Who doesn't want to know English?

Stephen Baker

The mayor of a nearby New Jersey town called Bogota is pushing for a boycott of McDonald's because the hamburger giant has --gasp!--put up a few billboards in Spanish. The mayor is concerned that it sends the message that Spanish-speakers don't need to learn English.

This sounds familiar to me. When I lived in France, the government regulated English-language advertisements for fear that English would overrun French. Their fears were justified. In the last two decades, English has established itself as Europe's language. Europeans who don't know English work at a great disadvantage in Europe (and elsewhere). In an increasingly global economy, they're hard-pressed to communicate across borders.

English is becoming the world's language for economic opportunity, a globalization force in the same league with the Internet. If people hungry for economic opportunity are learning English the world over, why would anyone think they wouldn't want to know it (or more important, have their kids learn it) in the United States, of all places?

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.