Tag: English fluency

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.”

To continue reading this post, please click here.

Resistance Is Futile

Recently, President Obama surprised many of us by directly addressing immigration reform. Apparently, the man hasn’t had enough criticism aimed at him. In any case, one of the aspects of the president’s plan is that all immigrants should learn English.

Certainly, it is in the best interests of immigrants to learn the nation’s dominant language. The economic disadvantage of not knowing English is a very real phenomenon.

However, as I’ve written before, we Americans get more than a little self-serving when it comes to immigrants speaking English. The argument that it benefits them is rarely invoked. Instead, we’re told that it’s part of the process of assimilation — necessary for them to become integrated into American culture.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

Bilingual Curious

All the members of my family speak Spanish better than I do. Some of them were born in Latin America, which gives them an unfair advantage. Others took to studying the language when they were younger, while I was busy mastering “Ms. Pac-Man.”

Regardless, I am now in solid adulthood and burdened with a foreign-language aptitude that can only be described as muy malo. I could easily let it go, because despite the shrill warnings of xenophobes, English is not going away anytime soon.

After all, English is the lingua franca of American pop culture, international business, and the internet. Nobody has achieved success in America without knowing at least some English. And people from Mexico to India to China are learning that it’s in their best interests to study the language.

So with English firmly ensconced, why should I, or anyone, bother to learn Spanish?

Well, first, there is the practical aspect. According to the U.S Census Bureau, about 12 percent of U.S. residents speak Spanish at home. They range from adults who don’t know any English to little kids who are perfectly bilingual. Within this range are millions of Americans who prefer to communicate in Spanish.

At some point, you will need to talk to someone who will throw a cascade of trilled R’s at you. It will happen. And when it does, gesturing randomly or yelling louder in English will not work. Even if the situation is not critical, your feelings of helplessness will be profound.

A second reason for learning Spanish is pure economics. Among the few booming occupations are jobs where Spanish is considered a plus, if not an outright requirement. Both the blue-collar construction worker and the white-collar marketing manager are learning that it’s smart to know the difference between “Lo siento” and “Claro que se.” In these recessionary times, a little awareness of Spanish can be the difference between landing the gig or spending another day watching soaps.

In addition to these practical matters, there is the fact that we are a multicultural society. We have always been a multicultural society, in truth. It just is no longer possible to wall ourselves off and demand that everyone acquiesce to the majority’s needs. Showing respect for other cultures, and gaining a basic understanding and empathy of others, is becoming a necessary skill – not a luxury for do-gooders.

Finally, exercising your brain and learning something new will never hurt you. So don’t worry.

Of course, for me, there is another, more personal reason. Growing up Latino without a firm grasp of Spanish is culturally confusing. It gets into messy questions of identity and authenticity, and we all love addressing those issues as middle age closes in.

So I’m going to hit the books and internet sites. When I get up to speed again, maybe I’ll take an intermediate class. It will take weeks, perhaps months, before I’m ready to tackle a conversation with a native speaker. When it comes, and I stutter past the initial “Buenos dias,” it will be a sublime breakthrough.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Many Americans take great satisfaction, sometimes bordering on maniacal pride, in claiming that their European ancestors came here and learned English quickly. According to some, these immigrants’ boots were still wet from the spray of the Atlantic when they ditched German, Swedish, or Dutch. The thinking is that European immigrants rapidly mastered English in a sink-or-swim environment that demanded that they leave their mother tongues behind. The follow-up to this assertion is inevitably, “Why can’t Latin American immigrants do the same and learn English quickly?”

It’s a fair question. There’s just one problem. The central thesis – that European immigrants swiftly adopted English – may be wrong.

Two researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have published a study showing that America has a long history of (dare I say it?) multiculturalism. The researchers are Joseph Salmons, a German professor, and Miranda Wilkerson, a Ph.D. graduate in German.

Their study shows that until the late nineteenth century, and even into the early twentieth century, many German immigrants to that fine state still had not mastered English.

Germans made up that era’s largest immigration wave to Wisconsin, which is the chief reason that the researchers focused on them. The researchers add, however, that another factor for this emphasis was because the Germans “really fit this classic view of the ‘good old immigrants’ of the nineteenth century.”

The researchers plowed through census data, court information, school records, newspapers, and all the other minutia that academics salivate over. When they were done, they had a linguistic record of German immigration to Wisconsin from the 1830s to the 1930s.

Their conclusion was that many immigrants felt no need to learn English at all, much less quickly, and that some of them, in the words of the researchers, “appeared to live and thrive for decades while speaking exclusively German.”

In fact, as late as 1910 – decades after the initial wave of European immigration – German speakers still accounted for more than 20% of the population in several Wisconsin counties. Some second- and even third-generation residents (yes, even many born and raised in the United States) still spoke only German as adults.

The researchers point out that “after fifty or more years of living in the United States, many speakers in some communities remained monolingual.” The researchers added that “this finding provides striking counterevidence to the claim that early immigrants learned English quickly.”

So apparently, whole swaths of America’s heartland were overrun by people speaking devil languages (i.e., all languages except English) for decades. This is not exactly the instantaneous assimilation that we have been led to believe took place.

By the way, my lovely wife is descended from German immigrants, so I’m not exhibiting anti-Prussian bias or indulging in Bavarian bashing. My point is that Hispanic immigrants are constantly told that they’re not as bright or as determined as European immigrants who mastered English in a week, tops. The additional implication is that speaking Spanish is – if not illegal – certainly an affront to American values.

The irony is certainly powerful. Right wingers claim that their ancestors needed to learn English quickly to survive, and that modern immigrants have been coddled and refuse to adapt. However, the reverse may actually be true: European immigrants could keep speaking their original languages with few negative effects, but contemporary immigrants are economically screwed if they don’t pick up the local dialect as soon as possible.

According to the researchers, many of those hard-working Gunthers and Schultzes of the past were “committed Americans. They participated in politics, in the economy, and were leaders in their churches and their schools. They just happened not to conduct much of their life in English…. There was no huge pressure to change.” Speaking only German “did not act as a barrier to opportunity in the work force.”

It’s a different story today. People who come to America and don’t learn English are doomed to perpetual lower-class status. Certainly, every effort should be made to ensure that residents get a grasp of English as soon as possible. I would argue, however, that insulting contemporary immigrants, indulging in fear mongering by claiming they won’t learn, and mythologizing a past that may not have existed are not the most effective ways to do this.

By the way, if it worries you that a church in your neighborhood has occasional services in Spanish, take another look at Salmons and Wilkins’ study. There, you can find out about the Lutheran Church in Wisconsin that, after much debate, added services in English.

They did it in1929.

  • Barrio Imbroglio (An Abraxas Hernandez Mystery Book 1)
  • Calendar

    February 2018
    M T W T F S S
    « Jan    
  • Share this Blog

    Bookmark and Share
  • Copyright © 1996-2010 Hispanic Fanatic. All rights reserved.
    Theme by ACM | Powered by WordPress