This Is Alabama. We Speak English.
Tim James’ ad promising that, if he’s elected governor, he’ll save the citizens of Alabama some money by cutting out foreign language drivers’ license exams under the theory, “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it” is making the rounds.
Like my fellow Alabama expat, Stacy McCain, I get the appeal of the ad. Frankly, ten years ago, I’d have been part of the target audience. There’s a visceral instinct to resent those living among you who won’t learn the language and, yes, there’s some tangential logic to “the street signs are also in English.”
But, as Steven Taylor notes, the practicalities work against James’ position. First, “if you don’t have tests that your residents can understand, they aren’t going to wait to learn English before they can take a driver’s license test, rather they are simply going to drive without a license.” Second, “if the state already has the tests translated into other languages, exactly how much money is going to be saved by giving the test only in English? The major cost of something like this is the translation process, not making copies of the already translated texts.”
Further, as Kristopher Vilamaa points out, the legality of Alabama’s English only law and this application of it is dubious. The state could well lose transportation funding over the issue.
I’m all for doing everything we can to entice U.S. residents to learn English. It’s in their interest and ours. But, given that we do in fact have a very large immigrant population, it’s just silly and mean not to make some reasonable accommodation for the transition.
And, yes, this sort of thing reinforces the negative stereotypes people have about Alabama. So, if one’s desire is to demonstrate one’s acumen as a business man, it’s probably not wise to run on a platform of making the state less attractive to companies choosing where to locate.
PS: When you’ve got MSNBC hosts and people from Mississippi making fun of you, it’s bad.