Commentary Magazine

Memo to Jim Acosta: It’s an English-Speaking World

When I was working in political public relations under the late, great Jim Vlasto, one of the first things he taught me was that, while it’s not always the case, the way to bet is that political reporters are both ignorant and lazy.

Yesterday, Jim Acosta of CNN showed exactly what Jim Vlasto meant. Outraged at the new immigration proposal Trump announced yesterday, Acosta took on the White House’s Stephen Miller and got his head handed to him, largely because Acosta was long on liberal moral arrogance and very short on the facts.

Acosta essentially made two points: One was that the proposed legislation that Miller was defending did not square with the poem by Emma Lazarus (“give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”). Miller pointed out that, great as the poem is, it is not part of the Constitution. Furthermore, the circumstances of 1883, when it was written, are perhaps no longer pertinent in the early 21st century and we might need new legislation to deal with that reality.

Acosta’s other point was that the legislation would require immigrants to know English before they could get a green card. He apparently didn’t know that current law requires the very same thing. He could have looked it up in a few seconds on Wikipedia, but, as Jim Vlasto said, political reporters tend to be lazy. Acosta then said that that requirement would mean that only immigrants from Britain and Australia could get in. Perhaps he’s never heard of Canada, where practically all its 35 million citizens, including French Canadians, can speak English.

While Mandarin Chinese has the most native speakers, with around 900 million, English is third with about 371 million. But Mandarin is spoken almost entirely in Northern China. English is either the official or an official language in no fewer than 52 different countries around the world. The sun may have set on the British Empire, but the sun never sets on the English language.

English is, by far, the dominant second language in the world. No fewer than 611 million speak it as a second tongue. In polyglot India, the parliament debates in English because it’s every Indian’s second language. Commercial aviation has only one language, used throughout the world, and that language is English. The English language is the overwhelmingly dominant language of science. Most scientific journals now come out, at least at first, in English, even that of France’s leading scientific institute, the Institut Pasteur. Major scientific conferences are always held in English.

In Europe, English is, again by a very wide margin, the most studied foreign language. 73 percent of primary students in European schools are studying English. Fully 90 percent of European secondary students are studying English. The reason is that non-English-speaking countries realize that in the modern global economy, knowing English is just as important as math and reading and writing in the local tongue.

This all means that most applicants for green cards, most of them highly skilled, whether they come from Europe, Asia, or elsewhere, will be already be competent in English. Policy makers know that. Political reporters, apparently, don’t.

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