As I read an article in the Washington Post by Kathleen Parker, titled “The GOP’s Future Speaks Spanish,” an admonition by her father caught my attention. “Learn Spanish,” he said, reminded me of something I’ve been questioning for years to anyone inside my sphere of influence who would listen. “Why aren’t American students learning Spanish? Why do other countries adopt multiple languages, including English?” Now, whether these inquiries were accurate or inaccurate, it appeared to me that everyone I worked or interacted with either professionally or socially whose origin was not American, spoke a minimum of two languages.
So now I finally have a platform to state my position loudly and make a proposition to the Department of Education. Please incorporate Spanish as a mandatory national and standard curriculum requirement starting with kindergarten. And, I believe we should take this one step further. The first day a child enters into any kind of structured learning environment (i.e., pre-K), learning to speak Spanish should commence. Learning can start small — singing, numbers, alphabets, and even speaking simple phrases (all in Spanish).
Good morning – Buenos dias
Good afternoon -Buenas tardes
Goodbye – Adios
Hello – Hola
I’m sorry – Lo Siento
Please – Por favor
Thank you – Gracias
Yes – Si
Children’s brains are sponges — they soak up everything — so this age is the opportune time and learning environment for children to learn Spanish. And because students whose native language is Spanish are already in the school system, learning Spanish would also be fun.
Now, the thing that initially put me on this track was a voice recording I heard many years earlier. I called my bank and was surprised to hear:
“This is ________ Bank. If you want to hear this message in English, please press ‘1’. Stay on the line if you want to hear this message in Spanish.”
Needless to say, I was quite surprised. My first thought was why do I have to be the one to press “1” to hear something in my language, English. In hindsight, this arrogance permeates English-speaking Americans just like me.
This voice recording was a premonition of things to come and we better get on board sooner rather than later. The U.S. Census Bureau newsroom gives some startling and eye-opening (better-be-on-your-radar) facts from the most recent census regarding the explosive growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S.:
- 52.0 million: Hispanic population as of July 2011, making Hispanic origins the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority. Hispanics constituted 16.7 percent of the nation’s total population.
- 1.3 million: Number of Hispanics added to the nation’s population between July 2010 & July 2011.
- 2.5 Percent: Increase in the Hispanic population between 2010 & 2011.
- 132.8 million: Projected Hispanic population of the U.S. in 2050. Then, Hispanics will constitute 30% of the nation’s population.
- 50.5 million: Number of Hispanics counted during the 2010 Census. This was about a 43% increase from the 2000 Census, which was 35.3 million.
- 2nd: Ranking of the size of the U.S. Hispanic population worldwide as of 2010. Only Mexico (112 million) had a larger Hispanic population.
- 63 Percent: Hispanic-origin people in the U.S. who were of Mexican background in 2010.
Akin to a doctor’s advice, we must know the numbers!
I recommend that “Spanish as a Second Language (SSL)” becomes synonymous with “English as a Second Language (ESL).” Just as ESL is beneficial, recommended, and required for non-English speakers who desire to live and work successfully in the U.S., so should SSL be given the same important status. Making SSL a required language for American students will give them and us a better appreciation for Spanish-speaking cultures, and also a rewarding connection and relationship with people of Hispanic origins. And, adults should also jump on the bandwagon and start learning Spanish.
Since the U.S. doesn’t have an official language anyway — English is considered official de facto because the majority of people and government business utilize one primary language — it may be time to get off our highfalutin arrogance and consider SSL, not as an official language, but at least in harmony with English.
As noted on the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point’s website, the “ability to speak Spanish is a valuable skill in today’s job market.” UWSP goes on to note,
“The Hispanic market is today the most rapidly expanding market in the United States. Hispanic consumers have become a driving force in the largest national markets, including southern and northern California, New York, Chicago, Florida, Texas, and others. Marketing studies show that the majority of Hispanics prefer to make buying decisions in Spanish.”
So, when you seriously think about it, doesn’t it make sense to include SSL as a school mandate? After all, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers. So, it’s not only in the GOP’s FUTURE to learn Spanish, so to speak; but it’s in the PRESENT that Spanish be a part of every American’s vernacular if we want to continue to be relevant in the world’s marketplace.