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International Herald Tribune

Americans Are Embracing Spanish Multilingualism

June 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

A board member of the Oxnard School District, in California, walked out of a meeting because a parent addressed the board in Spanish.

A principal in a southern California elementary school admonished parents to speak to their kids exclusively in English, even at home.

Officials in an Arizona school told teachers to speak to students only in English in the schoolyard, cafeteria and hallways. It might seem that Spanish is under attack everywhere in the United States. This is a false perception. Many Americans are embracing Spanish, recognizing its importance in schools, government, business and other areas. Spanish is the most popular foreign language in

American high schools and universities. Figures released by the Modern Language Association reveal that Spanish accounts for more than 50 percent of the total of foreign-language enrollments. I see this popularity in my school. Spanish is by far the most widely studied foreign language. Our classes are full of students who want to learn the language for professional and personal reasons.

Spanish is still a vital language in elementary schools. Although California, Arizona and Massachusetts virtually eliminated bilingual education, most other states are continuing the programs. Many different languages are involved in these programs, but Spanish is the most widely used. The growth of the Hispanic population in the United States is increasingly spurring U.S. agencies to provide services in Spanish. President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that requires any organization receiving U.S. funding to provide services in languages other than English. President George W. Bush appears to have no intention of rescinding the order, despite the fact that ProEnglish, an English-only group, has sued, claiming that the policy would impose huge costs on local governments. The increase in the number of Spanish speakers is also encouraging officials who deal with the public to learn the language. In Phoenix, Arizona, firefighters who learn Spanish qualify for a monthly bonus of $100. In Las Vegas a similar bonus is being finalized for county employees.

Bilingual police officers in El Mirage, Arizona, receive an extra $100 a month, and those in Glendale, Arizona, get $75 Researchers at the University of Miami found that families in which only Spanish was spoken had an average income of $ 18,000; those with only English, $32,000. Those with both Spanish and English averaged $50, 376

Spanish also means big business. By 2007, Hispanic buying power will reach $926 billion a year, according to researchers at the University of Georgia. Between 1990 and 2007, the buying power of Hispanics is expected to increase by 315 percent, compared to 111 percent for non-Hispanics. Although three out of four of the 35 million Latinos in the United States are bilingual to varying degrees, many feel more comfortable with Spanish. That's why businesses try to reach them in that language. The large number of commercials on Spanish-language television and radio by major companies clearly demonstrates that corporations see a dollar sign when Spanish is used. Business has learned what the Japanese have always known:

The language of business is the customer's language. Of course, not everyone is happy with the increasing importance and visibility of Spanish. Several English- only groups have been fighting to have English declared the official language of the United States and curtail the use of foreign languages, particularly Spanish. Their concern is that bilingualism and multilingualism are a recipe for Balkanization and a possible breakup of the country. Americans should not fear

Spanish or multilingualism. Switzerland, one of the most prosperous countries, has four official languages. It may be a lesson Americans are beginning to learn.

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