This is America, Speak English

Posted by Julia Rappaport on September 10, 2013

Facing History in New York, in partnership with WNYC Radio’s Radio Rookies program, helps public high school students develop digital storytelling skills through the Neighborhood to Neighborhood project. Each year, students in the program tackle complex questions about identity, race, education, and crime and violence in their communities. Using interviewing skills and multimedia tools, the students produce original visual and audio pieces. This post is the fifth in a five-part series introducing their finished pieces. Each post includes connection questions you can use in your classroom to discuss the works or to start your own project. This week: two friends look at the "English-only" movement. Psst...though this series is wrapping up, be sure to check back next week for a peek at how to make a DIY radio piece on your own or with students!

Facing History students Sam and Sydne both grew up in New York City and are used to hearing the diverse mix of language that makes up the city’s fabric.

The broad array of languages spoken in their communities has never bothered Sam (who speaks Spanish with her parents) or Sydne, which is why they have become alarmed about the “English-only” movement and people who express anger over having to "Push 1 for English” on automated phone calls. But when some people in their own school and even families express a similar sentiment, they decide to dig a little deeper.

Watch Sam and Sydne’s multimedia investigation of nationality, identity, and language:

This is America, Speak English screen grab

Connection Questions:

  • Rookie Reporter Sam says, “My little brother won’t even admit to being Mexican and he refuses to learn Spanish.” What clues does the story give as to why he might feel that way?
  • What do people mean when they say “This is America, speak English”? What are they trying to communicate about American identity?
  • What is the relationship between identity and language?
  • What are some of the barriers that English-language learners face in this country?
  • Rookie Reporter Sydne said, “Some languages are considered cool like Korean or Japanese, but it’s not the same for Chinese or Spanish.” Why might some languages (or ethnicities) be considered cool while others are not?
  • Should our society be more welcoming to non-English speakers? Why or why not?
  • The science teacher featured in this story, Tyrone, listed some very specific reasons why his student, Wendy, needed to learn English. In your opinion, do all Americans need to speak English fluently? Why or why not?
  • Setting shapes a story, and New York City is a very unique setting. How might this story look/feel/sound differently in other settings?
  • All of the stories in the “Neighborhood to Neighborhood” project are available in two formats: audio only and audio-visual. Try listening to the story in both formats. How do the images (or their absence) shape the way you experience the story
  • Why do you think the series is called “Neighborhood to Neighborhood”?
  • How might this story be different if reported by adults?


The Neighborhood to Neighborhood Project was made possible by the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust and The MacArthur Foundation.

Radio rookies logos

Check out the rest of the "Neighborhood to Neighborhood" blog series!


Topics: School Culture, Media Skills, Neighborhood to Neighborhood, Critical Thinking, Facing Technology

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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