Tag: bilingual

Freaky

I’m a big fan of ideas that are supported by hard data. In fact, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ve seen that I don’t just assert that climate change is real, vaccines are safe and effective, and that immigration is down. I back up these claims with facts.

So it’s no surprise that I listen to the Freakonomics podcast, where a couple of academics analyze and verify and quantify all kinds of concepts that are supposedly unquantifiable.

That’s where I found out that free parking is a scourge, tipping is racially motivated, and learning Spanish is a waste of time.

Wait, what was that last one? It’s a shocker.

shocked-baby-expression

Well, the researchers at Freakonomics discovered that learning Spanish increases your income by less than 2 percent. They concluded that the effort you put into learning how to conjugate “decir” doesn’t justify a measly 2 percent income boost. It constitutes poor ROI (that’s “return on investment” for you non-economist types).

Now, it’s depressing to think that nativists have a fact-based argument for dissing Spanish. So you’ll be relieved to hear that there is more to the story.

Additional research has shown that learning a second language (it doesn’t have to be Spanish) has advantages that go beyond income.

For example, bilingual people have more nimble brains and seem to ward off Alzheimer’s more effectively. And Americans who speak another language appear to display greater awareness and empathy for other cultures.

So it just might be worth it to learn Spanish, after all. But the key is to learn is while you are young, so that the process is quicker and less labor-intensive, thereby leading to greater ROI.

OK, that last sentence has convinced that maybe I have been listening to far too many economists lately.

 


Many Languages, One Voice

When my cousins from El Salvador first came to America, they didn’t speak English. Of course, they were kids, so they rapidly learned it. Today, everyone in my family, except for my abuela, embraces English as their primary mode of communication. My cousins’ children (and mine) will have to make an effort to be bilingual and not leave Spanish in my family’s past.

But other families don’t face the dilemma of losing the mother tongue. In fact, about 5 million children in the United States don’t speak English as their primary language. This constitutes 9% of all US public school students. Now, that number includes a lot of kids who speak Tagalong or Russian or Mandarin or something else that most of us don’t recognize.

But it’s fair to say that many of the children who speak English as a second language (ESL) communicate only in Spanish.

best_kid_raising_hand

Because we’re hearing more Spanish than ever in the country’s schools, the Obama administration recently issued the nation’s first set of federal guidelines on the rights of ESL students. The guidelines remind school districts across the country of their obligations under the law.

Among other things, all schools must identify ESL students in a timely manner, offer them language assistance and provide qualified staff and resources to help them learn English. In essence, ESL students have the same rights to a quality education as students who speak English, and schools must avoid segregating English learners from other students.

I know this is a shocker to the nativist crowd, but you can’t just yell, “Speak English, damn it!” at perplexed kids.

The decision makes clear that students who speak Spanish, or other languages, are becoming more common, and the American educational system has to meet their needs. The Obama guidelines are a welcome indicator of that fact.

Of course, it’s a little sad that anyone has to be reminded of this in the first place.


Hitting the Right Notes

I recently saw the movie Whiplash, which was a gripping look at the price of greatness. For those who haven’t seen the flick, it’s about a teenager jazz drummer obsessed with becoming a legendary artist.

how-to-do-drum-fills.WidePlayer

Now, most of us are not willing to practice an instrument until our hands literally bleed, as the Whiplash protagonist does. But the good news is that you may not have to.

You see, a recent study showed that taking music lessons — just basic chord progressions, strumming skills and the like — greatly improves people’s language and reading skills.

Even more interesting is that the research was conducted on at-risk, low-income children, most of them Latino.

The researchers believe that the experience of making music creates a more efficient brain that helps a person learn and communicate better. But the study implies that at least two years of lessons are required before improvements kick in.

So what does this mean for Hispanic kids, who often live in disadvantaged areas? Well, it implies that investing in music education may help Latino children improve their learning skills and close the educational gap between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. The results also imply that for low-income students, music lessons can be as important as traditional classes in math and reading.

Because music is a key part of Latino culture, programs that offer music education will find a receptive audience in Hispanic kids. After all, I could not have been the only Latino kid who grew up on a steady diet of Santana and Julio Jaramillo. And that’s not even getting into all the salsa, rock, hip hop, and stray bits of classic country that finds its way into Latino homes.

Basically, we like to listen to a lot of music, so it should be a natural extension to get Hispanic kids to learn how to play it.

This research aligns with another recent study, which found that bilingual kids have more flexible brains and better cognitive abilities. Keep in mind that most of the demand for Spanish-language immersion schools is coming from white families who want their kids to master another language and gain exposure to diversity.

So it might not be long before you peek into a classroom and see a bunch of multiethnic kids speaking Spanish and jamming on blues standards.

Rock on.

 


We Don’t Need No Education

When I was in grade school, the principal or some other authority figure would occasionally pepper the morning announcements with a dose of Spanish. He or she might get on the PA to say, “Today is Monday, or lunes,” or inform us that hola means hello.

Well, that kind of commie prank doesn’t fly in Texas, where almost 40 percent of the population is Latino.

Recently, the principal of a middle school in the city of Hempstead told her students that they were forbidden from speaking Spanish anywhere on the school property, even if it was a private conversation.  And yes, she announced this policy via the PA system, just to make sure everybody knew she wasn’t fucking around about it.

Microphone_studio

Clearly, this was an attempt by a government employee to make English the official language at a government-funded institution (which is unconstitutional) and to limit the free speech of US residents (which is way, way unconstitutional). So the school board, in the parlance of the day, responded by declining to renew the principal’s contract.

That means her ass was fired.

Of course, it’s always interesting to note how true patriots are quick to eliminate other people’s rights because that’s, you know, the American way and everything. Such individuals rarely have any knowledge or interest in the US Constitution, which is the document they supposedly revere.

But in case there were any people in Hempstead who supported the principal’s attempt to be a one-woman language police force, they may have been brought up short by the man at the school board meeting who “read a list of American Founding Fathers who spoke multiple languages. They included Benjamin Franklin (French) and Thomas Jefferson (French, Italian, Spanish and Latin).”

So it’s clear that this idea goes against the Founding Fathers themselves. Damn, what’s an English-only aficionado to do? Certainly, they cannot take comfort in the fact that “there’s no evidence that speaking Spanish hampers learning English, and…in most of the rest of the world, it’s common to speak two or more languages.”

In essence, kids in Hempstead can keep jabbering away in English, Spanish, Spanglish, French, Latin, Elvish, or whatever else they want.

Good for them.

 


Menomena

I was in the first generation of kids who grew up with Sesame Street. Even at a young age, I recognized how rare it was to see fellow Latinos on television, much less a happily married, well-adjusted couple like Maria and Luis.

I wasn’t even traumatized when Grover would get all quiet, lean in to whisper to a little Hispanic child, and then start shouting and waving his spindly arms around. Seriously, he did that a lot.

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Think Different

According to many sources, Dr. Carlos do Amaral Freire can speak more languages — 115 — than anyone alive. But before you feel too intimidated, keep in mind that the professor is fluent in a mere 30 or so.

One has to wonder how balancing all those verb tenses and irregular conjugations has affected his mind (although as we know, people who speak multiple languages have more agile brains). In fact, there is some evidence that the languages we speak influence the very way we think.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Crystal Clear

Just a short drive from my apartment in Los Angeles stands a monument to religious excess.

It is the Crystal Cathedral, built back in the 1970s when an evangelical preacher named Robert H. Schuller had a great idea to rake in the parishioners. All he had to do was spend millions on an architectural marvel that undermined everything the Bible says about modesty and humility.

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What the !#$@%*?

It’s difficult to find an American who doesn’t know what “amigo” or “gracias” means. Eventually, those words will be considered part of English, in the same way that nobody thinks “patio,” “rodeo,” or “coyote” are solely Spanish.

However, there is still one area in which American culture hasn’t embraced the allure of Spanish. I’m talking about vulgarity, obscenity, and indecency — basically, the naughty words.

I’m not sure why Spanish curse words haven’t crossed over. It’s not that we don’t like to swear in this country. And the dreaded bleep on television has now become a badge of honor.

Indeed, as the LA Times points out, “Once largely relegated to slips of the tongue during live events, censored cursing has evolved into a pre-planned, or at least largely expected, punch line that’s network-approved and no longer lowbrow.”

But will Spanish words ever be bleeped out? It’s not just an academic question.

It stands to reason that as America grows more multilingual — and it’s doing just that, regardless of your feelings on the matter — we’ll hear more Spanish on the airwaves. And some of that Spanish will be of the naughty variety.

Now, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast indecency, says that it doesn’t matter what language the offending words are in. The FCC is always poised to bring the hammer down on those who sully our culture — well, in theory, anyway.

The truth, according to many annoyed English-language broadcasters, is that the commission frequently gives a pass to Spanish indecency because “the Spanish-speaking staff at the FCC has traditionally been undermanned.”

Yes, there just aren’t enough bilingual bureaucrats available to translate the filth flying around on TV and radio. Until recently, the FCC could get away with this. They assumed all that vulgarity came from Univision shows or radio stations that blared ranchera music — you know, the stuff that mainstream America ignores.

For the most part, the only time one hears Spanish on hit shows is for effect. It pops up when the tough cop or caring doctor is in a rundown barrio, and the natives are running wild. You also might hear it when an extra is portraying a maid or gardener. And for real diversity, they might throw a janitor in there too.

But it’s just a matter of time before a middle-America show features a character who speaks Spanish frequently. Already, we have the first truly bilingual television series.

So what happens when a lovable character on a top show mutters, “pinche”? Will the FCC take initiative and bleep “culero” or just let it go, hoping against hope that millions of viewers don’t know that it means “assfucker”?

Well, there’s only one way to find out. I challenge all those television writers who take pride in their edginess to put up or shut up. Have one of your white, urbane characters learn some Spanish and then casually throw in some obscenities. After all, who is going to complain if Liz Lemon or Sue Sylvester tells someone to go chinga themselves?

Trust me, the FCC won’t even notice.


Great News for Your Brain

It’s good to be bi.

Wait, let’s try that intro again. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m not sufficiently bilingual to be dazzling all the time and avoid slip-ups, malapropisms, and brain freezes. In fact, if I spoke Spanish better, I would be a lot more confident of fighting off Alzheimer’s as I get older.

At least that’s the conclusion of “neuroscience researchers [who] are increasingly coming to a consensus that bilingualism has many positive consequences for the brain.”

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I Like the Part About Tequila

It’s an inevitable fact of American life that any successful endeavor will be met with a thousand rip-offs. That’s why we have eight hundred upcoming movies about vampires. It’s why there are dozens of television shows about the intricacies of decorating cakes. And it explains why Pearl Jam is at least partly to blame for Creed.

So it should surprise no one that the apparent success of the Tea Party has inspired other political groups to follow its playbook. But I was dismayed to find out that one of the potential copycats is a coalition of Latino leaders who are “floating the idea of breaking traditional ties with the Democratic Party and creating a grass-roots independent movement tentatively called the Tequila Party.”

I half-suspect that this strange idea is an Onion article that I somehow missed reading. But in the chance that it’s not, let me make a few observations.

Now, as I’ve written before, I’m not u-rah-rah supporter of the Democratic Party. How the organization continues to flounder — despite the fact that countless polls show Americans actually agree with its platform — is a mesmerizing monument to its incompetence.

However, I have to ask if the best strategy to deal with this disappointment is to emulate the tactics of a bunch of rage-filled rednecks. On principle, Latinos should say no to this approach. And in practicality, it’s not a good idea to take lessons from people who can’t spell basic words in their native language.

Yes, the Tea Party has been successful in the short term. However, it has alienated as many Americans as it invigorated.

Some of its most hardcore proponents — such as noted nutjob Sharron Angle – went down in flames. It will be interesting to see if the Tea Party has any kind of sustained influence. Personally, I doubt it.

More likely, it will be one of those huge pop-culture moments that people believe will land in history books, but will actually fall somewhere between disco and the OJ trial as lasting cultural markers.

In addition, the Tequila Party’s founders should keep in mind that one reason for the Tea Party’s success was the inherent power of its members. As I’ve written before, these were primarily older, white, financially secure members of the establishment. Any complaint, no matter how absurd or self-serving, was guaranteed media coverage (often of the fawning type).

Yes, Latinos are (and I haven’t made this point in days now) the fastest-growing demographic in America. But it’s unlikely that Hispanics can assemble the throngs that the Tea Party put together, just because we don’t have the numbers (yet). And even if we could, I find it hard to believe that any gathering of that many Hispanics would be met with anything other than tear gas.

Finally, let me point out the folly of this whole crusade, which is to pressure the Democratic Party to address Latino issues. It should be obvious to everybody by now that one cannot pressure Democrats to do anything or to take action — unless that action consists of folding under the slightest pressure. They’re pretty good at that. But forcing them to actually accomplish something on their agenda… well, that’s trickier.

In sum, I’m dubious about this Tequila Party idea. Perhaps our time would better be spent reaching out to moderate citizens (if any are left) to convince them of our good intentions, rather then shouting at an impotent political organization.

On the other hand, it might be nice to attend a rally where the signs are bilingual — and spelled correctly.


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