The US movement for monolingualism began after World War I when xenophobia developed against Germans in the US and caused many German-language schools to close, according to Lisa García Bedolla, head of the Center for Latino Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Ever since, the presumption is that a patriot should know only English.
"I think the issue is that we may have a rhetoric of multiculturalism in the US since the civil rights movement, but that does not seem to have been accompanied by an acceptance of multilingualism," Ms. García Bedolla says. "It's made very clear to children that [English is] the politically dominant language for belonging and inclusion. There's a hierarchy of language, a power issue."
This dominance has been institutionalized in the education system, she says. García Bedolla is the coauthor of the recent report "Classifying California's English Learners," which shows that bilingual kindergartners or bilingual children who go to public school for the first time are categorized as "English deficient." Many students who are proficient in English are wrongly placed in language-development classes. California has 1.6 million English learners, a quarter of the students in its public schools.
The presumption is, "If you speak Spanish [for example], you cannot speak English," García Bedolla says.