A University of Wisconsin study debunks the myth that 19th and early 20th century immigrants picked up English quickly.
Joseph Salmons has always been struck by the pervasiveness of the argument. In his visits across Wisconsin, in many newspaper letters to the editor, and in the national debates raging over modern immigration, he encounters the same refrain:
"My great, great grandparents came to America and quickly learned English to survive. Why can't today's immigrants do the same?"
The look at century-old language patterns seems especially salient in the modern political culture, where "English-only" movements are cropping up everywhere and there is considerable debate about how quickly new Spanish-speaking immigrants should be assimilating a new language.
As a professor of German who has extensively studied European immigrant languages in the Midwest, Salmons discovered there was little direct research available about whether this "learn English or bust" ethic really existed.
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