Tuesday, April 03, 2007

From The Archives II

From June 15, 2006
In an interview yesterday the news anchor for Univision, a Spanish language network, asked why is the U.S. the only country to think speaking more than one language is a bad thing? It is an intriguing question.

More than any other country that I can think of we are a country of immigrants. Over the past two centuries we’ve had millions of people enter the country from various countries. They spoke German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, various version of Chinese, and on and on and on. Over time they learned to speak English. But subsequent generations have stopped learning the native language of their elders. Why?

Is it that there have been so many differing groups that there was no “consensus” on what the second language should be? Or maybe it is geographic. The U.S. is one of the largest countries in the world based on land mass. Additionally, we are isolated from most countries by vast oceans. The common language of the nation is English and there is little need to learn another. In Europe, the countries are much smaller and border multiple countries with different common languages. As people can walk across borders it is economically advantageous to speak multiple languages for the traveler and the merchant serving the traveler.

The more I've thought about this the more I think the geography is the prime suspect. The dominate language of our country is English and the offspring of immigrants have little incentive to learn anything other than English. Multiple times I've read of studies that show even Hispanic immigrants lose the ability to speak Spanish at about the same rate as previous immigrant groups.

Although, if my geography theory holds any credence, Spanish will have hold on longer with the proximity of the immigrants home country (mostly Mexico). The ease and cheapness of international communication also allows immigrants to keep closer ties to family and friends that remained behind. I don't see anything wrong with this at all. In fact, I think bilingual education for all U.S. children should be more or less mandatory.


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