The U.S. is falling into a morass of stupidity: Mandate Bilingualism

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First, to give credit where credit is due, this entry arose, in part, from a story covered and analyzed by several blogs, including Vivirlatino, Latina Lista, and the Unapologetic Mexican. The short of it was that a principal at an elementary school forbid a bilingual secretary from translating for a student’s mother, who only spoke Spanish and wanted to report sexual abuse of her son. When the secretary went ahead and translated against the principal’s wishes, she was fired. The incident is, by all accounts, egregiously wrong. But the problem runs deeper than just this isolated incident.; it begins with the 7th grade.

I started off like most monolingual Americans of my generation: my first contact with a foreign language was in 7th grade, in Elementary Spanish. I continued with it all the way through my sophomore year of college. One would think, by taking so many classes on one language, that I would have been able to converse in it; I couldn’t. The reality of my inept Spanish hit me when I went to Costa Rica and could barely churn out a simple sentence. In fact, but for my fortuitous encounter with  Latin American history, I would never have become, like I am now, fluent in Spanish.(I wanted to write my senior thesis on Mexican history and would not have been able to do it without a good handle on Spanish. Thus, I went to a Spanish speaking program in Mexico for three months).

The United States’ education system might as well not have any classes on language; only the rarely gifted student will ever be able to speak another language from the woefully inadequate classes that are provided today.

Rationale Behind Mandating

Studies have consistently showed the benefits of speaking more than one language. For example,  studies conducted in Canada, India, and Hong Kong concluded that:

Bilingual speakers are better able to deal with distractions than those who speak only a single language, and that may help offset age-related declines in mental performance, researchers say.

Perhaps more compelling, a second language opens up an individual’s mind on an invaluable level–suddenly, one can communicate and interact with millions of new people; have more access to a great amount of new information, be it newspapers, books, or movies; and think more critically on anything that crosses their path in life. Each language approaches life through a unique lens. And there are no drawbacks, unless one ascribes to the erroneous theory that English must be official over all else because otherwise, our culture will be absorbed by that of, you guessed it, Latin America.

If one has peeked outside of their computer cave and walked the streets of the major cities in the United States and abroad, one will see that English predominates. In fact, the only non-English speakers in the United States are first-generation, mostly older immigrants. Their children speak English with more ease that the tongue of their parents.

A Potential Boon to Immigration Reform

From cringing at anti-immigrant comments online or simply speaking to my Father or Grandmother, a principal theme pervades–empathy’s absence. “Illegal Immigrants” are, it would appear, not even human. Maybe this is too ambitious, but if more Americans were able to communicate with non-English speaking immigrants and maybe even become friends, they may shockingly conclude that these objects that they so often refer to with the utmost scorn are, after all, human and that they deserve a humane fate other than that of permanent exile. This same logic could apply to the indifferent hordes that populate the U.S. If they heard, first hand, the compelling human stories, maybe they would take a stand for a more logical solution than that of the status quo.

This Is Not A Pipe Dream

Ever spoken to someone from Holland, Sweden, or Denmark? Well, if you have, you know that many of them speak English better than many Americans. News Flash: English isn’t their first language. From a short research excursion, I found mixed reviews on when the best time to learn a second language is, but many studies have shown that the younger, the better. Thus, there are two tracks that can be taken: 1) begin teaching a foreign language to students at a younger age or 2) provide for more intensive foreign language courses starting in Middle School up until High School, particularly focusing not on silly things like abstract literature, but the actual ability to converse in that language. (Ironically, I’ve met Spanish major students who can’t speak Spanish, yet take fancy Spanish literature courses)

Wait, one may chirp, this will undoubtedly leave less room for more important classes such as History and English. It is a concern, but what does the average student remember from their American history class. Even Sarah Palin doesn’t know more than one founding father. In fact, I had to take American history in 8th and 11th grade but I don’t remember anything but the annoying voice of the teachers. Furthermore, many High Schools substantially lax the course load required for students in 12th grade, which does not make any sense. This expansive waste of time could be used for actually learning something. To nail the point home:  although the details of the American Revolutionary war have faded into a thin mist with the passing of time, Spanish will remain until I depart this world.

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10 Responses to “The U.S. is falling into a morass of stupidity: Mandate Bilingualism”

  1. multilingualmania Says:

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog! I wholeheartedly agree that more people need to learn another language. I think that we should expand dual immersion programs where students learn two or more languages beginning in kinder. Besides, in dual language classes we can teach spanish or another language through the study of science or social studies. We develop content and language at the same time-the best of both world. All the best!

  2. Dorian Wacquez Says:

    Well Done!

    Your entry is very comprehensive and thought out. It is true that English is the current lingua franca–the vast wealth of information conveyed in English is undeniable–but something is missing from a monolingual life, no? A second language adds to the mix like salt to cake (a cake is bland without it!)

    The rest of your blog is quite extensive as well and the focus on Latin America gives it a professional and goal-oriented feel. I will definitely be keeping in touch.

    Sincerely,

    Dorian Wacquez

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Dorian, and thanks for the compliments. Interesting you should say “goal-oriented”, because I haven’t thought of it like that before. Now that you mentioned it, I guess the goal is to educate myself and whoever happens to read my blog. Before thoughts coalesced into writing, less can be learned.

  3. Bilingualism, Cartilage of the Organism « Dorian Wacquez Says:

    […] Life Through the Lens of Bryan: “The U.S. is falling into a morass of stupidity: Mandate Bilingualism” […]

  4. Wenjonggal Says:

    I am not American, but great post. I agree. Here we have French classes from grade six or so, and I took (read: slept through) them right through grade twelve. At that point, despite a solid A-B average in French, I couldn’t even have a simple conversation or tell you what tense (past, present, future) a sentence was in by looking at the verb. I actually applied myself in first year university and learned more in a semester than I did in six years of grade school.

    But it wasn’t til I actually moved to Quebec and had to use it on a daily basis that I clinched it… reading a bit of the local newsweekly every coffee break, listening to conversations in the cafeteria and parties etc. And four years here before I could speak with any confidence. But now after having been here for 28 years (eee!) I am pretty fluent, and actually work in French at least half the time.

    I wish my evolution, slow as it is, was typical of Canadians, but I find that despite a small vogue for French immersion for their kids in grade 1, it is more common to find people who declare it is too hard, or they see no reason to know a second language. Interestingly enough, most people here who are anglophone are second or third generation Canadians, meaning grandparents often had a first language other than English: Ukrainian, Polish, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, German, not to mention recent immigrants from all over the world, not just Europe. That gets lost in the English/French debate: how all these people lost their heritage languages in one generation or so. So very sad and very wasteful.

    I have spent time and money (though not enough to become fluent at ALL) on German and Swedish classes (my own background) and am now learning Mandarin, so hopefully my son (adopted from China) won’t completely lose HIS heritage language. And wonderfully, yes, this gives us more cultural things to enjoy (songs, movies, books) and more people to associate with. If only more current monolinguals considered this to be a plus.

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Hello Wenjonggal,

      It looks like Canada is quite similar to the United States when it comes to the aversion towards the predominant minority language–Spanish in the U.S.; French in Canada. Good Luck teaching your son Mandarin!

  5. Hector Najera Says:

    I agree that learning more languages should be encouraged in the States. I wrote about bilingual education before, and one of the things that struck me about recent research is that bilingual students have been found to have more mental control. As Ed Yong relates, “studies have found that even from a very young age, before they can actually speak, children develop stronger executive functions if they grow up to the sound of two mother tongues.” Their advantage is in being able to focus better, as when switching from one language to another one must suppress the other language. Being rich does not play a role, nor does higher intelligence. It is all because of two languages.

    I imagine, although I do not know for a fact, that these skills would be furthered the more languages one knows…

  6. bjohns15 Says:

    Yep. It’s kind of like enjoying the fruits of the world’s greatest power comes with a price: that of concrete negative educational/cultural consequences. It’s a shame, but considering the heavy scientific proof of its benefits, maybe educators will reform the current system.

  7. WC78610 Says:

    I recently ran across this gem of wisdom:

    “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, It’s good enough for us”- Former Texas Gov. Miriam Amanda (Ma) Fergusen

    seriously….

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