I know that English is not the official language of the United States. However, according to this UCIS page on the naturalization test,

To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you must pass the naturalization test...You will also take an English and civics test unless you qualify for an exemption or waiver.

What is the reason that is English is de jure not the an official language of the United States, but the government has this rule for becoming a citizen?

1 Answer 1


Because while the United States federal government does not declare a de jure official language, English is de facto the standard language, as all laws and regulations are published in at least English. Further, virtually everyone in the US speaks English and many don't speak any other languages. For example, I have three years of Spanish, but I can't understand spoken Spanish (I'm better with written Spanish).

If someone does not speak English in the United States, then they will likely have issues doing such basic things as ordering takeout or hiring a taxi. Or doing more esoteric things like going to a politician's town hall or chatting up a potential romantic interest in a bar.

So English is the unofficial language of the US. And as such, is a requirement for immigrants to be naturalized, as otherwise they couldn't integrate into society. They would be perpetually separate and limited in the society they keep.

As @jamesqf notes the literal reason is that Congress passed laws requiring English speaking for naturalization and did not pass laws declaring an official language (or languages). Presumably the reasons why they passed such laws is for the reasons that I stated.

Congress has never been able to agree on the need for an official language. So while English is the obvious choice, it has never been officially chosen by the federal government. Some states have chosen to make some set of languages official in that state. English is always included.

  • 8
    And while all those are of practical concern, of course the actual reason is because Congress decided to enact laws that made English a requirement for naturalization in most cases.
    – jamesqf
    May 2, 2019 at 4:18
  • 2
    Not all laws in the US are in english - all federal laws are, but Puerto Rico has laws and court rulings in spanish. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Puerto_Rico#Language
    – David Rice
    May 2, 2019 at 14:31
  • 2
    @DavidRice: Immigration law exclusively a federal power as per the Constitution, so PR having Bi-Lingual laws and rulings does not apply. Similarly there are several States in the U.S. where English is the Official Language of the state and they don't apply to federal laws either.
    – hszmv
    May 2, 2019 at 19:43
  • 1
    It could also be argued that First Amendment includes symbolic speech (speech that is not necessarily contextually understood by all) as a protected free speech meaning Congress cannot declare an official language but immigrants don't have standing to sue on matters of immigration and they would be the only victims of the laws requiring command of the English language. World Wide English is broadly spoken due to the nature of English being the business language of the largest economy in the world, not to mention the major media exporter of the world as well.
    – hszmv
    May 2, 2019 at 19:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .