Nashville for All of Us


English Only hurts
Nashville’s values of
safety, and hospitality,
doesn’t help English
one lick.


Right off the bat, let’s all agree on one thing: English.

Nashville is learning, and Nashville is teaching

English is acquired through learning, and demand for classes is high.  Waiting lists abound all over the city.  In regard to the Latino population alone, research from the Migration Policy Institute indicates that 98% of Latinos think it is “essential” that their children learn English. In fact, 80% of foreign-born children from Mexico learn English "well" or "very well," and 92 percent of second-generation Latinos are fully fluent in English. By the third generation, only 28% of Latinos are still proficient in Spanish.

Many members of the Nashville for All of Us coalition, including Catholic Charities, Conexion Americas, the Sudanese Community and Women's Service Center, and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, to name only a few, either offer English classes or give assistance in locating them.

Teaching and learning English is part of Nashville’s daily routine, but English Only doesn’t have anything to do with either.

English Only is a symbol with a prohibition attached

The proposed English Only charter amendment, reproduced in the column to the right, declares an official language of Nashville and prohibits, with still-undefined exceptions, situations in which certain other languages can be used.

At its core, English Only amounts to only two things: a symbolic statement and an effort to reduce foreign language use - but it includes nothing about increasing the learning of English.

The reasons discussed below illustrate why English Only is a misguided attempt to promote English, and why it is contrary to the values we cherish as Nashvillians.

As the Nashville City Paper editorial board wrote in 2006, “Encouraging immigrants to learn English needs to be a priority. But so, too, does ensuring that in reaching for perfection we do not trample on what is good."

These are the values we will defend from English Only:


Tennessee state law already declares English to be the “official and legal language” of every part of our state.

Waste demonstrates a failure of stewardship.  English already has “official” status in Tennessee, and the Metro Council has already passed resolution RS2006-1650, clarifying that state law already establishes English as the official language.  Also, English acquisition is ongoing in Nashville (see above) - most people using interpreters and translators are already on their way to learning English but just haven’t made it to the finish line yet. 

An AGAINST vote sends a clear message to politicians that we as taxpayers do not approve of them wasting our hard-earned tax dollars to pay for unnecessary laws. 

Many Nashvillians have written about the failure of stewardship that English Only represents.  Plug into their passion on stewardship here.


In an emergency, first responders have to be able to break through barriers.

Safety needs no barriers.  Creating a default rule that imposes a language barrier on Metro agencies will create confusion and cause safety concerns for those among us who struggle with English literacy, and those among us who benefit from the fluid operation of all of Metro’s safety-related service providers.

Nashvillians are also writing about the safety implications of English Only.  Those safety concerns are gathered here.


Our Southern style of welcome isn’t just a personality trait; it has been a key to our city’s financial success.

It is a sign of respect for the host and not just the newcomer to reach across a language divide.  Nashville has always been known as an inclusive and hospitable community that welcomes foreign businesses, investments (such as Nissan, Caterpillar Financial and Bridgestone Americas) and visitors that help bring higher paying jobs and that expand our local tax base.

On August 7, 2008, Mayor Karl Dean addressed the Metro Council to highlight the threat of English Only:

  1. “I wanted to take this time, this opportunity to make sure my voice, as mayor of this city, is heard on this issue, and to assure that everyone fully understands the consequences of passing a law that will tie our hands in the global economy, that will detract from our appeal as an international tourist destination, and that will damage our reputation as a welcoming and friendly city.”

The English-only initiative in Nashville has already received negative press on a national scale, with publications as far-reaching as USA Today, the Florida Times-Union, the Houston Chronicle, the Las Vegas Sun, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer describing Nashville as a tourist-driven city on the verge of taking an unwelcoming stance toward its visitors and becoming out of touch with the city’s one-in-six foreign-born residents.

An AGAINST vote sends a clear message that we want to continue to encourage future economic growth for our city.

The potential harm to our city’s national and international reputation may be what causes the greatest discomfort about English Only from our city’s promoters.  Opinion pieces, letters to the editor, blog posts, and other media covering the hospitality issue are available here.

Paid for by Nashville for All of Us and Nashvillians Who Support the Metro Charter

Lisa Pote, Treasurer

P.O. Box 280328, Nashville, Tennessee 37228 615-324-6080

Photos on this page © Chris Wage.  Used with permission.


The proposed language of the English Only charter amendment is as follows:

English is the official language of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. Official actions which bind or commit the government shall be taken only in the English language, and all official government communications and publications shall be in English. No person shall have a right to government services in any other language. All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the Metropolitan Government shall be conducted in English. The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety. Nothing in this measure shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law.

Voters will choose either
For Ratification, or
Against Ratification

Against Ratification
is the vote supported by Nashville for All of Us

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