Tag: Language

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.

 


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.

 


It’s a Mezcla

One of the best movies of last year was the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. Among the film’s many charms is the archaic, bizarrely formal speech of the characters. I have no idea if real people of the era said things like, “You give out very little sugar with your pronouncements” and “I do not entertain hypotheticals.” But it’s cool to imagine that they did.

Of course, Americans don’t speak like that anymore. A century later, in fact, we’re considered articulate if we keep it down to three uses of “you know” and a pair of double negatives per conversation.

To read full article at Being Latino, please click here.


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.


Marketing 101

Many thanks to everyone who has recently commented on my posts. You’re all in the running for copies of Raul Ramos y Sanchez’s novels as part of my latest giveaway.

I have to admit, however, that Emmasota’s comment about the Dream Act’s demise conjured up an unpleasant memory for me.

You see, last year I worked with a nonprofit to advocate for the passage of the Dream Act. I knew the odds were long, and of course, the legislation ultimately didn’t pass.

But I would feel better today about fighting the good fight if I hadn’t known, at the time, that our approach was doomed. I had a queasy sensation early on, when I saw one of the video packages that the nonprofit put together (I wasn’t involved with that stage of the campaign).

The video featured kids who would directly benefit from the Dream Act’s passage. Much of it was good, with heart-tugging stories from all-American, clean-cut teens.

But then the bottom fell out. The voiceover threw around terms like “fairness” and “justice.” And one of the teens stated that he “deserved” the rights that the Dream Act would confer.

I knew it was over as soon as the kid said that word.

Americans don’t want to hear that anybody deserves anything. Hell, many citizens will lose their minds if one implies that they deserve basic healthcare (and that’s in their own self-interest!). They certainly don’t want to hear that some whiny kid who wasn’t even born in this country “deserves” his rights.

Sending a video to media outlets and political leaders that featured this tone-deaf tactic just stunned me. Clearly, many advocates of immigration reform haven’t learned the importance of basic marketing.

They continue to push the compassion angle, or back up their assertions with facts that impress no one.

But if the Bush years taught us anything, it’s that sympathy is for suckers. More important, we learned that the truth is irrelevant. Or it’s at least a distant second to proper messaging.

How else do you think conservatives got an overwhelming majority of Americans to embrace a war that made absolutely no sense?

Other progressive movements have learned this tactic.

For example, gay rights are also issue of fairness and basic justice. Yet, advocates of repealing the DADT Policy went easy on this essential truth. Instead, they successfully presented the issue as one that was necessary to America’s well-being.

The message was, basically, “We need all the help we can get establishing a strong military and intelligence network. This will keep America safe, so drop your prejudice in favor of simple self-preservation.”

It worked. DADT is history.

Immigration-reform advocates need to adopt this strategy. Instead of pointing out about how unfair or irrational our policies are — which is true but a loser’s lament — hit people in the wallet by making it clear that a massive-deportation philosophy will cost them money. Or hammer home the idea that policies such as the Dream Act will improve the economy and strengthen the military.

In other words, let’s see more about how immigration reform will benefit current citizens, instead of pleading that civil rights be extended to strangers.

It may not be pretty, or even that principled. But it has to be more effective than what we’ve accomplished so far.


Nobody Speaks English Anymore!

I’m going to make a bold, even confrontational, assertion: My English is better than yours.

I’m not saying that it’s perfect. If you dig through my posts, I’m sure you’ll find a grammatical error or two. In general, however, I have a solid grasp of the fundamentals. Considering that I make my living as a writer, editor, and copyeditor, I should know my independent clauses from my subjunctive tenses.

In any case, I bring this up to make clear that I have a deep love of English. Having said that, I don’t see why we need to make it our national language.

Now at this point, many readers may object and sputter, “But English is already our official language!”

To continue reading this post, please click here.


Despacio, Por Favor

As I wrote in my last post, my interest in learning Spanish has been renewed. My hope is that by chipping away for a few hours each week, I will regain my long-lost fluency.

My studying recently consisted of an attempt to watch Spanish television. Flicking on the station at random, I caught the last fifteen minutes of what appeared to be a Mexican version of the “Jerry Springer Show.”

On the program, an older couple confronted their young adult daughter about her lifestyle. At one point, the parents really let her have it over some shameful behavior.

Evidently, the woman had sex with four men in one month. Or she had a walrus for lunch. I was unsure because, like I said, my Spanish is poor. Then it became impossible to track what was going on because they all started yelling at each other. The body language, however, was easy to translate.

Besides diminishing my already low opinion of human nature, the program also intimidated me. Listening to native Spanish speakers roll out rapid-fire questions and declarations verified how much I have to relearn. Up to that point, I felt pretty confident about understanding basic sentences. But the furious accusations on the show were far removed from the leisurely paced, innocuous dialogues on my Spanish-class podcasts.

The brilliant David Sedaris has pointed out the surreal nature of learning a new language as an adult. He writes that the conversations used in language courses “steer clear of slang and controversy. Avoiding both the past and the future, they embrace the moment with a stoicism common to Buddhists and recently recovered alcoholics.”

Yes, it’s quite a leap from comprehending someone’s observation that the sky is blue to understanding what that guy is screaming about at the top of his lungs. I guess I’ll have to watch more Spanish television to fully get it.

But for now, I’m taking a break from Univision. Instead, I plan to watch the sublime “Pan’s Labyrinth” without the English subtitles. I think that will go a lot better.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqYiSlkvRuw&hl=en_US&fs=1&]


Two Steps Back

No sooner did I celebrate a timely focus on Latino issues (see my previous post) than a couple of developments erupted this week to let me know Hispanics have not quite earned full acknowledgement of such oddball concepts as civil rights and basic dignity.

First, in New Mexico, a hotel owner informed his Hispanic workers that, henceforth, their names weren’t their own. He demanded that, while working, they Anglicize such travesties as Juan by changing it to John, and the like. The owner, Larry Whitten, justified his order by claiming that English-speaking guests would be thrown when confronted with a real tongue-twister like Rosa.

Whitten further demanded that workers not speak Spanish in his presence. He said that he was concerned that they might be saying bad things about him. I can’t imagine what negative phrases the workers would say about the guy – certainly nothing like “Can you believe this prick is making us change our names?”

Whitten’s demands have sparked an outrage in New Mexico. To help him out of the situation, I have a suggestion: If Whitten is concerned about Latino names being cumbersome for the guests, why not call all the help the same thing? After all, they have no right to pick their own names, so one might as well do away with all pretense of individuality or dignity.

Just have all the women answer to the phrase “Hey, chica!” Yes, I know it still contains a vile Spanish word, but most guests can handle the extremely tricky pronunciation. As for the men, just call them all “boy.” It’s true that this word traditionally has been a demeaning term for black males, but I’m sure they won’t mind if somebody else borrows it.

There, now Whitten’s problem is solved.

The second development came out of Dallas. We all know that Texas has a huge Latino population (including Cousin #2). But apparently, the cops there are among the many Americans who think it is a crime to speak any language other than English. And I mean that literally.

police-officer-pulled-over-ticket

Over the past few years, the Dallas police have ticketed about forty drivers for not speaking English. Needless to say, it is not illegal to speak Spanish, at least not yet, and the Dallas police chief has apologized for his troopers’ attempts to test people’s language proficiency.

That apology puts the cops one step ahead of the hotel owner. But neither story is a reason to celebrate.


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