Myth would keep growing any deeper in the minds of the world.
Incredibly, the Myth continued to grow even deeper, thanks to the 1961 Makerere Conference and a linguist named Noam Chomsky. This will be the subject of our next post.
Thanks for stopping by to read my friend. See you tomorrow with another piece of the puzzle, why we have come to accept the Native Speaker Myth so thoroughly…
Teacher of English as a Foreign Language