Bilingual is Better

This week, my daily news surfing brought me to this article from NPR about the unclear future of the Spanish language in the U.S. The author, Luis Clemens, challenges the idea that the growing number of Latinos in America automatically means there will be more Spanish speakers going forward. Those of us in the middle of child rearing in more than one language are familiar with how much work and conscious planning it takes to achieve the end of producing not just bilingual, but also biliterate, members of the next generation. Thus, it makes perfect sense to me, and probably to many of you, that there is not necessarily a direct connection between ethnicity and language.

More importantly than pointing to this disconnect, Clemens questions what it means when a U.S.-born Latino American isn’t truly fluent in Spanish. What does it mean for the young Latino culture when public figures (he mentions Sonia Sotomayor and Vin Diesel) can’t conduct a proper Spanish conversation in public?

This reminds me of the critique of reggaeton music and the constant battle in my state (Florida) between the Puerto Ricans, with their slang-laden Spanish, and all other Spanish speakers. Is it true that butchering a language will ultimately cause other cultural elements to go by the wayside? I’m not sure that any of us can definitively answer this question because we all cling to culture to an individual degree.

I am somewhat on the outside of this dilemma, since I’m a non-Latina white American. However, because of the way that I learned Spanish and the beautiful array of dialects to which I’ve been exposed, I must admit that I have a bit of a preference for “real” Spanish. Although my son hears slang all around him, I find it essential to read to him in Spanish and try to preserve some semblance of grammatical accuracy in his mind. I tend to agree with Clemens that the level of Spanish fluency presented by supposed native speakers in this country is sometimes deplorable, but I also agree with his encouraging point that this may change for the better with our children.

In the article, Clemens does note the current efforts of some U.S.-born Latinos to raise bilingual children, even citing SpanglishBaby as part of the solution to the potential for language disappearance. While it seems that Spanish is all around us, we forget that the older immigrants for whom our businesses and government now translate everything into Spanish may not have prepared their children well enough to carry on the language for good. It is rather fascinating to think that Spanish could have been virtually erased by the third or fourth generation of Latino Americans if it weren’t for active and passionate parents, many of whom weren’t gifted with the greatest Spanish skills.

Though the news may sound a bit grim and critical, this kind of reality check makes me all the more committed to keeping Spanish alive in my household. Ironically, sometimes we need a national snapshot to understand how significant our personal efforts can be.

Check out the comments on the NPR article for a pretty fascinating discussion.

{photo by exoticabooks}

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