The United States is the world’s fourth largest Spanish-speaking country. This ranking should not come as a surprise to anyone. According to Renan Alemendarez Coello (qtd. in Hochmuth), it is not that hard to find someone who speaks either limited English or no English at all on the street today. Indeed, recent demographic studies and observations that have been made by researchers have implied that Spanish is the second most widely used language in the country, next to English. This is because as of the year 2000, Mexican immigrants make up 27.
6% of the total foreign-born U. S. population with another 5 million immigrants coming from other Spanish-speaking nations and countless of unaccounted illegal migrants entering the country in the U. S. – Mexico border and Americans learning Spanish through formal education (Carreira 334; Lipski 14; Huntington 26; U. S. English Foundation 15). In certain and territories of the country such as Miami and Puerto Rico, Spanish has become the primary language used not just in homes, but in business and politics (Castro; Lipski 29-31).
In fact, in the 1984 national elections Jones had reported to Senator Quentin N. Burdick that in Texas alone 283,000 voters from 1,012 precincts in the states were Hispanics covered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act which mandated that elections be conducted in a language aside from English in order for the minority would be able to exercise in their right to vote (1-2). Even more recently, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate debate held in September 2003 was done both in English and Spanish (Lipski 30).
While the evidence mentioned establishes Spanish as the second language of the United States, these proof that Spanish is flourishing in the country today has given a growing rise of concern among many Americans about its implications. Many have begun to fear that the proliferation of Spanish in the country would cause the nation to be divided and would even hinder the country from progressing (Hochmuth; Lipski 30). One significant issue currently faced by the country today that has been linked to the growth of the Spanish language in the country is the growing academic achievement gap between Hispanics and Caucasians.
In a recent study made by Rumberger and Anguiano in 1998 in 120 kindergarten schools in California, they have attributed that the academic achievement gap is caused by two factors namely the socio-economic status of the family of the student and the English proficiency of the student (17). These two factors are interlinked with each other. Since Hispanic immigrants are not fluent or do not speak English efficiently, they are unable to find employment to be able to uplift their socio-economic status (Hochmuth; Lipski 34).
Because of this, they are unable to provide their children the skills needed in order to be able to perform competently once they enter school. This is evident in the grade point averages that they receive in secondary schools and in their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores as compared to students from other cultural backgrounds (Lavin-Loucks 3-5; Rumberger and Anguiano 4). This would eventually lead to long term consequences ranging from unemployment to dependency on welfare (Lavin-Loucks 7).
In order to address the matter, some government organizations have began to lobby for fluency in the English language should be mandated. Dubbed as the “English Only” movement, its statutes may range from declaring English as the sanctioned language in the state to the exclusion of non-English assistance and services. Today, sixteen states have become “English Only” states. These states include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North and South Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.
Supporters of this movement see this as the solution to address other concerns such as the academic achievement gap and the high number living in poverty (American Civil Liberties Union 2; Lipski 34). In order to educate immigrants to become fluent in English, they would facilitate the education through the use of English immersion programs. These programs would prohibit the use of any language except English. There are three methods that could be used for these programs. The first is the English as a Second Language (ESL) method which supplements the classes with additional lessons in English.
ESL may focus on grammar and language structure or focus on the contents through communication. The second method is the sheltered immersion method where the English taught is dependent on the proficiency level of the student. The third model is called the “sink or swim” method. This involves were placed in regular classrooms regardless of their proficiency level. This third method was banned by the Supreme Court in 1974 (The Benefits of Bilingual Education). However, there are many who protest to the “English Only” movement.
Coalitions such as the American Civil Liberties Union have noted that while there are some benefits to this movement, there are also a number of consequences which they view as bearing more weight compared to the benefits. For one, the “English Only” movement would void federal and state laws which require the government to provide services in languages apart from English, such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act (Jones 1) as well as services pertaining to everything from health and education to assistance to victims of crimes or accidents (2).
It also leads to the abandonment of multicultural events. This movement would also lead to Spanish-language, and other foreign language, programs in television and radio stations to forfeit their licenses and would eventually go off the air. Furthermore, immigrants who are coerced English one way or another would experience some psychological woes. In an interview, Ronald Rodriguez (qtd. in Torres) found himself becoming aloof in his class where everyone, but him, spoke English as a youngster.
When he eventually became fluent with the English language, he began to feel a sense of embarrassment in speaking Spanish and had a feeling that he had betrayed his family for speaking English. Moreover, this movement is contradictory to the Equal Protection Clause protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and would inhibit immigrants who are not proficient in English of certain rights such as the right to vote, education and to be free of discrimination (2-3). This would make the “English Only” policy as a racist policy (Schmidt 143).
Opposing groups have proposed alternatives to the “English Only” policy. In order to solve national concerns such as the academic achievement gap and the growing poverty due to unemployment on the part of immigrants is through bilingual education (Huntington 30). Bilingual education was initially employed to level out unequal education (Arce 228). Bilingualism refers to an individual’s knowledge of two or more languages apart from his or her own native language and the ability to function in these languages according to the need (Meyer and Fienberg 2; Minami).
These abilities include speaking, reading, writing, and understanding (Chiocca). There are three bilingual education models that are currently used in the country today. The first model is the Transitional model. This model accentuates English language development and academic learning using the native language of the students as the medium to instruct them. The second model is the Developmental model. This model is aimed to advance the fluency of the student both in writing, reading and speaking both in their native language and in English.
The third model is the dual language program. This program teaches both English and the student’s native language alternately to the students in order to make them fluent in both English and the student’s native language (Lipski 29-30; The Benefits of Bilingual Education). In today’s society, all nations including the United States are geared towards globalization (Robinson). In line with this, more and more individuals view bilingual education and dual language programs to become popular (Lipski 29-30).
Children who are enrolled in bilingual education programs in the country have been reported to succeed academically since their language and culture are incorporated in the curriculum of the program and in their daily interactions in the classrooms providing a firm language foundation (Arce 228; Wu and Ito). This environment allows the children enrolled in bilingual programs to foster a feeling of security (Konishi). Being proficient in more than one language also allows students the opportunity to continue their education in other countries (Fallows).
Furthermore, bilingual education preserves the student’s sense of pride, making them able to blend in a dominant English speaking easily able to interact with his or her classmates at the same time protecting their sense of identity since language and culture are important to the identity of an individual (The Benefits of Bilingual Education). In line with this, bilingualism also allows Americans in order to understand the other cultures in the country. A few of the languages that Lipski had suggested for Americans to select as a second language to learn are Chinese, Japanese and Spanish (29).
Bilingualism also has its benefits in the corporate world. Bilingual candidates, particularly those who are fluent in Spanish and English, have greater employment opportunities than those who can only speak one language (Chiocca). This is due to the growing Hispanic market in the country. As of 2000, the Hispanic community is reported to have a purchasing power of over $300 billion annually (Carreira 334). Thus, many business organizations in the United States prefer to hire individuals who are able to speak both Spanish and English.
The need for bilingual employees is more imperative in industries that inquire vast amount of paperwork. Examples of these industries are car sales, insurance, mortgaging companies, and those who cater to foreign clients. In these industries, the transactions between the customer and the company are seen to have high risks. Bilingual employees minimize these risks by being able to communicate effectively with their clients. An employee who is able to speak the same language as the company’s customers would be able to make them feel more secure and important to the business (Jares; Shepherd).
An example of this was when Continental Airlines began to service passengers to Latin America and began to hire bilingual stewards and stewardesses for these flights. Erica Roy, spokesperson of Continental Airlines stated that the company decided to hire bilingual stewards and stewardesses because the company’s clientele was improving in Latin America and the company wanted to make the customers feel comfortable (Jares). Despite the many benefits bilingual education may bring about to an individual, particularly to children, many researchers have found that it has its share of disadvantages.
According to the studies of these researchers, children who enroll in bilingual education programs experience more hardships in terms of language proficiency as compared to those who grow up learning only one language. Bilingual children have been noted to exhibit vocabulary proficiency scores below normal in either of the two languages. Researchers attribute this to the fact that since they are learning two different languages, they are learning twice as many words within the same time span as that of a child who is only learning one language.
Other researchers have also concluded that bilingual education can inhibit the cognitive development of the child which may result to retardation (Minami). Recent studies on the impact of bilingual education to the cognitive development of a child have shown results contrary to the initial findings made by researchers. In fact, studies have shown that children who are raised learning more than one language have a higher potential to become smarter than those who only learned one language.
In a study done in Darthmouth College headed by Laura-Ann Petitto, a group of children whose ages were between 4 and 6 years old and spoke either French or English were compared against a group of bilingual children who were learning one spoken and one signed language. The cognitive capability of the participants of the study were compared using a commonly used research device to measure the thinking ability as well as the ability to allocate attention wherein the participants telling the researchers the color of the square appearing on a computer screen and its position on the screen.
The results of the study showed that the bilingual children scoring better than those who only knew one language. The results of this study disproved previous studies that cognitive development is compromised in the case of bilingual children (McCoy). Another similar study at the University College in London supported the findings made by Petitto. They had concluded that because they were learning more than one language, the brains of bilingual children are more structurally enhanced as compared to those who can only speak one language (“Linguists Have Better Brains”).
Petitto confirms this by explaining that the increased demands in processing two language systems also increased the computational analysis capabilities of the brains of bilingual children (McCoy). Bilingualism has also shown to cultivate classification skills, concept forming, reasoning through analogy, and a better control in linguistic processing (Chipongian).
The latter was evident in a study done by Viberg where bilingual children and monolingual children were given a story which they then needed to relay, the versions given by bilingual children were more detailed than their monolingual counterparts (Minami). Furthermore, bilingual children have been noted to be more flexible mentally and able to conceptualize better. These analytical capabilities demonstrated by bilingual children as well as the recognition of uncertainties and sensitivity towards detail and structure have also been noted to surpass that of children their age who have learned only one language.
They are able to focus their attention on important details without being sidetracked by information that have no bearing on the information or details that may be misleading (Chipongian). It is important to remember that currently, the findings on how bilingual education affects the cognitive development of an individual has been concentrated on children. Further research would yet have to be to determine if the same benefits would be exemplified by teenagers and adults who learn a second language.