Friday, May 16, 2014

The Spanish in the United States: Beyond a Foreign Language (El Espanol en EU: Mas alla de una Lengua extranjera)



The Spanish in the Unite States: Beyond a Foreign Language



By Olga Miranda


The relation between language, culture and politics always has been a controversial and tough issue in 
the United States. Even, cases of language discrimination have been not rare. Fern L. Johnson narrates one of these in his empowered book “Speaking Culturally. Language diversity in the United States:


Two Puerto Rican women in the middle management positions at a large insurance company happened to be in a woman’s lavatory at the same time. As they often did when meeting informally they spoke to one another in Spanish. To their shock, a woman in lavatory stall hollered out to them, “You should speak English! If you don’t wan to speak English, go back to you own country!”(3)

The dilemma about the position of Spanish language has been in the center of political and social battles in USA, and different arguments more o less tolerant have prevailed historically. The most common opinion is that Spanish is only a “foreign language” . Furthermore, some politicians have denied Spanish alleging that English should be the only language allowed in this country otherwise national unity would not be safe. As illustration, the 26th president of USA Theodore Roosevelt advocated for the immigrants’ Americanization through the compulsory learning of English arguing America should be only one. More recently, the English Only Movement founded in 1983 by senator S. I. Hayakawa defended that no other language should be allowed in USA.


However, the times have changed. The multicultural profile of this nation has become more complex, and academic researchers have started to perceive this matter differently. The beginning of the new century and the two decades since elapsed show an intensified presence and influence of Spanish in the world and in USA. This makes to think that Spanish should be definitively recognized as a second language to be legally supported and taught thru bilingual educational programs. Two main reasons sustain this claim: the current existence of a better theoretical support about heritage languages, and the manifestation of demographic and socio-historical trends that draw an increased relevance of the Hispanic community and its idiom in USA.


Certainly, English is in fact the national language spoken by the vast majority of Americans, the first language for international communication, and the dominating language in technology and sciences fields. Moreover, English is official language in 25 states of USA (Issues in U.S. Language Policy, 1); and it has a long history that started in 1620 when the Mayflower came to this land with the first colonizers from the British Empire.


Spanish, on the other side, is one of the great world language with more than 490 millions speakers, the second language for international communication, and is associated with a rich cultural tradition and recognized contributions in literature and humanities. In this sense Mar-Moliner points out that, “As with other European or Western languages, Spanish can be considered easily accessible insofar as it has a long cultural and literate tradition with a highly developed corpus of standardized norms” (204). Also, Spanish is official or factual language in more than 25 nations; it came to the current US territory in 1598 with the first Spaniards conquers, and it was spoken in the “missions” (Spaniard villages) that they established in areas where nowadays is California, Texas, Arizona, Nuevo Mexico, and Florida. “The Spanish language has had a long and important journey, encompassing more than four centuries of US history”(Rivera-Mills, 30).


As one can see, USA has the privilege to be the nation where the two predominant world languages are mostly spoken. It could confer an extraordinary advantage to this country in the future as a powerful leader in the global scenario, not only in the economic, technology and science fields, but also in the Latin American culture and humanities. But the things have to be put in order inside first. The USA needs a more coherent and defined policy about national languages.


As long as the multicultural profile of USA society has become more complex, new mentalities about multilingualism have emerged making remarkable theoretical contributions to this crucial subject. On September of 2000, a group of academics from the University of California, Los Angeles meet in the Heritage Language Research Priorities Conference and critically analyzed the state and value of heritage languages in the USA. They focused on this issue from a new perspective and proposed alternative concepts in order to facilitate a better understanding of the complex multilingualism in this nation and apply more effective policies for language learning. The final document approved by participants in this reunion included important judgments: “A defining distinction between heritage language and foreign language acquisition is that heritage language acquisition begins in the home, as opposed to foreign language acquisition which, at least initially, is usually begun in a classroom setting” (10).


The definition of Heritage Language includes Spanish in first place and means a broader and inclusive view of this language as a vital instrument of sociocultural expression and individual identity formation. Also, this new concept recognizes the value of this language as a means of social connection and unity for the Hispanic population as a minority group. Lately, in 2012, Sara Beaudrie and Marta Fairclough developed brilliantly these ideas in the introduction of the well documented volume “Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States”. They state:“In sum, the SHL population within the Unites States posses similar characteristics due to their cultural and linguistic connection to a non majority language, wether they speak the language, understand it, or simply see it as a part of their family history” (16) These new definitions confirm that Spanish is in USA more than a foreign language since it is in fact the mother tongue of most Hispanic people.


Current demographic data about ethnic groups and language distribution in USA shows two impressive trends of the social impact of Spanish language. First of all, Spanish is the language of the growing and largest minority group and is the most spoken and studied after English. Second, Spanish cannot be considered completely as a foreign language so is born in USA and spoken by millions of native Spanish speakers as a mother tongue.


The Hispanic population represents currently the 14% of the total population of the country overtaken the African Americans, which was the larger minority group and now is in second place with 12.8% (Henslin, 241). This growth has occurred as a result of a constant flew of immigrants coming to U.S from Mexico, Cuba, Central America, and Puerto Rico. Hispanic community has the largest group of immigrants in USA. Ana Roca and Maria Cecilia Colombi have summarized clearly the impact of this situation in the education: “The demographic changes and the increasing use of Spanish in public, business, and private settings have important implications in modern language education, teacher education programs, policy development, and curriculum and program planning for teachers and students in the twenty-first century (2).


Next, Spanish is the largest non-English language spoken in USA. According to some statistics, United States is in fact one of the largest Spanish-speaking nations with more than 30 millions speakers of this language (Henslin, 245). Furthermore, comparing Spanish with other languages spoken in USA, it gets ahead in the list with a marked advantage, which makes Spanish the second language widely spoken in this nation. Other sources have reported that Spanish is also spoken as a first or second language by 45 million people in USA. This number curiously exceed the total population of Spain, Spanish tongue‘s mother nation, with 40 million inhabitants (Central Intelligence Agency publications, 10) In addition, Spanish is the official and first language spoken in Puerto Rico, which is USA territory and have four million population who are American citizens. Also, demographic distribution of Spanish speakers in some states shows a more remarkable prevalence of this language, and some analysis warns that, “By 2020 it is predicted that the two largest states in USA, California and Texas, will have more of Hispanic origin than any other ethnic group amongst their large populations” (Mar-Molinero, 178)


The Cervantes Institute, which is the most important international institution of Hispanic studies, reported in 2010 that Spanish is the second language more studied in USA with 6 million students (Cervantes Institute, 10). Hence, it is the country with the largest population of Spanish students in the world, and it is the second language most studied in the higher education too. According to a study and survey made by the by the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages and the Modern Language Association,“Spanish is and has been the most widely taught language in colleges and universities since 1970, and it continues to account for more than half (53.4%) of all enrollments, a fact first recorded in our 1995 survey” (Welles, 12). It is noticeable that the interest for learning Spanish has been growing, among other reasons, due to the higher demand for bilingual workers in the job market.


Second, official data prove that a big number of Spanish speakers are native born in USA . “As many were native born as foreign born (17.0 million compared to 17.5 million). This is not the case for the other three language groups —all three had more foreign born”. (U. S. Census Bureau, 3). Thus, Spanish is not only a language of immigrants, but also is born and growth in this nation as the mother tongue of native Hispanic-Americans.


Consequently, Spanish is becoming in a vital and dynamic language in progress spoken by millions of native speakers in USA although it has suffered segregation and discrimination since spread stereotypes perceive Spanish as an inferior, illegal, and uneducated language. Some thinkers have explained this situation and defined Spanish as strengthen language despite segregation, prohibitions, and ethnic racism suffered by Mexicans and other Hispanic groups. Matt Meier and Feliciano Rivera have characterized very well this situation in the revealing book Mexican Americans/American Mexicans when they state:

On the other hand, isolation, continued segregation, high levels of immigration from Mexico, and the relative ease of crossing the border for family visits, business, and tourism have constantly reinforced the use of Spanish. In the barrio Spanish remains, to a large extent, the language of communication network that informally provides, particularly to the recently arrived, information about jobs, housing, social services, and unwelcome authorities (246).


Likewise, other socio-historical factors have made Spanish to endure and be culturally strong. There is not doubt about the expansion of Spanish in the medias and cultural spaces. Like has been noticed “major books companies are publishing Spanish language editions, and corporate America is increasingly selling itself through Spanish language advertisements and Spanish programming, such as CNN en Espanol, CBS Telenoticias, Univision, and Telemundo for both US and Latin American audiences” (Rivera-Mills, 7). In addition, bilingual education models put into practice have favored Spanish learning and the interests toward this language; as well struggles for civil rights of Hispanic community have achieved legal regulations addressed to recognize the Hispanic community interests and needs. Some states and cities have approved bilingual education programs in public schools. California, for example, with the highest Hispanic population as 30% (Henslin, 244), has a long tradition on providing public services in Spanish, bilingual education, and channels and newspapers in Spanish, although in 1998 the state vote against bilingual education. Miranda Steward describes some particular cases. She narrates how in 1995, in San Antonio (Texas), Spanish was legally approved and the city became bilingual. Contrarily, in 1998 this language was turning down when California State passed a resolution called Preposition 227 banning Spanish. “The effect of this was to end more than twenty years of bilingual education for immigrant children (Steward, 7).


Indeed, the history of bilingual education Spanish/English has been unstable and unsafe. From 1970s to 1990s Spanish was boost and many schools in the nation adopted programs aimed to support this language in the education, but on next decades it was reverted. What happened in California was only one example. It is convenient to remember that the legalization of bilingual education in 1968 with a bill approved by the Congress was due to the significant dropped out in the school of Hispanic children who did not speak English (Mar-Molinero, 180-181) Therefore, the implications of this setback in bilingual education could be devastating for many members of Hispanic community. It would affect the academic success of Hispanic young population, and those children forced to speak only English would lose communication with parents and their ties with family, which seriously damage their emotional stability and the formation of a defined self-identity. Meier and Ribera provide solid and convincing arguments about this problem.

Spanish is the language of family home, friendship, and la raza. Bilingual adult education programs also provided older Mexican-Americans with a greater economic mobility through an improved command in English. Further, bilingual programs help their children learn English more quickly and focus attention on the educational plight of those who enter school speaking little or no English. Some view bilingual programs as a way of fighting discrimination and increasing respect for their language and culture” (246).

Concluding, Spanish is in fact a vital and powerful language in the world and in USA. Recent studies have enlightened and created greater awareness of its value as a heritage language, and current demographic and social trends shows Spanish language as an empowered idiom that is widely expanding its influence toward new cultural spaces. Thus, it is legitimate to encourage law makers to make Spanish legally accepted and taught as a second language in USA as a fundamental part of modern bilingual programs. Furthermore, this issue should be depoliticized. The mentality based on the exclusive and discriminatory attitude “English, not Spanish” must be overcome by a positive and inclusive perspective that respects the freedoms and rights of Hispanic population expressed on the idea of “English and Spanish in a new cultural communion”.

Works Consulted


Beaudrie, Sara M. & Fairclough, Marta, Introduccion. Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. The State of Field. . Georgetown University Press. Washington DC, 2012. e-book.


Central Intelligence Agency publications. The World FactBook. Europe: Spain. Library Publications, 2014.. Web. 10 April 2014


Henslin, J. M. Essentials of Sociology. ADown-to Earth Approach. Edition 8.Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Pearson. 2009. Print.


Issues in U.S. Language Policy. Language Legislation in the U.S.A., Web May 2,2014.


Johnson, F. L. Speaking culturally. Language Diversity in the United States. Sage Publications Inc.International Educational and Professional Publisher. Thousands Oaks.London. New Delhi. 2000. Web May 2,2014.


Lanza, E. Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism:A Sociolinguistic Perspective. Clarendon Press. Oxford, 1997. Web. April 2014.


Mar-Molinero, Clare. The Politics of Language in the Spanish-Speaking World:From Colonisation to Globalisation. Publisher: Routledge. London. 2000. Web May 2, 2014.


Meier, M. S. and Ribera, F. Mexican Americans/ American Mexicans From Conquistador to Chicanos. Hill and Wang. A division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Revised Edition. New York. 1993. Print.


O’ Conell, M .and Norwood, J. International Education and Foreign Languages. Keys to Securing American Future. National Research Council. The National Academics. Washington DC, 2007. Academic On File database. Web. September 2010.


Paz, Y. B. Ingles, Espanol, o Spanglish en los Estados Unidos: Un largo Debate para el Siglo XXI (English, Spanish, or Spanglish in the United of States of America: A Long Debate for XXI Century). Estudios de Lingüística Aplicada (Studies of Applied Linguistic), July, year/vol. 23, number 041 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (University Autonomous of Mexico). 2005. District Federal, México. Pdf, pp. 55-66. Web. April 2014.


Rivera-Mills, Susana V. Spanish Heritage Language Maintenance: Its Legacy and Its Future. Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. The State of Field. . Georgetown University Press. Washington DC, 2012. e-book.


Roca, A., and Colombi, C. Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC, 2003. www.booksgoogle.com Web. November 2, 2010.


Smith, Daniel, J. Spanish/English Bilingual Children in the Southeastern USA: Convergence and Code-switching. Bilingual Review. Volume: 28. Issue: 2 May 2004. Copyright 2004 Gale Group. Web. April 2, 2014.


Sinclair, J. Latino American Television L. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York. 1999. books.google.com. Web October 5, 2010.


Stewart, Miranda. The Spanish Language Today. Publisher: Routledge. London, 1999. Web. April 5, 2014.


Stromski, N. The Connectivity Education in of Economic Power, a Globalized Technology, and Word Knowledge. Rowman & Litlefield Publishers, INc. Maryland 20706, 2002. Web. April 10, 2014.


UCLA, Heritage Language Research Priorities Conference Report. Sept 21-23, 2000. pdf.


U.S. Census Bureau.Census bureau. Federal Fund Report. 2010.Web. October 5, 2010.


Wells, E. B. Foreign Language. Enrollments in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2002. 2004.. Web.October 5, 2010.

Works Cited


Beaudrie, Sara M. & Fairclough, Marta, Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. The State of Field. . Georgetown University Press. Washington DC, 2012. e-book.


Central Intelligence Agency publications. The World FactBook. Europe: Spain. Library Publications, 2014.. Web. 10 April 2014.


Henslin, J. M. Essentials of Sociology. ADown-to Earth Approach. Edition 8.Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Pearson. 2009. Print.


Issues in U.S. Language Policy. Language Legislation in the U.S.A., Web May 2,2014.


Johnson, F. L. Speaking culturally. Language Diversity in the United States. Sage Publications Inc.International Educational and Professional Publisher. Thousands Oaks.London. New Delhi. 2000. Web May 2,2014.


Mar-Molinero, Clare. The Politics of Language in the Spanish-Speaking World:From Colonisation to Globalisation. Publisher: Routledge. London. 2000. Web May 2, 2014.


Meier, M. S. and Ribera, F. Mexican Americans/ American Mexicans From Conquistador to Chicanos. Hill and Wang. A division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Revised Edition. New York. 1993. Print.


Paz, Y. B. Ingles, Espanol, o Spanglish en los Estados Unidos: Un largo Debate para el Siglo XXI (English, Spanish, or Spanglish in the United of States of America: A Long Debate for XXI Century). Estudios de Lingüística Aplicada (Studies of Applied Linguistic), July, year/vol. 23, number 041 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico) 2005. Federal District, Mexico. pdf. pp 55-56. Web April 2014.


Rivera-Mills, Susana V. Spanish Heritage Language Maintenance: Its Legacy and Its Future. Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. The State of Field. . Georgetown University Press. Washington DC, 2012. e-book.


Roca, A. and Colombi, C. Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States. Georgetown University Press. Washington, DC. 2003. Web. November 2, 2010.


Stewart, Miranda. The Spanish Language Today. Publisher: Routledge. London, 1999. books.google.com. Web. April 5, 2014.


UCLA, Heritage Language Research Priorities Conference Report. Sept 21-23, 2000. pdf.


U.S. Census Bureau.Census Bureau. Federal Fund Report. 2010.Web. November 5, 2010.





































         












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